Proxy vs. VPN: Here’s How to Tell Which One You Need

An internet user encrypts his laptop traffic using a VPN, which he chose after researching the differences between proxy vs. VPN.

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Table of Contents

People often refer to virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers interchangeably. Both of these cybersecurity tools hide user identities and allow you to access geo-restricted content from anywhere, but there are significant differences between VPNs and proxy servers.

This guide defines VPNs and proxy servers, looks at the differences between proxy vs. VPN, and explains when you should choose either option. It is designed to point you in the right direction, whether you’re trying to choose between them for personal or business use. 

Overview of Proxy Servers

A proxy server is essentially a go-between for your device and the websites you’re visiting. The website you’re on cannot see your IP address — instead, it sees the IP address of the proxy server. Opening an incognito window on your browser is an example of using a proxy server. 

Here’s an example: Say someone is over their limit for free articles from a news website. The website uses the user’s IP address to identify them and track their visits. The site won’t know who they are, however, if they use a proxy server to access the site. 

Overview of VPNs

A VPN, like a proxy server, also hides your IP address so the websites you’re visiting cannot see your location or other details. It goes a step further, however, and encrypts all the traffic between your device and the internet. 

What Are the Main Differences Between a Proxy vs. VPN

Their ability to hide your IP addresses is not the only element you need to consider when deciding if you should use a proxy or a VPN. You should also consider the following differences:

Privacy Levels

VPNs work on an operational level. Installing a VPN on your device causes it to encrypt all your internet traffic. The encryption applies whether you’re accessing the internet through an app or a browser. 

A proxy server only affects traffic that you access through the proxy application. Setting up a proxy server on your browser, for example, affects the traffic going through your browser. The proxy will not come into play if you open an app that connects to the internet but doesn’t use your browser.

Encryption

VPNs encrypt all data that goes through them. Say you jump on public Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop, and a hacker is on the same network trying to steal information from users. They won’t be able to see what you’re doing because all your traffic is encrypted.

Many proxy servers encrypt traffic, but not all of them. The proxy prevents the websites you visit from seeing your IP address, but a hacker on the coffee shop Wi-Fi mentioned above may be able to see the traffic going from your computer to the internet.

Cost

Proxies are easy to get for free. Most browsers have proxy tools that you can use without buying anything. VPNs can be free, but for the best quality service, you should expect to pay. 

Most VPN providers charge a monthly subscription fee that varies based on the services provided and the traffic handled. Buying a VPN for personal use, for example, is a lot cheaper than installing one on your business network.

VPNs tend to be slower than proxies because they have to encrypt all their traffic, but the tradeoff is getting a greater level of security than a proxy server can offer. Make sure you understand these key differences when you’re deciding between a proxy vs. VPN. 

VPN on a icon logo

Proxy Vs. VPN: Determining the Right Choice for You

Which of these options you choose depends on your objectives. Those most interested in protection from hackers will have different needs from those just wanting to guard their privacy. Take a look at how VPNs and proxies differ for the following web activities. 

Browsing the Web Anonymously

Both VPNs and proxies can help you browse the web anonymously. The sites you’re visiting cannot see your IP address, and they will not restrict content based on your address. They only see the IP address of the proxy or VPN server.

Viewing Geo-Blocked Content 

A popular use for VPNs and proxies is to view geo-blocked content. Say you’re traveling to another country for work, but you want to use a video streaming service that only works in your home country. You can use a VPN or a proxy to make it look like you’re in your home country. You can also use both options from home to make it look like you’re in another country, so you can access content restricted to that country. You can choose from various countries when setting up your VPN or proxy.

Protecting Yourself From Hackers

A proxy cannot protect you from hackers because it does not encrypt your data. A VPN, in contrast, encrypts all your data so hackers cannot see what information you’re transmitting.

Preventing Tracking From Your ISP

A VPN can prevent your ISP from tracking your actions. Your ISP can generally see everything you do on their network, and they can track every site you visit. Using a VPN ensures that they cannot see anything. A proxy, in contrast, cannot prevent ISP tracking.

A proxy is a great choice for occasional use if you want to block your IP address or access geo-restricted content once in a while. A VPN, on the other hand, is the best option if you want to enhance your cybersecurity and prevent ISPs and others from tracking your online activity. Choosing a VPN, along with a digital file shredder, is a good step toward better security.

Enhance Your Digital Security by Contacting Shred Cube

Shred Cube can help you improve your digital security regardless of your choice between a proxy vs. VPN. Shred Cube plugs into your USB drive and allows you to permanently shred digital files so they are unrecoverable. The usual deletion process doesn’t shred your files — it keeps them on the hard drive, where hackers can still get to them.

The USB plugin is safer than digital file shredders that require a download, because malicious code can infiltrate your computer even from seemingly secure downloads. Contact the team at Shred Cube today to learn how we can help you improve your security through digital file shredding.

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