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Proxy vs VPN: What’s the Difference Between Them?

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Proxy vs VPN

VPN vs Proxy: What’s the Difference?

Proxies and VPNs are two popular tools used to enhance online privacy and security, but which one is better? In this article, we’ll compare Proxy vs VPN to help you choose the best option for your needs.

The internet has become an integral part of our lives. We rely on it for work, entertainment, communication, and more. However, when browsing the web, our personal data is at risk of being exposed or tracked. Using a proxy or a VPN (virtual private network) can help protect your privacy and anonymity online.

But what is the difference between proxies and VPNs, and which one is better? This comprehensive guide examines proxies vs VPNs, their similarities and differences, and helps you determine which is the better option for your needs.

Key Takeaways

  • A proxy acts as an intermediary server that sits between you and the internet, masking your IP address so your online activity appears to be coming from the proxy server.
  • A VPN encrypts your internet connection and routes it through a remote server, hiding your real IP address and location. All your network data is securely tunneled.
  • VPNs offer more robust privacy, security and anonymity compared to proxies. VPNs encrypt your traffic, while proxies don’t.
  • Proxies are easier to set up but only hide your IP address. VPNs protect your entire internet connection, while proxies only protect your browsing data.
  • VPNs allow access to region-restricted content. Proxies don’t always work to bypass geographic blocks.
  • VPNs are better for torrenting as they shield your IP address completely. Proxies are poor for P2P activities.
  • VPNs can slow your internet speed more than proxies due to encryption overhead. But VPN speeds are generally fast enough for most uses.

Proxy vs VPN: A Detailed Comparison

Now that you understand how proxies and VPNs work, let’s compare them across various aspects:





No encryption applied.

Encrypts all traffic through a secure VPN tunnel.


Only hides your IP address. Less anonymous.

Hides your IP and replaces it with the VPN IP for full anonymity.


Proxy connections are generally faster than VPNs.

Usually slower speeds than proxies due to encryption overhead. But still fast enough for streaming and browsing.


Minimual. Proxies don’t encrypt traffic.

Much higher security due to strong encryption applied.


Low privacy as ISP and proxy provider can see your unencrypted traffic.

Full privacy as traffic is encrypted end-to-end.


Many free public proxies available.

Paid subscription required for most quality VPNs.

Ease of Use

Easy setup by just configuring proxy settings.

More complex setup by installing and connecting VPN client.

Bypassing Restrictions

Unreliable at bypassing geographic blocks on streaming sites.

Reliably works to bypass region locks and access geo-restricted content.

Remote Access

Doesn’t allow access to remote private networks.

Allows secure remote access to home/work networks.

Bandwidth Usage

Uses less data as content is unencrypted.

Uses more bandwidth due to encryption overhead.


Not safe to torrent as IP exposed.

No IP leaks when torrenting over VPN.

What is a Proxy?

A proxy server acts as an intermediary between your computer and the internet. When you connect through a proxy, internet requests from your computer are first routed through the proxy server. The proxy forwards your request to the destination site/server on the internet, gets the response, and sends it back to you.

So, you are connecting not directly but indirectly via the proxy. Your computer establishes a connection with the proxy, and the proxy connects to the internet on your behalf.

The key benefit of using a proxy is it masks your IP address and personal details, replacing them with the proxy server’s details. For websites and services you access, see the proxy IP instead of your real IP. This protects your public identity and makes your online activity more anonymous.

Common Types of Proxy Servers

  • Forward Proxies: These proxy servers sit between you and the internet. They are used to mask your IP address and location, providing anonymity while web browsing. Forward proxies are client-side proxies since they are set up for the client to access the internet.
  • Reverse Proxies: These proxies sit in front of web servers and forward client requests to those servers. They help protect web server identities and add an extra layer of security. Reverse proxies are server-side proxies.
  • Transparent Proxies: These proxies forward requests without modifying them. The requesting client’s IP address hasn’t been changed to the proxy’s IP. Website administrators can detect you are using a transparent proxy.
  • Anonymous Proxies: These proxies hide your identity and IP address from websites, providing full anonymity. The websites only see the proxy’s details. This prevents the sites from identifying your geographic location or computer details.

How Does a Proxy Work?

When your computer makes a request to a web page, the proxy intercepts it, changes your computer’s IP address to its own, and then forwards the request on your behalf. The page responds back to the proxy server, which then delivers the response and page content to you.

This is how a proxy hides your real IP address, replacing it with its own. The Diagram below illustrates how web requests get routed through a proxy:

![Diagram showing how a proxy server sits between your computer and the internet]

In this sequence, the steps are:

  • You initiate a page request on your browser. This request contains your real IP address.
  • The proxy intercepts the request before it leaves your network.
  • The proxy replaces your real IP with its own proxy IP address.
  • It forwards the request to the destination website using its own IP.
  • The website sends the response back to the proxy IP.
  • The proxy receives the response and then delivers it to your computer.

