Need a tool to overcome geo-blocking? Then people will recommend you all sorts of things. You’ll keep hearing acronyms like DNS, smart DNS, and VPN. But what do they do and are they really what you need? This article will tell you all you need to know about them – and how to choose the right option for you.
Smart DNS vs. VPN in short
(Domain Name System)
Both smart DNS and VPN use DNS to unblock websites and services. DNS is an integral part of both VPN and smart DNS.
(Virtual Private Network)
|Combination of DNS and proxy server||Encrypts your data and routes it via a VPN server|
|Faster than VPN||No IP hiding||Hides IP||May slow down the connection|
|Can unlock some geo-restricted content||No encryption||Encrypts data||Not supported by some devices|
|Works on devices that don’t support VPN clients||Manual setup||Easy to set up|
|Lacks other VPN features||Can unblock any content|
|Additional security features (Kill Switch, split tunneling, etc.)|
What is DNS?
DNS is an acronym for a Domain Name System. It’s like a phonebook for computers: when you give them a name (website address), they use the DNS to look up the phone number (website’s IP address). That’s how computers are able to reach them. Most people use the default DNS supplied by their internet service provider (ISP).
Changing your DNS can help overcome the most basic ISP-level blocks that are carried out at the DNS level.
For example, the government tells your internet service provider (ISP) to block the website “catguns.edu.” The ISP restricts access to that domain address, so when you enter “catguns.edu” in the browser bar, it tells you that it can’t find the website. If you change your DNS provider, then the block won’t work, and you would be able to access “catguns.edu” freely.
However, that’s just your regular DNS. Smart DNS is a slightly different story.
Is changing DNS legal?
Yes, changing DNS is legal. The service is mostly there to provide basic internet functionality. You are not forced to use your ISP’s DNS. That’s why high-profile alternative DNS services like OpenDNS and Google’s Public DNS exist.
Is it safe to change your DNS?
A DNS change will not hurt your device. As long as you’re using a well-known service – like OpenDNS and Public DNS – you are not in any danger. Also, changing DNS can be undone at any time as long as you have the data for the original one.
What is a smart DNS?
Smart DNS is a term for a service that combines a DNS server and a proxy server. The DNS part of the system picks up when the user wants to access a specific website, for example, a streaming service with many geo-restrictions – and then routes that request via the proxy server.
That proxy server then pings the geo-blocked website you wish to access. This makes the streaming service believe that the user is actually connecting from the proxy server’s location. If that server is in the US, the website makes its US library accessible to the user.
Smart DNS services are usually paid, as developing a product that increases your access and overcomes geographical restrictions needs advanced resources.
Is smart DNS proxy legal?
Proxies are legal, DNS changing is legal, and a combination of those two is also legal. Some online services might object to you using a smart DNS proxy, but there is no law against its use.
Now you know what a smart DNS is and does. Time to learn about VPNs. Good VPNs can combine both of the discussed technologies into one service and provide you with something more.
What is a VPN?
The most secure connection in the world would be two computers connected by a single wire, as there wouldn’t be a third computer to listen in. A VPN – Virtual Private Network – recreates that sense of security and privacy by using such smart tech things as encryption and VPN servers.
What do VPNs do? They grant you unparalleled access to the world of online content by helping to overcome many types of online restrictions, including DNS blocks, IP blocks, and others. Also, they provide encryption to the data you send and receive, making your online activities more private.
This allows VPN to bypass most of the blocks, which makes it extremely popular for streaming – about 50% of VPN users use it to access restricted content.
Opening up the internet is only half of the use of a VPN. The other is security: hiding your DNS and IP makes it very hard to track you online. The government can force your ISP to record your browsing history, and hackers may try to steal your data. Using a VPN makes those attempts a lot harder – if not impossible.
What is the difference between smart DNS and VPN?
The biggest differences between a smart DNS and VPN solutions are that a smart DNS doesn’t encrypt your connection or hide your IP. This makes it less powerful when it comes to unblocking content online.
Those two VPN features also make VPNs great at maintaining your privacy and security on the internet. A smart DNS isn’t meant for that.
Is smart DNS better than a VPN?
VPN is a more flexible service that is better at almost everything a smart DNS does. For a more detailed breakdown of which service to use depending on circumstances, read the following section.
Smart DNS vs. VPN for… Streaming
If your key goal is accessing geo-restricted content, such as the US Netflix, a smart DNS may be a better choice due to two factors: speed and platforms. If you can access a service using smart DNS, the download speeds will be faster. Also, smart DNS can be set up on a device that doesn’t support VPN clients like consoles (Xbox, PS4) and smart TVs (Apple TV and more).
However, there are services and websites that you wouldn’t be able to reach by only using a smart DNS – but a VPN could do that.
Smart DNS vs. VPN for… Security
Smart DNS doesn’t do much for your security. The DNS server address might change, which will trick DNS lookups. Yet that still leaves your IP address out in the open, and your data isn’t being encrypted.
Smart DNS vs. VPN for… Torrenting
Smart DNS may allow you to reach a torrent website that’s blocked on the DNS level. But it won’t hide your IP and won’t protect you while you’re downloading and uploading files. A VPN will.
Smart DNS vs. VPN for… Speed
A smart DNS has a smaller impact on your internet speed than VPN. This is because VPN needs to use some bandwidth for encryption. As smart DNS doesn’t encrypt your data, this makes your connection faster.
Smart DNS vs. VPN for… Bypassing firewalls
A smart DNS can’t bypass IP blocks that workplaces and schools put up – but a VPN can do that and more.
Smart DNS vs. VPN for… Covering all devices
Smart DNS can be set up on devices that don’t always allow a VPN client to be installed. However, if you have a compatible router, you can install the VPN client on it and secure any device that connects to it: your phone, your kids’ tablet, your friends’ phones, a smart lamp, Alexa – you name it.
A DNS is a very basic service that enables the processes running the internet. Changing your DNS is a simple way of overcoming mundane blocks. Getting a smart DNS increases your accessibility to streaming sites a lot more than a simple DNS change, but it isn’t all-powerful. Now, a VPN is matchless when it comes to improving access to online content – and it comes with many security benefits as well.