Proxies vs VPNs – Understanding the Difference
The purpose of using both VPN and proxy servers is to conceal the users identity, or to spoof a certain geo-location. Many VPN providers offer VPN and proxy services as well. What is really interesting is that many public proxy servers are available to use for free. But the real problem here is to determine the difference between a proxy and a VPN. Essentially, it is even more important for you to determine which one will suit your needs and is affordable at the same time. Even though the two are quite similar, they work differently and have different consequences. This is further complicated by the fact that you have a lot of different proxy services online to choose from.
What are Proxy Servers?
Proxy servers (technically an open proxy) are computers that act as an intermediary between the internet and your computer. Any traffic routed through proxy servers will appear to have originated from its IP address instead of your computer. Unlike VPN servers, proxy servers do not have resources set aside to encrypt the traffic that passes through them and therefore are able to accept simultaneous connections from many users at the same time. Proxy servers usually communicate with the internet using either HTTP or SOCKS.
The Pros and Cons of HTTP and SOCKS Proxy Servers
To further understand the difference between the two protocols, it would be wise to review the pros and cons of each proxy server.
HTTP Proxy Servers
The HTTP protocol is designed to interpret traffic at HTTP level. This means that not only are they able to handle traffic with URLs starting with shttp: // or http:// but they are equally effective for web surfing. However, since these servers do nothing more than handle HTTP requests, they tend to be faster than your usual VPN servers or SOCKS proxies.
HTTP proxies tend to be cheap and are equally effective at hiding your IP from basic checks which makes it the perfect option for accessing geo-restricted websites and account creations. But then again, these proxies are only useful for accessing websites and nothing more than that.
SOCKS Proxy Servers
SOCKS servers do not interpret network traffic at all. This makes them much more flexible but slower at the same time. One of the biggest advantages of the SOCKS protocol is that it supports any and all kinds of internet traffic including SMTP and POP3 for emails, FTP and torrent files as well. But one of its biggest downfalls is its security issues which are more or less the same as HTTP.
Unlike proxies, VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) create encrypted tunnels between the host server and your computer. You need to keep in mind that the government or your ISP has the necessary means to review the VPN server you have connected to but nothing more. Your IP addresses and activities remain hidden using a 128-bit encryption.
That being said, VPN servers do have the ability to review your online logs. A good VPN provider tends to avoid logging such details. It goes without saying that compromising the activities of the user and what they have been doing online defeats the purpose of using a VPN in the first place.
To set up a VPN, you would normally need to download and then install a VPN client. But users do have the option to configure their computers or mobile devices with minimum computing skills using the guides offered by their respective VPN providers. Once everything is set up, any and all internet activity regardless of the program you may be using will be routed through the VPN safely.
One of the biggest cons of a VPN server is that they are comparatively pricey. Furthermore, during heavy use, the servers can slow down exponentially which is never a good thing.
Keeping the aforementioned factors in mind, it is safe to say that VPN servers are far more superior to your everyday proxies. Not only are they highly effective but they are the best at what they do. Since your online anonymity is greatly enhanced, it is an even better way to bypass ISP throttling.
The only reason why anyone would ever choose a proxy over a VPN server is when a user is not ready to pay for such a service. But then again, VPN services are not as expensive as they may seem and can cost for as low as $10 per month.