With the NSA, MPAA, RIAA, Google, Facebook, and a seemingly endless array of startups and advertising agencies vying for your private online data, using a proxy or a VPN service is not just recommended, but necessary.
A proxy or a VPN network can do a lot of things. It can protect your online identity, prevent outside agencies from snooping in on your online activities, help access region-locked services such as Netflix, and help you fake your geo-location. Although both proxy and VPN are largely similar in function, they differ in their implementation and capabilities.
In this article, we’ll learn more about proxy and VPN – how they work, what are their limitations, and how they stack up against each other. For a more detailed tutorial on using proxy or VPN to keep your online data safe, check out this course on internet privacy.
Understanding Proxies and VPNs
A proxy and a VPN is largely similar in function, but a little different in the way it is used and what it is used for. Both act as “filters” that hide your actual IP information (IP is the unique port address associated with your internet connection), thus allowing you to access region-locked web resources (Netflix, Hulu, etc.), anonymize your internet connection and even thwart hack attempts.
Some of the reasons for using a proxy or a VPN are:
Anonymity: A proxy/VPN acts as a go-between your computer and an internet service. This way, it hides your IP address and allows you to surf the web, download files, and use other web services anonymously.
Security: Since all requests are routed through the proxy or VPN, it prevents your computer from attacks and unexpected access requests.
Internet Access Control: Using a proxy/VPN service, you can filter out certain web addresses, impose content restrictions, or limit time or bandwidth usage – a very useful feature for companies, parents, etc.
Bypass Geo-Restrictions: When you connect to a web service through a proxy, the web service assumes your geographical location to be the same as that of the proxy/VPN server. This means you can access region locked content and services such as Netflix, Hulu, etc. which may not be available in your location.
Speed: While not always true, using a proxy server can result in faster surfing, provided the proxy server leverages adequate caching utilities. With caching, the server can display files directly to the client (i.e. you) without diverting you to the source files, thus saving time and improving speeds.
Despite their similarities, there are some broad differences in the ease of use, price and security benefits offered by proxy and VPN services. Below, we’ll try to understand proxy and VPN services in a bit more detail.
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What is a Proxy Server?
A proxy (actually called a ‘proxy server’) is a special type of server that essentially serves as an intermediary between your computer and a web based resource (web page, video, MP3, torrent, etc.). When you use a proxy, your computer first connects to the proxy server, which collects your request and forwards it to the server the web resource is hosted on. Whatever response it gets from the web server is then sent back to your computer.