The website only sees the proxy’s IP address in the request headers, not your actual IP. So, your identity and location are masked from the site.

Pros and Cons of Using a Proxy

Advantages of Proxy

  • Hides your IP address from websites, providing anonymity.
  • Allows access to some blocked or censored sites and content.
  • Proxy IPs help evade internet censorship and surveillance in certain countries.
  • Forward proxies add a layer of security between you and the open internet.
  • Let’s you access region-restricted sites and content by appearing to connect from the proxy location.

Disadvantages of Proxy

  • It only masks your IP address and doesn’t encrypt your traffic or full internet connection.
  • Proxy providers can see and potentially log your internet activity and traffic.
  • Using free public proxies poses privacy risks as your unencrypted traffic is exposed on the proxy server.
  • Proxies are often blacklisted and blocked by many websites.
  • Doesn’t work reliably to bypass geographic restrictions compared to VPNs.
  • Proxy connections are slower than direct internet connections.
  • Setting up and configuring proxy settings can be tedious compared to using a VPN.

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) allows you to create a secure and encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server. Your internet traffic is routed through this tunnel before exiting to the open internet.

VPNs work by establishing an encrypted VPN connection that securely tunnels all your network data and traffic to the VPN server. This creates a virtual private network that hides your real IP address and masks your location.

The core difference between VPNs and proxies is VPNs don’t just hide your IP, they encrypt your entire internet connection. VPNs also require specialized client software to establish the encrypted VPN tunnel.

Major Benefits of VPNs

  • Security: VPNs use strong encryption to fully secure your connection to public networks. This prevents snooping or hacking of your traffic.
  • Privacy: Your actual IP address and location are hidden and replaced by the VPN server’s IP address. Websites can’t see your origin.
  • Anonymity: VPNs provide greater online anonymity by masking your digital identity and making you harder to track.
  • Bypass censorship: VPN encryption tunnels can bypass internet censorship and access geo-restricted content.
  • Remote access: VPNs allow secure remote access to your home or work networks when traveling or using public Wi-Fi.

How Does a VPN Work?

A VPN connection works by creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server:

  • You install and launch the VPN client software and initiate a connection to the VPN server.
  • The VPN client encrypts your internet traffic and routes it to the target VPN server through the encrypted VPN tunnel.
  • The VPN server decrypts the traffic and forwards it to the destination website or internet service.
  • Responses are encrypted again and sent back through the tunnel to the VPN client on your device.
  • Your system decrypts the responses so you can access the content or website.

Pros and Cons of VPNs

Advantages of VPNs

  • Encrypt your full internet connection for security against hacking.
  • Hide your IP address and internet activities from ISPs, agencies, and cybercriminals.
  • Bypass geographic restrictions and censorship to access blocked content.
  • Improve online privacy and anonymity by masking your identity and location.
  • Securely access public Wi-Fi hotspots by encrypting traffic.
  • Remote access to your home or work network when traveling.

Disadvantages of VPN

  • VPN use can slow your internet speeds due to encryption overhead.
  • Setting up the VPN client may take more effort than using proxies.
  • Using free VPN services risks exposing traffic to the VPN provider.
  • VPN services usually cost money, while many proxies are free.
  • Switching regions to bypass blocks takes more effort than using proxies.
  • VPNs can be blocked by some restrictive networks or firewalls.

When Should You Use a Proxy?

Here are some common use cases where using a proxy server would be beneficial:

  • Access blocked websites: Proxies can help you visit sites blocked by your ISP, school, or workplace firewall.
  • Hide your public IP: Proxies mask your IP address so websites can’t personally identify you or determine your location.
  • Enhanced security on public Wi-Fi: Using a proxy on open public hotspots adds an extra layer of security beyond just HTTPS traffic encryption.
  • Bypass regional restrictions: Proxies can sometimes evade region-based content blocks, but a VPN would be more reliable.
  • Maintain online anonymity: Hiding your IP address behind a proxy server makes it harder for sites or agencies to monitor your browsing.
  • Evade price targeting based on region: Retail sites may show higher prices if they identify you are from a wealthier country based on your IP location.
  • Research competitor websites: Using a proxy allows you to anonymously research a competitor’s website without revealing your IP address.
  • Access your company network remotely: If your employer allows it, proxies can be used to connect to internal corporate networks and resources when working remotely.

When Should You Use a VPN?

