Surfshark Socks proxy graphic

SOCKS5 (Socket Secure) proxies are often mistaken as an alternative or equivalent to virtual private networks (VPN). This often leads to confusion for computer users and can provide a false sense of security. To untangle this issue, I prepared this post, which will explain just what sort of animal a SOCKS proxy is and what you can do with it. 

In short: what is a SOCKS proxy?

A SOCKS proxy is a server that uses the SOCKS protocol to route your data – unlike a VPN, it does so without encryption. SOCKS5 is just the latest, fastest version of SOCKS protocol.

    What is SOCKS?

    SOCKS is an internet protocol that offers users a greater degree of anonymity than they set out with initially. When you connect to a SOCKS proxy, your internet traffic is routed through a third-party server via Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). Over the course of this process, you’re assigned a brand new IP (Internet Protocol) address; changing your IP address means that web hosts (read: websites and services) can’t pin down your exact physical location.

    What is SOCKS5?

    SOCKS5 is the most up-to-date version of the SOCKS protocol. SOCKS5 proxies are no longer plagued by issues present in SOCKS4, the original widely adopted version. It offers three methods of authentication and supports the UDP protocol (which is faster but less reliable than TCP).

    How does a SOCKS proxy work?

    How does a SOCKS proxy work?

    SOCKS5 proxies are more wide-reaching than traditional HTTP proxies. According to the OSI model, which allows a unified understanding of telecommunication systems without caring about what specific system is in use, SOCKS works on the fifth (of seven) layers.

    SOCKS sits above TCP and UDP (the protocols that handle basically all of your data transfers) on the transport layer. This means that it can form physical connections with the client and the server in an attempt to ensure that all packets arrive at their intended destinations in the same way they were sent.

    While SOCKS offers a few methods of authentication (so that your device can be sure it’s connecting to what you want it to be connecting), it does not offer encryption, which means that anyone sitting between you and the proxy server (so, your ISP or a hacker that compromised your favorite public Wi-Fi hotspot) can read your data. 

    Do I need a SOCKS proxy?

    SOCKS5 proxies are ideal for scenarios that require bypassing regional filters or firewalls… and that’s it. If you want to encrypt your data so that it couldn’t be read between you and the server it’s routed to, you may need to look elsewhere. Implementing a SOCKS protocol alone does not guarantee privacy and will not keep you safe from government surveillance or attacks that occur on public WiFi.

    Surfshark does not encourage using a VPN in any way that would potentially violate the Terms of Service of other service providers.

    How safe are SOCKS proxies?

    SOCKS proxies are safe if you use the premium version – just like VPNs! Certain proxy companies have been known to log user data. If you use a premium SOCKS proxy provider, this will not be an issue. Your information will remain safe and secure– which means that you can go about your business worry-free.

    What are the most common uses of SOCK proxies?

    SOCKS5 proxies are excellent for everyday users for a few reasons: 

    • Overcoming network firewalls (read: blocking by work or school)
    • Hiding your IP address online 
    • Changing your geographic location online 
    • Hiding the websites you go to from the internet service provider (ISP)

    What is the difference between a SOCKS proxy and an HTTP proxy?

    In short, HTTP proxies only handle HTTP requests – so they only work when accessing websites. A SOCKS proxy routes data from any website or app, making it a more universal choice. 

    SOCKS5 proxies connect to the internet utilizing a process known as tunneling; tunneling is widely accepted as one of the most secure ways to connect to and access the internet. It’s undoubtedly more secure than traditional, standard HTTP proxies. HTTP proxies use an open port to connect with the internet. Because tunnels aren’t used to form connections, these proxies are easily broken down and penetrated. SOCKS5 proxies do not have this issue.

    SOCKS vs. VPNs – What’s the difference?

    As previously mentioned, it’s not uncommon for the average computer user to confuse SOCKS proxies and VPNs. Both mask your IP address from prying eyes; to the layman, this can seem like the one and only thing to concern yourself with when you’re looking to up your security. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when selecting between a SOCKS proxy or a VPN:

    SOCKS Proxy
    VPN
    Concealing your IP
    Yes
    Yes
    Encrypting traffic
    No
    Yes
    Hiding download activity from ISP
    No
    Yes

    Get the right tool for the right task 

    SOCKS proxies are an excellent choice for those looking to add a layer of safety to their browsing habits. But overall, VPNs are the clear choice when it comes to keeping your dealings online private as well as providing access to the content you crave. And while nothing is stopping you from using both technologies at the same time, the benefits are largely marginal. So why not just go with a VPN?

    SOCKS are insecure. Try a VPN.

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