Proxy vs. VPN: Similar, Yet Not the Same
You need to know your options when wanting to stay anonymous on the internet.
A proxy server and a VPN are two of the most popular ways to protect your identity. But can you tell the difference between them?
A lack of privacy, geo-blocking, and hacking are just a few examples of the dangers and challenges you can face online. Naturally, many people ask themselves: “Why don’t I just install a proxy server or set up a VPN or whatever?” And while it’s sometimes good practice to stay anonymous on the web, the “whatever” approach can cause more harm than good.
You need to understand the differences between a proxy and a VPN so you can work out which of them is most suitable for your needs. After reading this post, you’ll be able to answer questions including:
- What’s a proxy and what’s a VPN?
- What are the main differences between a proxy and a VPN?
- When to use a proxy and when to use a VPN?
Let’s start with the basics.
Proxy vs. VPN: What’s what?
When you try to open a web page, your device sends a request to your internet service provider (ISP). The ISP sees the request and shares your IP address with the website you want to visit. The website then sees your IP and grants you access. Boom, you’re in.
So, where’s the problem? This is in the IP-part. It is associated with who you are, where you live, and what you do online. But what if you don’t want to divulge this information? That’s where a proxy comes into play.
A proxy server is a middleman between you and the internet. When you’re accessing a website using a proxy, the typical route changes: instead of sharing your IP, your internet provider sends the IP of your proxy server to the website you’re trying to access instead. And it looks like your proxy, not you, has visited the website.
Similarly to a proxy server, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) hides your IP address. But alongside this, a VPN encrypts all the data flowing between you and the global web.
This is the main difference between a proxy server and a VPN. But is it the only one? Let’s look at the most crucial points.
Differences between proxy and VPN
Though a web proxy and a VPN seem initially similar, they are two fundamentally different online privacy solutions. Let’s see how proxies and VPNs differ in terms of speed, data encryption, operation level, and setup.
Since a proxy is just a single server and many people may use it at the same time, you should be ready for delays in the connection speed. You might have difficulties watching video streams, downloading something, or accessing certain websites.
When we talk about a paid proxy server, they are somewhat faster. First, since it’s not free, fewer people use it, so the loading speed is better. Second, private proxies cache data. This means when you surf the web, your proxy saves details of all the sites you visit. When you access them for a second time, you don’t visit them directly - your proxy shows you the saved versions. Thus, everything appears straight away.
A VPN can also slow down the connection speed if its servers are too far from your location. But you will hardly notice a delay with the top VPN providers, which invest heavily in technology and maintenance.
Data encryption and privacy
Though both proxy and VPN hide your IP address, they handle your data differently. A proxy server is just a ‘man-in-the-middle’ between you and the web. It doesn’t secure any data you send and receive when using the internet.
For example, if you decide to check your credit card balance using public Wi-Fi, a hacker can intercept your credit card details. How do you prevent this? First, of course, avoid doing operations with sensitive data via public Wi-Fi. Secondly, opt-in for a VPN.
VPNs go beyond just hiding your IP. They encrypt all the data you send and receive, creating a secure “tunnel”. This means neither the websites you’re visiting nor hackers looking to steal your sensitive details can seize your data. Even your internet provider will never know what you’re doing while you’re securely browsing online.
The level of operation
The fundamental difference between a VPN and a proxy server is how they operate on different levels. While a proxy server works on the app level, a VPN covers the entire traffic of your operating system. Confusing? Let us explain.
A proxy could be configured in your network settings, so each application can use these proxy settings. For example, you can set up one proxy for Google Chrome and another for your Safari.
Meanwhile, a VPN will save you from the headache of infinite configuration. You can either install a VPN directly on your computer or on your router and enjoy encrypted browsing on all devices connected to the network. For instance, there’s no other way to encrypt the data that comes from your smart TV.
In most cases, both VPN and proxy settings are relatively easy to set up. However, it will require a certain level of technical knowledge (or a dedication for following instructions).
Here’s how to set up a proxy server on your Mac:
1️⃣Go to the System Preferences app and click on Network.
2️⃣In the window that opens, click the Advanced button at the bottom right corner.
3️⃣In the new window, click on the Proxies tab.
4️⃣Check the Auto Proxy Discovery checkbox if you want your Mac to search for a proxy in the network and use it once it’s found.
5️⃣Check the Automatic Proxy Configuration checkbox if you know the address of the configuration .pac file of the proxy.
Otherwise, you’ll have to configure a proxy for each connection protocol you use. For this, you’ll need a proxy server address, a port, login, and password. You can get them from your IT departments or ISP.
Setting up a VPN on Mac might look just as intimidating, but don’t worry. VPN providers are putting extra effort into making them user-friendly. A VPN may even come with a handy app to guide you through the entire process. Here’s what it looks like with the VPN from Clario.
When to use a proxy and when to use a VPN?
While an average proxy is cheaper than an average VPN, it’s critical to know for sure if paying more is worth it. So, if the only thing you want is to hide your ID from onlookers, a basic proxy server will do. Besides, a proxy will grant you access to a website unavailable in your location.
But when it comes to performing tasks beyond bypassing geo-blocking, using a proxy won’t be enough, and here’s why you need a VPN. While hiding your IP address, a VPN prevents anyone from seeing, selling, or even stealing your data, be it your ISP, a malicious proxy server owner, the government, or a hacker pretending to drink coffee over there. Yes, we see you! Just be sure to find a reputable VPN provider.
Speaking of providers, you’re welcome to try the VPN from Clario.
On top of being extremely easy to use for people of different levels of tech literacy, our VPN also offers full network security, genuine data privacy, safe shopping and banking, and other perks. Try our VPN today, and finally put an end to unsafe browsing.
We’d like to stay in touch.
We’ve got something special to share! Enter your contact details below to be among the first to find out about the exciting changes we’ve got in the works as well as to receive special promotions.
Thanks for your subscription!
You’ll be the first to know about our updates. Please keep an eye on your mailbox.