VPNs and proxy services seem interchangeable, but there are some critical differences. Today, we’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each, covering concepts such as spoofing, encryption, and more. By the end of this article, you’ll have everything you need to make informed decisions about what the best VPN or proxy provider is for you.
The internet isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. Back when “going online” first became a thing, users could connect and surf the web with a surprising amount of safety. The worst thing you were likely to encounter was the dreaded “blink” HTML tag, which was annoying, but not dangerous.
The modern interenet is an entirely different beast. Threats to our privacy are everywhere, including from our own ISPs. There are also services that censor or restrict information based on our location, making it difficult to surf the free and open web like we used to.
This is where VPNs and proxies enter the picture. With a good proxy service or virtual private network on your device, you can thwart attempts to control or censor your traffic. With the right service you can even increase your online privacy to use the internet anonymously, as well. Below we discuss the pros and cons of VPNs vs proxy services so you know which one keeps you safe online.
Issues of Online Privacy and Anonymity
If you’re looking for information on VPNs vs proxies, chances are online privacy is on your mind. Let’s start with a quick rundown of some of the issues facing modern internet users.
Keeping Data Secure
Every packet of data that leaves your PC or smartphone is sent through dozens of servers, often located around the world. At any point in this process a third party (or your ISP) can take a look at that information to see where it came from, where it’s going, and who is requesting it. This means it’s possible to track anyone’s web activity simply by monitoring data leaving their device, a prospect that’s enough to make some people reach for their router and unplug it.
READ ALSO: What Is the Krack Wi-Fi Vulnerability?
IP addresses are necessary for routing information to and from your computer across the internet. The downside is they also let anyone track down the origin of that data to discover your real location. Staying anonymous online is painfully difficult in most cases, and no one is interested in sharing their life’s details with every website they visit.
Censorship and Geo-Restrictions
Apart from privacy issues, the number one reason most people turn to VPNs or proxies is because they’re experiencing some form of censorship. This can be on a government level such as the strict internet controls put in place in China, or it can be on a business or school level where certain networks won’t let you access certain sites. Either way, your online freedoms are being tampered with, and that’s why people are looking for solutions.
RELATED READING: How to Bypass School Wi-Fi Restrictions
Accessing worldwide movies is closely related to this issue. Have you ever tried using Netflix or YouTube from another country? You’ll quickly find the selection of content just isn’t the same. Many films and TV shows aren’t available in certain regions, a practice many see as unfairly restrictive, especially for services they pay money for.
First Look at VPNs vs Proxies
Who needs a VPN and who needs a proxy? The answer might be simpler than you think. Check out our breakdown of each service below, followed by a quick comparison of VPNs and proxies.
What Is a VPN?
VPN stands for virtual private network. There are hundreds of services that provide these features on the market, each one with a slightly different take on the experience. At its core, though, a VPN offers two things: security through data encryption, and anonymity through IP address obfuscation.
Encryption is key to creating a secure online connection. Think of a VPN like a private tunnel from your device to the internet: everything that goes in or out of this tunnel stays hidden thanks to a layer of powerful encryption. No one can see what the data is, even if they intercept it. With a VPN active everything you do online stays private no matter what.
VPNs also change your IP address by routing traffic through their non-local servers. Each packet of data normally gets stamped with your local IP before hitting the internet. With a VPN, that packet gets changed to show a different IP, one that isn’t associated with your location or identity. Now you can surf the web without divulging your personal details, all thanks to a VPN.
What Is a Proxy?
Proxy services are arguably older than modern VPNs. Proxies arose when companies started restricting access to services based on user location. If someone couldn’t access a website or watch a movie from their country, all they had to do was join a proxy service, choose a server in a different region, then reload and access all the content they like.
Proxies deliver the same IP address change-up as VPNs. They allow you to appear as if you’re from another location, opening up the world wide web to full and free access once again. However, proxies offer exactly no encryption on these connections.
Free Proxies and VPNs are Dangerous
It doesn’t matter whether you’re interested in a VPN or a proxy, there’s one standard rule you should always keep in mind: free services are rarely a good idea. Not only can they be slow and restrictive, but they can damage your online privacy, as well.
Any VPN or proxy has to have money to stay in operation, otherwise their servers will shut down. If they aren’t bringing in profits from paying customers, they have to go elsewhere for income. The most common method is to sell data collected from users. All of your browsing history on a free proxy or free VPN could be stored and sold to third parties without your consent or permission.
The market for VPNs and proxies is so competitive these days, you’re much better off with a low-cost service. These companies have an active incentive to keep your data safe, so you won’t have to worry about underhanded deals to share your personal information with advertisers or government agencies.
Basically, if a product or service is being offered free online, you’re the product, with your information being sold off to the highest bidder.
Comparing VPNs vs Proxies
Proxy services and VPNs only offer one common feature: virtual IP addresses. For proxies the service usually ends there, while VPNs offer a lot more. The right VPN can keep your data safe and your identity hidden while switching between hundreds of remote servers. They’re faster than proxies, safer, and usually easier to use, as well.
