What’s the Difference Between a VPN and a Proxy?

Lauren Pope Lauren Pope  |  October 3, 2019

You don’t have to be a spy or an international person of mystery to use a proxy or a VPN. There are plenty of reasons the average person might need to mask their IP address.

On the surface it might seem like a VPN and a proxy are two sides of the same coin. After all, both allow you to browse the internet while masking your IP address. How different can these two things that provide the same function really be?

The truth is that while a VPN and a proxy both allow you to appear as though you’re connecting to the internet from a different location, there are plenty of differences you should consider before choosing one over the other.

VPN vs. proxy– which is right for you?

The primary difference between a VPN and a proxy is that a proxy doesn’t encrypt your traffic, it just hides it. A VPN actually encrypts your IP address and your internet usage.

Sound complicated? Don’t worry, it’s really pretty straightforward. All this means is that a VPN is better for activities that require heavier data encryption and protection, whereas a proxy can be used for more low-stakes, recreational usage.

Proxies and VPNs provide the same function, and while you can run them both at the same time, you’re more likely to throttle your internet speed than you are to get double the protection. It’s best to simply decide which is right for you based on why you need to mask your IP address and internet activity.

How does a proxy work?

Think of a proxy server as the go-between of your internet usage and the rest of the internet. It masks your internet activity and can make it appear that you’re using the internet from somewhere other than where you are located.

How does a proxy server work?

The benefits of using a proxy server are an anonymous IP address and geographic location. A proxy cannot mask what you’re doing from anyone tech savvy enough to snoop around. Proxies are better for low-stakes internet usage. They are not ideal for situations where data protection and security are your primary goal.

Related: Check out these 25+ VPN statistics every internet user should know!

When would you want to use a proxy?

Have you ever been browsing the internet for a specific Youtube video, only to find that it’s not available in your country for viewing? You might have wondered how they could possibly know what country you’re located in.

Your IP address is to blame. An IP address is the string of unique numbers used to identify each and every computer using the internet on a network. Your IP address follows you around the internet and is to blame when you can’t access videos outside your country.

A proxy can be used to mask your IP address and allow you to access videos like this or even bypassing content paywalls on your favorite news website.

How does a VPN work?

Unlike a proxy, which only masks your internet usage and IP address, a VPN actually encrypts your information and secures 100% of your internet access. The added step of encryption means you get the benefit of data security and privacy.

How does a VPN work?

Also unlike a proxy, a VPN protects and encrypts all of your web activities such as browser history, email, and any third party applications that connect to the web. This means things like your online banking apps or credit score websites are secure through a VPN, whereas they would still be vulnerable with a proxy.

When would you want to use a VPN?

If you’ve paid attention to the news lately, you’ve likely noticed that international privacy and data laws vary a lot from country to country. Or maybe you’ve noticed the uptick in data breaches over the last five years.

In either case, a VPN is the ideal solution for anyone looking to encrypt and protect their data. Remember, a proxy will only hide your internet usage, not encrypt it. That means anyone tech savvy enough to hack you or access your data can get through proxy protocols if they wanted to. A VPN is more secure because it actually encrypts your internet usage.

Tip: Your security is still at risk if you don't go about setting up a VPN properly.

Take it case by case

There is no definitive answer for whether a proxy or a VPN is better overall. It all depends on what you’re trying to do and what level of security you’re looking for. If you’re just looking to browse Youtube videos or bypass content paywalls, then a proxy will get the job done. But if you’re looking for something a little more secure, VPN’s are the way to go.

Interested in learning more about VPN services? Check out the best VPN services according to G2 user reviews.

Find the best VPN software on the market Explore Now, FREE →



Lauren Pope

Lauren is a Content Marketing Team Lead at G2. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Yahoo Finance, and on the G2 Learning Hub. In her free time, Lauren enjoys watching true crime shows and spending time in the Chicago karaoke scene. (she/her/hers)

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