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Vytautas Kirjazovas

Mar 18, 2020 8 min read

Proxies and VPNs are the two main tools most individuals consider when privacy becomes a concern. With ever-growing online security concerns, the internet community and businesses are becoming more switched on, and are exploring ways to protect themselves, as well as place focus on brand protection

While this is a very reasonable approach, it seems that there is a lot of confusion over the correct tool to be used. In particular, there is a significant volume of search queries, and discussion on which is better – proxy or VPN?

Even though both proxy and VPN, in essence, have a mutually shared purpose – enhance privacy and security levels, they also have some key differences. These fundamental differences allow determining which one should be used and when. Hence, this article aims to define both terms, explore their similarities and differences, and most importantly, to establish when to pick one over another.

Proxy and VPN definitions

What is a proxy?

A proxy acts as an intermediary between you and the internet. When you’re using a proxy server, your request runs through the proxy server (which changes your IP address) first, and only then connects to the website.

What is a VPN?

A virtual private network (VPN) is a private network that is constructed over a public infrastructure, which allows end-users to send and receive data across public networks as if their online devices were directly connected to the private network.

Mason, Andrew G. (2002). Cisco Secure Virtual Private Network. Cisco Press. p. 7.

Proxy vs VPN: proxies and their types

As already mentioned, a proxy, or a proxy server, acts as an intermediary between you and the internet. Think of a proxy as a web filter that performs the internet’s request transactions on your behalf. The website that you are visiting will only be able to determine the proxy IP address, meaning your real IP address will be hidden. 

Difference between vpn and proxy
Differences between proxy and VPN

On a regular internet user’s level, using a proxy allows browsing the internet with enhanced privacy levels. Furthermore, if a proxy server is correctly configured then the user’s internet requests can be encrypted, which consequently improves security levels.

What’s more, a proxy can unlock geo-blocked content, even if the user’s real IP address doesn’t have permission to access this particular information. By choosing to operate under a proxy server that is tied to the required geographical location, geo-blocked content will be a worry of the past.

Of course, not every proxy is created equal. Some proxies are more transparent than others (although, these are used rarely nowadays) providing less privacy to its user. For laymen and individual users concerned with their privacy online, virtual private networks can be the simple and more straightforward way to achieve this goal, making them the obvious winner when weighing the VPN vs proxy options.

Now on a business’s level, the use of a proxy or a proxy server comes in handy to not only protect their brands, but proxies are also used for market research purposes. A common challenge faced by many is to avoid getting blocked by the desirable data source while collecting the required data. The use of a proxy allows overcoming this challenge.

Combining proxies with web scraping allows to make it seem as if multiple organic users are visiting the website. And this makes it possible to successfully extract a vast amount of required data without raising any suspicions to the web server.

Unlike a VPN, proxies have many different types based on their access type, origin and connection protocols. Due to these differences, some proxies are better than others when utilized for specific tasks such as the previously mentioned web scraping.

If you are looking for the best proxies for the job, we invite you to take a look at a great proxy review site called Proxyway which has a ton of information on various proxy service providers. And we are happy to say that in their 2020 Proxy Service Awards Oxylabs was awarded as the best overall proxy provider!

In a nutshell, proxies are used to enhance the anonymity and bypass site blocking, and since each proxy has its own unique IP address, it is widely used in the web scraping game to imitate organic users’ behavior while gathering data from desirable websites.

More on VPNs

A VPN, like proxies, will make a user’s internet traffic seem as it is coming from a different IP address. Furthermore, the use of a VPN substantially enhances security levels and allows to access geo-blocked content. However, after that, there are some key differences in the way a VPN works, and how it benefits the end-user.

Unlike a proxy server, a VPN service installed on the user’s device ensures that all outgoing internet connections (not just the browser, but any app) on the device are processed under the VPN service. On top of that, the VPN creates an encrypted tunnel for all internet communication between the user’s device and remote network. This ensures that in the case of the internet requests being intercepted by unwanted eyes, it will make it near impossible to decipher the internet request content. Unfortunately, VPNs, unlike a proxy, can cause significant overall slowdowns since all of the traffic is routed through the server.

VPN vs Proxy
Proxy vs VPN

On a regular internet user’s level, using a VPN allows browsing the internet with enhanced privacy levels. Furthermore, it can unlock geo-blocked content and ensures that all internet communication from the user’s device is encrypted.

On a business’s level, the use of a VPN only comes in handy to secure the employees’ devices while being connected to other networks, e.g. WIFI public spaces. However, unlike a proxy server, a business wouldn’t use VPN services to perform web data gathering operations, as it is simply not built for this kind of purpose.

In a nutshell, a VPN will translate your original IP address into a new one, ensuring higher anonymity level as your real IP address is hidden. It will allow accessing geo-blocked content, and perhaps most distinguishing feature in comparison to a proxy server is that it will encrypt all the internet request coming out from the user’s device.  

VPN vs Proxy: setting them up

One difference between proxy and vpn - setting them up
Proxy server vs VPN – setting them up is very different

While both VPNs and proxies fulfill the same basic purpose, they are created with different goals in mind. Proxies are generally used by and created with businesses in mind, therefore setting them up can be slightly more difficult. Beautiful user interface and overall design are usually secondary to efficiency for proxies.

On the other hand, ease of use is a key concept when VPNs are developed. Since the intended audience is a single individual, making a VPN easy to set up and use is more important when compared to a proxy. VPNs generally require only a few clicks to install and use.

Key differences between a proxy and VPN

VPN service is mostly oriented to a single user and is used by individuals who are looking to not only mask their true identity but also to make sure that their internet requests are encrypted.

Whereas a proxy or a proxy server also allows achieving anonymity but is most commonly used by individuals and organizations (in significant quantities) that are performing web scraping operations.

There is no clear, all-around winner in the proxy server vs VPN battle. Proxies are often much better for businesses as they are more useful for some traffic-intensive tasks while VPNs will be more then enough for almost any individual.

The bottom line

By now you should have a decent understanding of both proxy and VPN, and hopefully starting to understand the purpose of each term. They both do change the IP address before accessing the internet resources, enhances security levels, and allows to access the geo-blocked content. However, the main difference between a proxy and a VPN is that the latter is heavily tailored to an individual while proxies are an essential part online and offline businesses.

VPN services are mostly oriented towards a single user and is used by individuals who are looking to not only mask their IP address but also to make sure that their internet requests are encrypted. On the other hand, a proxy or a proxy server also allows achieving anonymity by hiding user’s IP address but is most commonly used by individuals and organizations (in significant quantities) that are performing web scraping operations.

If you want to find out more about proxies or VPNs and how to use them to enhance your business, we have many more blog posts that will help you get started with your scraping projects.

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About Vytautas Kirjazovas

Vytautas Kirjazovas is a PR Manager at Oxylabs, and he places a strong personal interest in technology due to its magnifying potential to make everyday business processes easier and more efficient. Vytautas is fascinated by new digital tools and approaches, in particular, for web data harvesting purposes, so feel free to drop him a message if you have any questions on this topic. He appreciates a tasty meal, enjoys travelling and writing about himself in the third person.

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