No matter what your needs, a VPN is practically guaranteed to deliver better service than a proxy, hands down. Follow our recommendations below to ensure you get the absolute best VPN experience possible for online security and location variability.
VPNs – The Best Way to Stay Private and Secure
The most effective way to hide your IP address and keep your online activities anonymous is to use a VPN. There really is no competition. It’s not easy to find the right VPN, though. How do you find a good balance between speed, security, reliability, and encryption strength? How do you know the VPN is reliable enough to handle your data? By doing research, that’s how.
We’ve done most of the work for you with a few VPN recommendations below. We made our selections by ranking the following criteria, all of which are important for finding the best VPN to keep you safe and provide virtual IP addresses.
- Device support – In order to use a VPN, you have to have an app for your device.
- Fast downloads – VPNs can be slower than an unencrypted internet connection. A good VPN works to offset that, allowing fast downloads and smooth streaming.
- Size of network – The more servers a VPN offers, the more IP addresses at your disposal.
- Unlimited bandwidth – Don’t let bandwidth restrictions stop your movie streams.
- Zero-logging policy – Always make sure your service has a strict zero-logging policy, just like the ones below.
So, What’s the Best Overall VPN?
Now that it’s clear that VPNs offer better security and utility for the money, we present to you the top-rated VPNs on the market:
ExpressVPN ranks as one of the fastest and most security-aware VPN providers out there. The company deploys a strong network of over 3,000 servers in 94 different countries, enough to provide thousands of available IP addresses for an enormous amount of online freedom. You can also switch servers as often as you like and connect up to three devices at a time, including smartphones, tablets, and gaming consoles.
Privacy is another of ExpressVPN’s strong points. The company aims to keep users safe with DNS leak protection, a kill switch for both desktop and Android devices, and absolutely no logs. Couple that with 256-bit AES encryption, unlimited bandwidth, and no restrictions on traffic types and you’ve got a great VPN service that can hide your IP on iOS, iPad, iPhone, and plenty of other devices.
Read our full ExpressVPN review.
- SPECIAL OFFER: 3 months free (49% off - link below)
- Fast serves with minimal speed loss
- OpenVPN, IPSec & IKEv2 Encryption
- No logging policy well enforced
- 24/7 Live Chat.
- Power-users configuration options.
NordVPN has some of the most incredible features of any VPN. The service is well-respected in the industry, hosting countless satisfied customers who use NordVPN on a wide variety of devices. One of the most impressive features is the size of the company’s network. The list is always growing, but currently NordVPN hosts over 5,500 servers across 59 different countries, delivering thousands of non-local and anonymous IP addresses for you to choose from. There are even exclusive servers you can use for DDoS protection, onion over VPN routing, and double encryption.
NordVPN has a thorough and full-featured zero-logging policy on bandwidth, traffic, time stamps, and DNS access to ensure your activity is never stored long-term. An automatic kill switch and DNS leak protection features on the VPN’s software hide your identity, as well. 256-bit AES encryption keeps every packet of data locked down tight for a sturdy foundation of online anonymity and security.
Read our full NordVPN review.
- Optimized servers for unblocking Netflix
- Extensive server park of over 5,400 different servers
- DNS leak protection, kill switch
- Strict zero logs policy on both traffic and metadata
- 24/7 Live Chat.
- Sometimes slow in procesing refunds (but always do).
CyberGhost is a fast-growing VPN that delivers a superb balance of speed, privacy, and security. The company offers connections to over 5,900 servers in 90 different countries, giving you all the speed and non-local IP address you could ever need. This forms the perfect foundation for high-connectivity surfing and streaming, and it makes it extremely easy to bypass censorship blockades and stream movies from foreign countries.
This provider doesn’t impose bandwidth limitations or speed caps for any of its users, giving you full and unrestricted access to the web. CyberGhost also employs strong privacy practices to keep you safe online, starting with 256-bit AES encryption on all data along with a zero-logging policy on traffic, time stamps, and IP address. DNS leak protection and an automatic kill switch are standard with the company’s custom software for most platforms, as well.
Read our full CyberGhost review.
- LOW PRICE: 6 EXTRA free months (79% off - link below)
- Compatible with TOR
- 7 simultaneous connections
- Strict no logging
- Reliable and knowledgeable 24/7 live chat support.
- WebRTC IPv6 leak in macOS
- Can’t unblock some other streaming sites.
While VPNs and proxies may seem similar at first glance, the two services offer a vastly different experience for end users. Really, there’s only one point of overlap: remote IP address variability. Proxies offer this but nothing else, while VPNs deliver that and many more features you can use to stay safe online. VPN vs proxy? It’s an easy choice to make, when you think about it.
Do you agree with our assessment? What do you use your VPN connection for? Let us know in the comments below.
If you need a VPN for a short while when traveling for example, you can get our top ranked VPN free of charge. ExpressVPN includes a 30-day money-back guarantee. You will need to pay for the subscription, that’s a fact, but it allows full access for 30 days and then you cancel for a full refund. Their no-questions-asked cancellation policy lives up to its name.