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VPN vs. Proxy: What You Need to Know

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and proxies are two important tools for ensuring online security and privacy. In this article, we’ll explore and compare their characteristics/features and benefits to help you find the best VPN/proxy for your use cases.
by Josephine Loo · July 2024


    Online privacy and security are essential for protecting personal data and ensuring safe online interactions. In 2021, 22 billion records were exposed through data breaches—this highlights the critical need for proper security measures.

    Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and proxies are two popular tools that can enhance your online privacy and security. Both mask your IP address and offer a degree of anonymity, but they function differently and are suited to different use cases.

    In this article, we will explore and compare the features and benefits of VPNs and proxies to help you determine which is best for your needs.

    What is a VPN?

    A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a service that secures your internet connection by encrypting it and routing it through a server in a location you choose. Here’s how it works:

    1. Log in: Start by logging into the VPN client using the credentials provided by your VPN service.
    2. Establish a connection: The VPN client then connects to a VPN server operated by the service provider. This process involves a handshake to authenticate both your device and the server.
    3. Encryption and tunnel creation: The client and server agree on an encryption protocol (e.g., OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, L2TP/IPSec, WireGuard) and create a secure "tunnel" between them. This encrypted link protects the data from being intercepted.
    4. Data encryption: All data transmitted from your device is encrypted before it leaves. This means the data is converted into a coded format that only the VPN server can decode. The encrypted data is then sent through the secure tunnel to the server.
    5. VPN server as an intermediary: The VPN server receives the encrypted data, decrypts it, and forwards it to the internet. It also replaces your device's IP address with its own, masking your actual IP address and location.
    6. Accessing the internet: The decrypted data is sent to its intended destination on the internet (e.g., a website or online service). When the destination responds, the process is reversed—the data from the internet is sent back to the VPN server, encrypted, and sent through the secure tunnel to your device. The VPN client on your device then decrypts the data so you can access and read it.

    Without a VPN, your IP address and unencrypted data are exposed to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and potentially others monitoring the network. On the other hand, with a VPN, your IP address is masked and your data is encrypted, keeping it secure from interception.

    What is a Proxy?

    A proxy, much like a VPN, serves as an intermediary between your device and the internet. When you use a proxy, your internet requests are directed through a proxy server, which then communicates with the website on your behalf. Depending on your requirements, company policies, or privacy preferences, a proxy can offer different levels of functionality, security, and privacy. Here's a simplified explanation of how a proxy works:

    1. Request : When you try to access a website, your device sends a request to the proxy server instead of directly to the website.
    2. Proxy server : The proxy server forwards your request to the website on your behalf, using its own IP address.
    3. Website response : The website sends its response (the webpage or content you requested) back to the proxy server.
    4. Proxy server response : The proxy server then forwards the website's response back to your device.

    Unlike a VPN, a proxy doesn't encrypt your internet traffic. While it can change your IP address and hide your location, it doesn't provide the same level of security as a VPN. However, this doesn't mean one is better than the other. Each has its own advantages and use cases, which we'll explore in the next section.

    Comparing Features of VPN vs. Proxy

    Types Offered


    There are various types of VPNs, each designed to serve different needs and environments. Here are the main types:

    • Personal VPN: This is primarily used by individuals to protect their online privacy. It encrypts internet traffic and hides the user’s IP address, making it useful for bypassing geo-restrictions and ensuring anonymity.
    • Remote Access VPN : This allows individual users to remotely connect to a private network. It is commonly used by employees to access their company's internal network from outside the office, enabling them to work remotely. Once connected, employees can access network resources as if they were physically present in the office, including file servers, printers, intranet websites, and other internal services.
    • Site-to-Site VPN (intranet): This type of VPN connects multiple LANs (Local Area Networks) within the same organization. It is often used to link branch offices to a central office or to connect geographically separated offices, allowing them to share resources and data securely. Additionally, it can also connect on-premises networks with cloud resources.
    • Site-to-Site VPN (extranet ): This connects the LAN of one organization to the LAN of another. It is often used in business partnerships, allowing businesses to share certain resources and collaborate closely while maintaining the security of their respective private networks.


    Like VPNs, proxies come in various types, each serving different purposes. Here are some key proxies you should know about:

    • Forward proxy: A forward proxy forwards requests from a client to a server. It is often used to filter traffic, improve performance, and enforce policies.
    • Reverse proxy: A reverse proxy is positioned at the web server’s end and handles requests coming from the client side. It helps with load balancing, security, and caching.
    • Public proxy : Available for free to anyone on the internet. They are usually unreliable and can be insecure, often having slow response times due to heavy usage.
    • Residential proxy: This type of proxy uses IP addresses assigned by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to residential users. It is more reliable and less likely to be blocked compared to other types of proxies but can be slower and more expensive.
    • Datacenter proxy: A datacenter proxy uses IP addresses from data centers. It is faster and cheaper than a residential proxy but is more likely to be detected and blocked by websites.
    • Mobile proxy: A mobile proxy uses IP addresses assigned to mobile devices by mobile network providers. It is similar to a residential proxy but offers even better reliability and lower detection rates.
    • Rotating proxy : Changes the IP address with each request or at set intervals. Useful for web scraping to avoid detection and IP blocking.

