With so many types of VPN and proxy services available, it can be hard to choose the best one for your needs. But another question often comes up: what exactly is the difference between a proxy and a VPN anyway?
Both proxies and VPNs or virtual private networks perform many of the same tasks. Both can be used to conceal your IP address, spoof your location or protect you from some forms of tracking. However, that is where the similarities end.
A proxy server is a computer that acts as a mediator between your device and the internet at large. Network traffic flows from your device to the proxy server, and then from the proxy server to the web. That means to outsiders, it looks like your device’s IP address is really the proxy’s IP address.
Depending on where the server is located, it would look as if you were in another location. A common use for proxies is for surfing the web and bypassing location-based censorship.
Unlike a VPN though, proxy servers usually don’t encrypt the network traffic it handles so it can accept connections from thousands of users at once. To further break it down, proxy servers talk to the internet using one of two protocols: HTTP or SOCKS.
If you look at the URL bar in your browser, you’ll notice that every website begins with HTTP or HTTPS. This protocol lets websites link together into the web, which is why the internet is sometimes called the World Wide Web. These HTTP proxies are known as web proxies, and they are only useful for surfing websites. These servers are often faster than proxies that use SOCKS, or VPN servers.
SOCKS stands for “socket secure” and is an internet protocol used by proxies that require user authentication to use the proxy. These servers can handle more types of traffic than HTTP servers, and as a result are slower but more useful.
HTTP Proxy Servers
- Cheap and sometimes free
- Hides your IP address from basic checks
- Only handles web surfing
- Traffic is not encrypted, so your ISP or government can still see what you’re doing
- Each internet browser needs to be manually set up to use the proxy, although this is supported by all browsers
SOCKS Proxy Servers
- Handles many types of web traffic, including torrents
- Users need a login to access these servers so they can be private
- Slower than HTTP proxy servers
- Each program needs to be manually configured
- Like HTTP, your network traffic can still be seen by your ISP and government agencies
Virtual Private Networks
A VPN is different from a proxy in that it creates a secure “tunnel” between your computer and the VPN server, which can be used to force all of your internet traffic through the VPN server. VPNs are more secure than proxies. Your ISP or government agencies can see that you are connected to a VPN server, but everything else including your terminating IP address and web activities is completely hidden.
It’s important to remember that a VPN server can still see what you’re doing, so it’s important to choose a secure VPN provider like LiquidVPN who won’t sell your data or keep a record of what you do. VPNs are easy to use. Although you usually have to download and install a piece of software called a VPN client, it’s easy to set up and you don’t need technical skills.
- Your internet activity can’t be spied upon by third parties
- Advanced encryption is available
- All types of internet activity are concealed once set up
- More expensive than proxies because of added infrastructure
- Can be a little slow if a lot of people are using it
- If your VPN provider keeps records or logs of your activity, they can be compelled to give them up to the authorities
Virtual private networks are better than proxies in nearly every way. The only reason a person should choose a proxy is if they are not concerned with someone intercepting their traffic or if they are looking for the cheapest way to hide their IP address, although most VPNs can be purchased for less than $10/month.
Here at LiquidVPN, we offer plans as low as $7/month, and you can try our service for seven days with a money back guarantee. We don’t keep records of your activity, and we have high-speed servers ranging from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps. LiquidVPN also doesn’t prevent you from using services like BitTorrent and P2P.