A sock inside a browser window with an arrow pointing to it.

SOCKS5 (Socket Secure) proxies are often mistaken as an alternative or equivalent to virtual private networks (VPNs). They are not. This confusion can lead you to a false sense of security. To untangle this issue, I prepared this post to explain 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. It’s an additional feature that some VPNs provide. However, unlike a VPN, it does so without encryption. SOCKS5 is just the latest, fastest version of the SOCKS protocol.

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    What is a SOCKS proxy?

    SOCKS is an internet protocol offering users greater anonymity than just browsing the web normally. When you connect to a SOCKS proxy, your internet traffic is routed through a third-party server using Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). This gives you a new IP (Internet Protocol) address for the duration of SOCKS use; changing your IP address means that web hosts (read: websites and services) can’t pin down your true 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 authentication methods and supports the UDP protocol (which is faster but less reliable than TCP).

    How to Setup SOCKS5?

    If the SOCKS5 proxy sounds like something you need, you’re in luck. It’s pretty easy to set up and use.  

    First of all, you need a SOCKS proxy server that will function as your proxy. You may create one yourself or purchase a premium proxy server. Some “free” options are out there, but they might not be as secure as the other two options. 

    Once you have that server, let’s configure SOCKS5 on your device. Here’s how to do that:

    1. Go to Settings → Network & internet;
    2. Find Proxy & click;
    3. Under Manual proxy setup, toggle the On button;
    4. Fill in info about your proxy server;
    5. Save.
    1. Go to System Settings → Network;
    2. Click a network service on the right, then click Details;
    3. Click Proxies;
    4. Type your proxy server address;
    5. Click OK.

    How does a SOCKS proxy work?

    An elevator with a sign above it saying

    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 which system is in use, SOCKS works on the fifth (of seven) layers.

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

    While SOCKS offers a few authentication methods (so that your device can be sure it’s connecting to what you want it to connect to), it does not provide encryption. Anyone sitting between you and the proxy server (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. You may need to look elsewhere if you want to encrypt your data so that nobody can read it. Implementing a SOCKS protocol alone does not guarantee your privacy and will not keep you safe from government surveillance or attacks on public Wi-Fi.

    We prohibit using Surfshark services for any unlawful purposes as it is against our Terms of Service. Please be sure to act in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations of streaming service providers.

    How safe are SOCKS proxies?

    SOCKS proxies are safe using the premium versions 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, so you can go about your business worry-free.

    What are the benefits of SOCKS proxies?

    SOCKS5 proxies can be pretty great for a few reasons: 

    Overcoming network firewalls

    Network firewalls block connections based on IP addresses. So if you want to visit Instagram and, say, your employer has blocked Instagram’s IP, the firewall won’t let you do it. But when you’re connected to a proxy, the firewall only sees you trying to connect to the proxy’s IP and allows it through. 

    Hiding your IP address online 

    Typically, when you connect to a web host (service or website), it records your IP address. But what if you don’t want to hand out the digital equivalent of your home address online willy-nilly? Then you can use a proxy, as connecting via a proxy essentially replaces your IP with the proxy’s.

    Changing your geographic location online 

    An IP address can be geolocated to a country or even a city. This may lead to some services blocking you due to where you are connecting from. But, with a proxy, the services will only see the proxy’s IP and location. So as long as the proxy is in the right place, you can access stuff you couldn’t otherwise. 

    Hiding the websites you go to from your ISP (Internet Service Provider)

    Your internet provider can see what websites you’re connecting to. But if you use a proxy, they can only know that you’re connected to it and nothing more. So they can’t snoop on you.

    Shielding yourself when VPN is not an option 

    Say you have a proxy server set up somewhere. So if you have to use a device that doesn’t allow installing apps (like a VPN app), you can just connect to the proxy server if you can fiddle with connection settings. 

    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 versatile 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?

    The difference is that SOCKS proxies aren’t as secure as VPNs. Of course, because both mask your IP address from prying eyes, most everyday users would think that these two are virtually the same. But that’s not quite the case:

    SOCKS Proxy
    Concealing your IP
    Encrypting traffic
    Hiding download activity from ISP

    Do I need SOCKS if I have a VPN?

    You don’t need a SOCKS proxy if you have a VPN. A VPN  already does everything SOCKS does and more.

    Can I get a SOCKS5 proxy for free?

    You can potentially find a SOCKS5 proxy for free. People often suggest looking for a free VPN that offers SOCKS5 functionality. 

    However, we strongly advise you against using a free VPN, which extends to any proxies on offer. Any criticism that’s rightfully aimed at free VPNs can also be applied to free SOCKS proxies, including:

    • Low speeds;
    • Not much choice in server locations;
    • The possibility of data theft.

    Thus, by choosing a free proxy, you are putting your online security at risk. 

    In conclusion: get the right tool for the right task 

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

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    What does SOCKS stand for proxy?

    SOCKS stands for “Socket Secure,” and it’s a type of proxy protocol.

    Are proxy and SOCKS the same?

    Proxy is an umbrella term, and SOCKS is a specific proxy protocol. 

    Are SOCKS5 proxies free?

    A proxy isn’t free unless you set it up yourself. Any that you find online that claim to be free are immediately suspicious as they have to upkeep the proxy somehow and this may involve selling data on your browsing habits. 

    Is a SOCKS proxy secure?

    SOCKS proxies are safe if you use the premium version. 

    However, if you’re looking for maximum security, SOCKS proxies won’t encrypt your data like a VPN. So make sure to choose the right tool. 

    How do I get a SOCKS5 proxy?

    You can find the SOCKS5 proxy by looking online. Research all available providers and get the one that fits your needs. Just steer clear of free offers.