    Privacy and Security


    VPNs offer robust encryption, such as AES-256, OpenVPN, and IKEv2/IPsec, which protects all internet traffic between your device and the VPN server. This level of encryption ensures that even if your data is intercepted, it remains unreadable to hackers, ISPs, or other unauthorized parties. Besides masking your IP address, many VPN providers also have strict no-log policies—meaning they do not track or store your browsing activities.


    Proxies generally do not provide encryption. While they do hide your IP address, they do not secure your data from potential interception, making them less secure compared to VPNs. Additionally, some proxy servers may keep logs of your activities, which could potentially be accessed by third parties.

    Speed and Performance


    When you use a VPN, your internet speed might decrease slightly due to the encryption process, especially if you connect to a server located far away from you. However, many modern VPN services are designed to minimize this speed loss. They achieve this by implementing strategies like load balancing and hardware acceleration, ensuring consistent and reliable performance across servers.


    Contrary to VPNs, proxies generally offer faster connection speeds because they do not encrypt your data. This makes them ideal for tasks where speed is more important than security, such as streaming, web scraping, or accessing region-locked content. Additionally, some proxies can optimize routes for your internet traffic. If a certain route is congested, a proxy might reroute your data through a shorter or less busy path, resulting in faster speeds and lower latency.

    Accessibility and Compatibility


    VPNs are highly compatible with most internet-connected services and applications. They work seamlessly on various devices, including desktops, smartphones, tablets, and even some smart TVs and routers. This versatility makes VPNs a comprehensive solution for securing all your internet-connected devices. Most VPNs also offer apps and software, making configuration and usage of VPNs easy.


    Proxies are typically configured on a per-application basis, such as within a web browser or specific software, which can limit their usability across multiple devices or applications. While they can be manually configured for different browsers and devices, this requires extra effort and does not guarantee success with all websites.

    Key Benefits of a VPN

    VPNs offer a powerful solution for protecting your internet activities. They encrypt your connection and mask your IP address, providing several key benefits:

    • Enhanced security: VPNs encrypt your internet traffic, making it much harder for hackers or malicious entities to intercept your data. This is especially important when using public Wi-Fi networks.
    • Privacy protection: With a VPN, your IP address is hidden, making it difficult for websites and advertisers to track your online activities. This helps protect your privacy and anonymity online.
    • Access/bypassing restrictions : A VPN allows you to bypass geo-restrictions and censorship, and access region-locked content, enabling greater freedom of information.
    • Safe file sharing : VPNs provide a secure way to share files over the internet, protecting your data from being intercepted by unauthorized users.
    • Remote access :  VPNs enable secure remote access to your company's network, allowing employees to work from anywhere while keeping data safe.

    Key Benefits of a Proxy

    Proxies are indispensable tools for internet users seeking anonymity, security, and improved access. They serve as intermediaries between your device and the internet, offering the benefits below:

    • Improved security : Proxies can provide an additional layer of security by filtering out malicious traffic and preventing direct connections to your network.
    • Anonymity and privacy : By masking your IP address, proxies make it challenging for websites to track your online activities, thus safeguarding your privacy and anonymity.
    • Access control : Proxies enable the restriction of access to specific websites or content, giving you control over what can be accessed from your network.
    • Improved performance : Proxies can cache frequently accessed web content, which can reduce bandwidth and lead to faster load times for frequently visited websites.
    • Bypassing geo-restrictions : Proxies can bypass geographical restrictions and censorship, allowing you to access content that may be blocked in your region.


    Both VPNs and proxies offer unique benefits and functionalities depending on your online needs. If your primary concerns are privacy, security, and encryption—such as for remote access, secure file sharing, safe torrenting, bypassing geo-restrictions, or maintaining privacy from ISPs—a VPN is the best choice.

    On the other hand, if you prioritize speed, accessibility, and basic anonymity—for activities like anonymous browsing, bypassing geo-restrictions, improving speed and performance, filtering content, or web scraping—a proxy can effectively meet your needs.

    Understanding the differences and specific use cases of VPNs and proxies will help you make an informed decision on which is better suited for your online activities. Alternatively, you can find tools designed for specific needs that include a VPN or proxy. For example, Roborabbit, a web scraping tool, includes a built-in proxy for bypassing geo-restrictions. Ultimately, selecting the right tool will depend on your specific needs.

    About the authorJosephine Loo
    Josephine is an automation enthusiast. She loves automating stuff and helping people to increase productivity with automation.

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    VPN vs. Proxy: What You Need to Know
    VPN vs. Proxy: What You Need to Know