Remember when VHS won the videotape format war over Betamax? We learned a valuable lesson that day. Sometimes the choice is not only about the manufacturer, but also one of the similar technologies that fulfill a similar need. The situation about proxies vs. VPNs is kind of like that. You’d probably want someone to explain the differences between the two in an easy-to-understand manner. This article will do just that!
What is a VPN?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) works by having an app (usually – though it can also be a browser plugin) that encrypts your traffic and routes it to a VPN server. The server decrypts it and sends it to the online destination. This makes it look like you’re connecting from the VPN server’s location and makes the data sent from your device unreadable to spies.
What is a proxy?
A proxy works by routing data through an additional server before sending it to your online destination. This makes it seem like you’re connecting from the proxy server’s location.
There are a few different kinds of proxies:
- HTTP proxy: probably the most simple proxy you can find, used to route your browser traffic.
- SOCKS5 proxy: a more powerful proxy variety that works on a deeper layer of the operating system, allowing it to cover more apps and better penetrate the blocks.
- Transparent proxy: if your internet access is restricted at work, it may be the work of a transparent proxy established by your employer.
The differences between VPNs and proxies
Hides your IP
Hides your IP
Encrypts your data
Doesn’t encrypt your data (unless it’s a HTTPS proxy)
Protects specific apps
Prevents ISP tracking
Doesn’t prevent ISP tracking
Protects you on public Wi-Fi
Doesn’t protect you on public Wi-Fi
Bonus: VPN vs proxy for torrenting
Both a proxy and a VPN can grant you access to torrent sites blocked by your ISP. Both of them switch out your IP (Internet Protocol) for the one that the server uses. This is where the similarities end.
The crucial difference between VPNs vs. proxies for torrenting is that the VPN also hides the fact that you’re using torrents from the ISP (Internet Service Provider). This means two things:
- The ISP can’t collect data on your torrenting.
- The ISP can’t engage in bandwidth throttling when you’re using torrents.
As such, VPNs are much better for torrenting than proxies. But those aren’t the only reasons why!
As torrents are increasingly frowned upon and banned, proxy server providers have taken full advantage of it. According to the data on the digital marketing analysis tool (Ahrefs), keywords relating to a popular torrenting website are just below the main keyword proxy in regards to search volume. Search volume refers to the number of monthly Google searches that you can see next to a keyword, as illustrated below.
It’s fair to assume that the primary use of proxies is accessing torrent websites. And as I’m putting these keywords into Google, I realize that all of the proxies (at least the ones ranking in the first Google search page) are free and, therefore, unsecured. Most of the websites instantly bombard you with pop-ups and ads suggesting you to install a VPN since your IP address is visible.
Online security tools need resources to be developed; thus, there’s no way that proxy providers offering you their services for free don’t make money off of it. How do they make money then? Most of the time, they get paid through ads or by selling your data to marketing and other companies. And by the number of people searching for these services, I don’t doubt that the providers make more than enough money off of their users.
VPN: like a proxy, but better
Despite VPNs and proxies working on roughly the same principles, one of the technologies is definitely more complex – and more powerful. So when it comes down to functionally, the proxy vs. VPN fight is easily won by VPNs. How about you try one out?