A proxy and a VPN both connect you to remote computers, and this is what makes them similar. However, the similarities end here because there are some fundamental differences between a proxy and a VPN. Here are the major differences, as well as the pros and cons of each one.
1. What Is a Proxy and When to Use It
Put simply, a proxy is an intermediary between you and the Internet. You want to see a page, so you send a request to the proxy server, the proxy server requests the page for you, and then the proxy server presents you with the page. This is the basic proxy routine, where you don’t directly access content on the Net, but the proxy server gets it for you.
Maybe you are wondering why the heck you would do all this? Doesn’t it complicate things? Yes, it does. Proxies do slow down browsing, and you need to configure a proxy for every app you use, but they also offer protection for you and/or deliver content you wouldn’t be otherwise able to access.
Proxies are the quick and dirty way to hide your IP. You use them for less important tasks, such as to access a geographically restricted content or to simply make yourself appear as if you are elsewhere. Proxies don’t offer advanced protection, but when security isn’t a top priority, it’s okay to use a proxy. What is more, there are tons of free proxies for you to choose from, if you don’t mind the ads, of course.
2. What Is VPN and When to Use It
While a proxy is okay for quick and less important tasks, if you need more security, VPN (Virtual Private Network) comes into play. VPN encrypts all the traffic from your computer. (Unlike with proxies, with VPN you don’t have to configure it for any app you are using.) You connect through a secure tunnel to your VPN provider and access the Internet from their computers.
With VPN all your traffic is encrypted and nobody (at least in theory) can intercept it. This makes VPN great to use when you don’t trust your Internet connection (like free WiFi) and/or when you have sensitive data to transmit (such as banking info).
VPN offers better security, but this comes at a price. First, most VPN plans are paid, though you can find decent offers for under $10 a month. Second, even though nobody can intercept your traffic, your VPN provider logs all your activity, so if they get hacked, or if they simply have to submit their logs (such as in a trial against you), you are totally exposed. On top of this, a VPN connection inevitably requires more resources, which in turn means it slows down your computer.
When you know the differences between proxies and VPN, you can make an informed decision of when to use each of them. Both have their pros and cons, and you can’t say one is better than the other – it all depends on the purpose you need them for. Basically, the rule goes like this: for less sensitive tasks, go with a proxy; for more sensitive ones, choose VPN.