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Differences Between a Proxy And a VPN

Understanding the Basic Differences

Proxy: Think of a proxy as an intermediary server. When you use a proxy, your internet traffic is routed through this server before reaching its final destination. This masks your original IP address.

VPN: A VPN creates a secure and encrypted tunnel between your device and a VPN server. All your internet traffic flows through this tunnel, shielding it from third parties trying to analyze it and hiding your IP address.

How VPNs and Proxies Work

Proxy: Operates at the application level. You might have a web proxy that only reroutes your browser traffic or a SOCKS proxy that can handle traffic from different programs.

VPN: Operates at the operating system level. This means all internet traffic from your device (browsing, gaming, downloads) goes through the encrypted VPN tunnel.

The Key Distinctions

Encryption:

Proxy: Most proxies don’t offer any encryption. Your data might be visible between you and the proxy server and between the proxy server and its final destination.

VPN: Everything about a VPN is about the trust you have in the VPN provider. If you have any doubts that they keep logs of your traffic or that they might be collaborating with certain parties you don’t necessarily want your data to be shared with then technically using that VPN is worse than just routing your traffic directly through your ISP because it adds another layer of vulnerability. A trustworthy VPN will always use complicated encryption protocols. This protects your data from being analyzed or intercepted including by your internet service provider or on public WiFi networks and other potential bad actors.

Scope:

Proxy: Can be applied to specific apps or your web browser only.

VPN: Secures all internet traffic originating from your device while it’s connected.

Ideal Use Cases:

Proxy: Good for basic IP masking, bypassing geo restrictions on websites or simple web scraping.

VPN: Preferred for security and privacy. Use it on untrusted networks to protect your sensitive data or if you need a higher level of anonymity.

Choosing the Right One

Simple Change of Location: Need to access a website as if you’re in a different country? A proxy will work just fine.

Security and Privacy: You’re concerned about online tracking or want to protect your browsing habits? A VPN is the better and more secure option thanks to its encryption and device wide coverage. Some VPNs even have tunneling where you can disable the traffic of a specific app like your Chrome browser from passing through the VPN but keep all the other traffic going through the VPN.

Important Things

Not All Are Reliable: Free and shady proxies or VPN services will log your data and sell it to 3rd parties. Good VPN providers generally cost money but they offer better security and privacy protection. Some even anonymize your account by accepting cash envelope or crypto payments. That way your account is harder to be linked back to you even if the VPN data is leaked, hacked or subpoenaed.

Can Be Combined: In some advanced scenarios you should route traffic through a proxy after your VPN connection for an extra layer of obfuscation but this is for more specific usage.

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