Proxy vs VPN
If you're finding yourself on this website, you might be asking yourself: "to VPN, or proxy? I’m an average user who prefers privacy, but also wants a solid connection that can stream content from my favorite media portals, so which solution is right for me?" Well, the first thing you should know is that although they have key differences, a VPN is essentially a piece of software which helps you connect to a proxy server, and the only difference is the amount of encryption and protection in between you and the outside servers. While a proxy will simply prevent third parties from being able to accurately trace where your traffic is coming from, paid VPN services go the extra mile, encrypting any traffic that goes between you or their servers behind a wall of 256-bit AES anonymity. So, which one could be the Belle of your ball? Read on to find out.
To know the basics of what both services accomplish, think about what you saw when you first signed on What’s My IP today. If you’re surfing the web without any form of protection, your IP address was probably located somewhere in your town, or even right on your street. This is the kind of valuable data that advertisers, marketers, hackers, and legal agencies can use to track what you do on the net back to your real identity, and it’s what proxy servers/VPNs were designed to keep safe. Proxy servers are a way to stop those would-be surveillers from catching a whiff of your scent, and instead throw them off to another server that can be located anywhere else in the world. These can be anything from one to hundreds of hops away from the original connection, and each link in the chain makes it exponentially more difficult to evaluate where a particular query or traffic request came from in the first place. Proxies use two different types of encryption to shield your identity: HTTPS and SOCKS. Both have their benefits, with HTTPS being a bit faster and cheaper to run, while SOCKS offers a little extra umph in the defense department. We’ll go into deeper detail about what you can expect as the core differentiators in these two options in following blogs, but for now all you need to know is that both are effective alternatives to running a bare connection with bandwidth that’s constantly vulnerable to being exploited by unknown assaliants.
If we were break it down to simple terms, if a proxy is a safe, reliable way to ghost your traffic on the net, VPN’s would be the extra invisibility cloak on top of everything that repels almost all popular methods of detection. They work by installing a piece of software on your desktop, laptop, phone or tablet that connects you to a proxy server under their control with a single click. Once the connection is established, you can visit any sites you desire without worrying whether or not your information is being handed out without your previous consent. As the market exists in its current state there’s about a 50/50 split in the pool of VPN providers who do (or don’t) keep any sort of records or archives on their users. The reason this statistic is important, is that if you ever had your information requesitioned by a law enforcement agency, those logs could potentially be used to tie your source IP address to the activity in question, nullifying the need for a VPN in the first place. And even if your provider claims they don’t track user data, one caveat in this department is that because you pay a monthly fee for the service, no matter which VPN you eventually choose there is still the potential they will have a couple of crumbs of financial data on you that could be used to identify your activities tied back to a credit card, bank account, or PayPal username. That may not sound like much of an issue from the outset, but because the name of the game here is totally anonymous browsing capability, you should always be careful enough to keep an eye on how much personal data a VPN service asks for at signup just in case the day ever comes when that’s the one piece that a prosecutor needs to finish out the rest of their puzzle in court.
Both of these privacy tools offer their own benefits and drawbacks, and to say one is objectively “better” than the other would only do a disservice to the practice as a whole. If speed and server availability are your thing, proxies are the perfect pick. If you’re willing to sacrifice a little a bandwidth for the promise of protection and don’t mind paying into the privilege, than a VPN could be everything you want and more.