VPN vs. proxy: main differences and use cases

Anton P. | August 10, 2023

The VPN vs. proxy comparison is common as they share similar goals and functions. They hide your IP addresses, and traffic passes through them before reaching final destinations. 

However, VPNs and proxy servers have distinct differences that can help you choose the best solution. 

Learn VPN vs. proxy differences and which to use.

Explaining the meaning of VPNs and proxies 

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an application that performs the following functions: 

  • It reroutes internet traffic through secure remote servers. 
  • VPNs encrypt internet traffic using advanced protocols like AES-256. 
  • It hides your IP address and changes it to the one belonging to the selected VPN server.
  • A VPN works on the operating system level. 
  • Depending on the VPN product, it might offer additional security features. 

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In turn, let’s review what functions proxies perform traditionally: 

  • Proxies reroute traffic through remote servers. 
  • They change IP addresses to those belonging to proxy servers. 
  • Proxies usually do not work on the operating system level. Instead, they reroute web traffic. 
  • Most proxies do not encrypt your web traffic; they aim to reroute it. 

So, VPN vs. proxy stands close to a particular statement: A VPN service has the power to anonymize your identity and protect data via encryption. Proxies only focus on rerouting traffic and concealing a part of the user’s identity (IP address, location). 

Proxies have different types 

Different types of proxy services exist, and we can discuss the most common forms: 

  • An HTTP proxy is likely the one users turn to as it is available to anyone. The proxy grants access to its IP address, letting users browse the web through it. 
  • Transparent proxies are usually for controlling one’s access to the internet. They can block certain websites or monitor activities. They typically conceal themselves from users, hence their name. 
  • A SOCKS proxy uses third-party servers and TCP protocol for data routing. 
  • SMTP proxies filter incoming and outgoing email traffic. It helps fight spam and viruses. 

Types of VPNs 

Not all VPN connections and services are the same as well. Users might be most familiar with personal VPNs, protecting users online. However, VPN clients can tackle other hurdles and perform different functions: 

  • Remote Access VPNs are ideal for remote employees connecting to corporate services outside the office. 
  • An SSL VPN is a type that uses SSL protocol for securing the connections between users and servers. 
  • Depending on which VPN protocol they use, there might be many different types, like OpenVPN or IKEv2/IPSec

When a VPN is the top choice 

Multiple situations and needs call for VPNs instead of proxies. The following examples showcase how you treat VPN vs. proxy dilemma based on your goals and requirements. 

  1. When you need data encryption

A VPN is more secure as it encrypts internet traffic in addition to rerouting it. Thus, if your goal is protecting each online activity further, a proxy won’t complete this mission. 

Note: Some proxies might offer encryption. However, free proxies typically focus on changing IP addresses. 

  1. When you need to encrypt all internet traffic

Most common proxies only work on web traffic. It is best to use a VPN if you need to protect internet traffic from all apps and processes. 

  1. When speed loss is not an issue

VPNs can cause slightly slower browsing speeds due to rerouting and traffic encryption. A proxy might not work better if your goals include IP change and speed preservation. 

Nonetheless, most modern VPNs optimize their servers to affect speed as little as possible. 

  1. When you need particular IP address

Proxies might not offer servers in particular locations. VPNs typically operate thousands of servers in dozens of locations. For instance, Atlas VPN has over 1000 servers in 50 locations. 

Drafting a VPN vs. proxy usage strategy 

Acting as a gateway to the internet, VPNs and proxies must be trustworthy and reliable. Therefore, whichever solution type you choose, committing to a trusted provider is essential. 

After all, sensitive data passes through your internet connection daily. Since both VPNs and proxies stand in the middle of your activities, look for claims of no-logs policies. They guarantee that providers do not store and track your browsing habits and information sent. 

Is a VPN better than a proxy? 

Generally, yes, VPNs have the upper hand as they reroute and encrypt internet traffic. Most proxies have limits as they only reroute traffic and change IP addresses. Such an approach is not enough to protect users’ activities more. 

Is it better to use free VPNs or free proxies? 

It is always better to use trusted VPN and proxy providers when possible. They might offer both free and premium plans. However, free proxy and VPN services engage in suspicious activities more frequently. Thus, it is crucial to read terms of service, privacy policies, and expert reviews of solutions. 

Can you use a VPN and a proxy simultaneously? 

While you should be able to have both active simultaneously, this has very few benefits. It is common for the VPN encrypted tunnels to take priority and disable the proxy. 

Thus, it is best to choose one solution you want to use. If you manage to get VPN and proxy working at the same time, they can diminish your internet speed. 

Note that split tunneling might assist in using proxies for web browsing and VPN for the rest of the system. 

VPN vs. proxy: different use cases and security features

You can find trusted proxies and VPNs that will help you achieve your goal without much effort. However, it is essential to establish your goals and avoid misconceptions about these solutions.

Yet, a trusted VPN offers benefits like high-quality protection when using internet services. It does everything a proxy does and more!

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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