VPN vs Proxy: What’s the Difference?

There may be a bit of confusion about Virtual Private Network (VPN) services and proxies. Both claim to route your connection through a remote computer. However, there are many other aspects of these two services that are very different.

VPNs allow secure connections through remote servers. They do this by using a combination of encryption and connection protocols. With a VPN service, your identity and all the data you’re sending and receiving is kept safe and secure.

For those of you who haven’t already read our Comprehensive VPN Guide, you can learn all the details about VPN services there. Proxies on the other hand perform a similar routing functionality, but not necessarily in a secure manner.

For Some Purposes They Are the Same

If all you are looking to achieve is to appear as somewhere else than you really are, then either a VPN or Proxy server will do. This is known as location spoofing and allows you to access geolocation restricted content.

As an example, Netflix has different content available for people who are in different regions;

Country TV show count Movie count
US 1326 4399
UK 542 2425
Germany 350 1435
France 387 1541
Japan 405 1360
The Netherlands 372 1408
Australia 445 1599
Italy 196 1000
India 201 554
Korea 152 507
Turkey 194 511

By using a VPN or Proxy server, you can spoof your location and watch any region content on Netflix you want.

Similarly, both can also help you bypass censorship at the location where you are. Essentially you are hiding behind another server and your real connection is masked.

What Kinds of Proxies Are There?

HTTP Proxies – These are the originals, the first of their kind. They were designed and made specifically to help users channel web traffic. If you’re using one of these, remember that they are NOT secure.

When using a HTTP proxy for sensitive transactions (anything requiring a username and password), always make sure that your web browser is SSL enabled.

SOCKS Proxies – For those who want to channel more than just web traffic, SOCKS proxies are the way to go. It can be web, FTP or even file streaming traffic, the SOCKS proxy doesn’t care.

They are also not secure and in fact, slower than HTTP proxies because of the bulk information they handle.

What’s the Difference Then?

Because they are quite similar in basic concept, VPN servers can technically also be called proxy servers. The key difference is that most proxy servers only encrypts web traffic. On the other hand, VPNs encrypt everything. Because of this, VPN servers usually require you to use a specialized app.

Proxy servers are a little more complicated, usage-wise. When using a proxy, each application you want to route traffic through needs to be configured individually. This can get complicated unless you have extremely basic needs.

There is a major catch though, if you’re thinking that your basic needs can be satisfied using a free proxy server.

By you’ve you know that VPNs and proxy servers are similar in nature. Because of that, both require some cost to setup and run. Like all ‘free’ services on the net, someone must earn money somewhere. Even Wikipedia sources for donations.

To recover their cost, operators of free proxy servers (and yes, free VPN services as well) often inject advertisements into their service. That, however, is a best-case scenario. In some cases, they might even sell your data to other companies.

VPNs are especially focused on speed and invest significant amounts of money into ensuring that your traffic in not just secure, but also fast.

Conclusion: VPNs Are a Better Choice

In all honesty, we understand the ‘starving student’ concept and that pinching pennies in college is the way to go. Times are different nowadays however and the web is much more dangerous than it used to be. Using a VPN is much safer and not just protects your information but basically lets you remain anonymous online.

The costs associated with VPNs are also negligible if you sign up for longer term plans. Many of them also have massive sign on discounts. NordVPN for example cuts their price by 75% if you sign up for their 3-year plan. That ends up working out to be only $2.99 per month – less than the price of a Big Mac.

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