VPNs and proxy servers both protect user identities and are great tools for accessing content securely. Since both of these services can get the job done, people tend to speak of them interchangeably. However, one protects your privacy, and the other one does not. Proxy vs VPN — how are they different?
Proxy vs VPN: Main differences
On the surface, VPNs and proxy servers may seem similar, but there are key differences to be aware of. When deciding between a proxy server vs. VPN, businesses should consider:
Proxy servers may hide your identity from websites, but they do not encrypt your connection. Using a public proxy server results in a less secure connection than connecting to a web server through a browser. VPNs are a secure solution because they encrypt data before sending it to the client, hiding your identity from the web and your ISP (Internet Service Provider) in the process.
Proxy vs VPN: Safety
Both VPNs and proxies can be dangerous. A poor-quality proxy or VPN can expose you to malicious scripts, malware, and aggressive advertising. Some proxies and VPNs even exist with the sole aim of tracking your online activity.
VPN services are usually run by large companies with a financial incentive to offer the best service possible. For this reason, they tend to be more reliable than proxies and often have a strong customer support system. Proxies are typically much smaller operations with no real support network.
Proxy vs VPN: Speed
A proxy is a single server that may be used by many people at one time. This can result in delays in connection speed. A free proxy connection can prove even slower. VPN servers that are far from the user’s location can also result in a slower connection speed. However, if you use a VPN provider with the right technology and maintenance protocols, any delays will be unnoticeable.
VPNs are usually paid (you shouldn’t trust free VPN services as they have limitations and tend to mine your data) while many proxy servers are free.
VPN vs Proxy: Which is Better?
While proxy servers and VPNs may seem similar on the surface, they are two different solutions. So which should your business choose, a VPN or proxy?
VPNs provide greater protection because they encrypt traffic. For organizations that deal with sensitive data and need to keep their browsing activity hidden, a VPN is the ideal solution.
Organizations that are simply looking for users to browse the internet anonymously can benefit from a proxy server. This also enables them to see which websites their employees are visiting and ensure employees can access sites that would otherwise be blocked in their country.
Proxy vs VPN: Which is Right for me?
Privacy and security matter these days, regardless of if it’s your company data or your data you need to protect. Make sure you’re investing time and money into the correct tools for your security goals: both proxies and VPNs add layers of security and privacy to your data.
If you want to enable your team to work remotely with secure access to the company resources, set up and maintain a VPN user to access the network with the VPN.
If your concerns are more around “what websites are my users hitting,” a proxy server is a better tool.
To get the most bang for the buck (and to protect your data as a security-aware citizen), sign up for a well-regarded VPN service. For the most part, VPN services allow you to use servers in different locations to work around content restrictions. If you need to use a free proxy server occasionally for that purpose as well, just be aware of the risks.
If you’re just starting to implement your data security strategy on an enterprise level, there are more complex attack vectors to account for. Insider threats, APTs, privileged account escalations – along with plain old social engineering – are just as dangerous to your data as an unencrypted data stream.
Proxy vs VPN will not protect you from 100% of the cybersecurity threats your company will encounter: they won’t stop an insider from stealing personal data, a ransomware attack, or a coordinated infiltration effort.