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What's the Difference Between a Proxy and a VPN?

Sep 20, 2016

Proxy servers and virtual private networks (VPN) serve the same purpose. Both are intended to conceal your identity online and allow you a more secure way of accessing content. You can also use either one to create a web identity for yourself in a false location. For example, you can use a proxy service to connect to the internet through a server in Australia while you sit in a coffee shop in Los Angeles. To understand the difference between the two, it is first necessary to understand what each one is in detail.

What is a proxy?

A proxy server acts as a liaison between you and another computer. When you connect to the internet using a proxy, you are requesting a connection via the proxy server. All of the actions you perform on your computer also known as the "client" are relayed to the proxy, which gathers the information you are requesting and then sends it back to you.

In this way, a proxy conceals your identity online. You use the proxy server as a mask. It identifies itself as you and does things on your behalf. Pardon the comparison, but it s like using a fake ID to get into a bar. The bouncer sees this ID and recognizes it as you, but the information displayed on the ID is not actually an accurate representation of you. Of course, not everyone uses a proxy to illegally access things they shouldn't. Some just want to get through the school firewall to check their Facebook during your computer class. A proxy service allows you to do just that.

What is a VPN?

A VPN, or virtual private network, allows you to connect your computer to a remote network. A VPN, when used exclusively, is typically for connecting to a local intranet or something that is otherwise inaccessible from an outside connection. Many workplaces allow their employees to connect remotely using a VPN in order to access data on the company's local intranet from outside of the office.

What's the difference?

Proxies and VPNs are both used to protect your security and data online. The way they do this, however, is the difference between the two services. A proxy service does not offer encryption of your data. Encryption options like 128-bit and 256-bit use complex algorithms to scramble your data and make it indecipherable to would-be hackers or threats.

The best proxy services, like those listed in our review, offer both proxy and VPN services. The two work exceptionally well together: the proxy allows you to access websites quickly and anonymously while the VPN encrypts and secures your data to ensure that you are not vulnerable to attackers.