Here are some common VPN usage scenarios:

  • Public Wi-Fi security: Encrypting your connection over public Wi-Fi using a VPN prevents man-in-the-middle attacks and hacking.
  • Access blocked or restricted content: VPNs reliably work around geographic blocks and internet censorship when traveling abroad.
  • Online privacy and anonymity: VPNs provide the highest level of online privacy by masking your true identity and location.
  • Secure remote access to private networks: VPNs allow remote workers to securely access company networks and resources when working from home.
  • Evade throttling by ISPs: VPN encryption prevents internet providers from seeing your traffic and throttling bandwidth for certain usage like torrenting.
  • Bypass internet filtering: VPN tunnels can bypass filters put in place by schools, workplaces, or even governments.
  • Torrenting and P2P activities: VPNs are the best way to torrent securely as they fully shield your IP address from being exposed.
  • Access region-locked streaming content: VPNs let you access shows and movies on platforms like Netflix and BBC iPlayer that are geo-restricted to certain countries.
  • Online gaming privacy: VPNs prevent DDoS attacks by hiding your IP and location from other players.
  • Public Wi-Fi security: Encrypting your connection over public Wi-Fi using a VPN prevents man-in-the-middle attacks and hacking.

Which is Better: VPNs vs Proxies

For most users, a VPN provides significantly higher security and privacy compared to using a proxy. VPNs encrypt your entire internet connection while proxies only hide your IP address.

Here are the key reasons to choose a VPN over proxies:

  • Encryption: VPNs provide full encryption to secure your network data. Proxies don’t encrypt any traffic.
  • Anonymity: VPNs hide your true IP address and location, making you anonymous online. Proxies only mask your IP address.
  • Privacy: VPNs give you full privacy by tunneling your traffic securely. With proxies, your unencrypted data is exposed.
  • Access restrictions: VPNs reliably bypass geographic blocks on content, and proxies often fail to bypass these blocks.
  • Torrenting: VPNs allow safe torrenting by fully masking your IP address during P2P activities. Proxies don’t adequately protect your IP address.
  • Remote access: VPNs allow secure remote access to home or work networks when traveling or using public networks.
  • Robust networks: VPNs generally offer more reliable connections and networks compared to free proxies.
  • Malware: Connecting through unknown proxies exposes you to higher malware risks as all traffic flows through the proxy server.

The one area where proxies have an advantage is speed. Proxies are generally faster than VPN connections as there is no encryption overhead. However, VPN speeds are still sufficient for most users to browse, stream, and download.

For complete online privacy and security, a premium VPN is worth the investment over using free, public proxy servers. VPN providers offer apps for all devices and platforms for full protection wherever you go.

Final Thoughts

While proxies and VPNs share some similarities, VPNs are superior in almost all aspects that matter from privacy and security to bypassing restrictions. The only advantage a proxy has over VPNs is faster speed, but degraded performance is a small price to pay for the robust protection of a VPN tunnel.

The bottom line is VPNs are worth the investment if you are looking for comprehensive online privacy and anonymity along with access to geo-blocked content. From unprotected public Wi-Fi to torrenting and accessing streaming content abroad, a quality VPN service has you covered across all use cases.

FAQs about Proxies and VPNs

Can a VPN be detected and blocked?

Yes, VPN traffic can be identified, and firewalls put in place by companies or governments to block known VPN IP addresses. This is why it’s important to choose a reputable VPN provider who works hard to stay under the radar and bypass VPN blocking.

Does using a proxy or VPN slow down my internet?

Yes, proxies and VPNs can both cause speed reductions compared to your direct internet connection. This is due to the extra latency of routing your traffic through intermediate servers. Proxies have less impact on speed since no encryption is involved. VPNs reduce speeds more but offer encryption as a trade-off.

Are free VPNs safe to use?

Free VPN services are usually not safe as they potentially monitor, log and sell your usage data. To enjoy full benefits of a VPN you should use a trustworthy premium provider. The one exception is free VPNs offered by privacy conscious companies like ProtonVPN and Hide.me with limited data allowance per month.

What are residential proxies?

Residential proxies are dedicated proxy IPs belonging to real home or mobile internet connections rather than data centers. Websites see them as regular consumer/household internet connections rather than proxies, making them very effective for evading blocks.

Can I torrent safely using a proxy or VPN?

You should always torrent over a VPN rather than proxy if you want to protect your IP address from being visible. VPN encryption shields your IP fully while proxies still expose your IP to the BitTorrent swarm.

Does a VPN protect me on public Wi-Fi?

Yes, using a VPN when on public Wi-Fi is highly recommended as it secures your connection through encryption. This prevents your data and passwords being intercepted by sniffers when using hotel, airport or cafe Wi-Fi.

Can I access Netflix with a VPN or proxy?

VPNs reliably work to bypass Netflix geo-blocks by switching to a VPN server located in the country whose Netflix catalog you wish to access. Proxies typically don’t work to bypass Netflix restrictions.

Riha Mervana
Riha Mervana

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Riha Mervana is a professional content writer at SearchVPN.org, with extensive experience crafting engaging and informative content. She has established herself as an expert in the VPN industry, creating content that educates readers on the importance of online privacy and security.