The difference between a Proxy and a VPN

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VPN KeyboardWhen you are new to the whole Proxy, VPN and privacy scene or when you don’t really care too much about the workings of the systems that you use then the terminology thrown about can be confusing, mind boggling and ultimately brain numbing. We all have the right to protect our privacy online and understanding the different types of systems available can ease some of the panic when involving yourself in a new world with technical sounding terms.

One of the most frequently asked questions is, What is the difference between a Proxy and a VPN?

Although both services function differently there is a stark similarity in that they re-route certain aspects of your internet use and give the ability to alter your IP address. The major difference is a VPN will re-route ALL of your internet use, unless you’ve specifically taken measures to avoid certain websites, protocols etc. As a standard without user intervention it will re-route everything. That means no matter what program or application you use, what websites you visit or whatever you do on the internet will be routed via the VPN connection, there is no outside.

A major difference between a Proxy and a VPN is a Proxy is a web based system which will re-route your internet use ONLY carried out through your web browser and even then there are certain aspects of web browsing that would go outside of the proxy. Certain types of media technology and other advanced web use makes connection separately to the actual web page visiting aspect of it. In those types of instances you may visit a website such as Sky Go in which the website itself will see your proxy IP address and the country associated with that. Depending on the video technology used it could make a direct connection to you outside of the proxy and as such the video aspect would see your normal home internet connection IP. It is also possible with certain types of Javascript for the website to determine your real IP address so you are never truly hidden unless you know the in’s and out’s of the sites you’re accessing.

This is mainly the reason why when trying to watch geo-restricted content such as BBC iPlayer a proxy would not be suitable as it does not re-route specifics of your connection which results in the blocks not being bypassed.

Another major consideration and difference between a proxy and a VPN is generally we use some of the best VPN services in an encrypted manner, this is usually by default of the provider and actually the main reason for using a VPN service to encrypt and protect your privacy. While it is possible to use a VPN connection to alter your IP address without using encryption it is rarely used in this manner. A proxy does not encrypt your connection and so all activity you carry out via a proxy will be in plain view of the proxy provider.

The majority of times when we think of a Proxy is in the sense of using a “free one”, these are usually gathered from simple search engine searches from a range of websites that offer “free proxies”. These can be great for simple tasks that don’t have an effect on your privacy but are dangerous when accessing sensitive websites as any details you enter could be recorded if the site itself is not using an encrypted protocol such as HTTPS.

A VPN service is more likely to be a paid for service, although there are some of lesser quality which are “free” although the freeness of these is debatable when you consider the benefit the provider is reaping for providing you with said free VPN service. With a paid for VPN service the understanding of who is actually running the service and the fact that their business is pretty much centred around the function of protecting your privacy and providing you an anonymous internet connection.

While each type has it’s own purpose the plus points and reasons for making use of a proxy are far out weighed when you consider the advantages that a good VPN can provide. For the majority of tasks a VPN is usually the better option although the draw of the freeness of a proxy may be appealing to some who wish to carry out specific non privacy related tasks. For all privacy specific reasons, geo-restricted content access and a whole host of other types of activity I suggest picking one of the best VPN providers from our VPN Comparison Guide.

So now you understand the difference between a proxy and a VPN you can be more informed in your choice of what is suitable for your needs.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Christopher Seward

Author: Christopher Seward

After 25 years of using the internet, Christopher launched one of the very first VPN comparison websites in 2013. An expert in the field his reviews, testing and knowledge have helped thousands of users get the correct VPN for their needs.

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