The Internet can be a scary place: We’re under near-constant attack from ransomware and botnets – on work computers, personal devices, and even smart home devices like thermostats and baby monitors.
Your privacy is at risk if you don’t take preventative measures to protect your personal data. If you’re security-conscious, you might think about setting up a virtual private network or proxy server. What are these services anyway? Can they replace each other? Read on to learn how they work, their pros and cons, and mainly – differences.
Proxy and VPN: What are They?
Both VPNs and proxies allow for a higher level of privacy than without them. They allow you to access the Internet anonymously by hiding your IP address in various ways. However, the way they do this is quite different.
A proxy acts as a gateway. It is great for basic functions such as anonymous web browsing and content restriction management. Proxy servers excel at IP masking and misdirection, making them well-suited for viewing geographically restricted content. They allow users to bypass content restrictions and monitoring, or enforce content restrictions on websites so you can’t log in to certain websites during work hours.
A VPN client establishes a secure tunnel with the VPN server, replacing routing from your local ISP. VPN connections encrypt and secure all your network traffic, not just your browser’s HTTP or SOCKS calls like a proxy server.
VPNs are great if you need to use WIFI at a local coffee shop: Using a VPN instead of the potentially completely unencrypted local WIFI provides another layer of privacy – who knows who’s lurking on that network, sitting in the corner sipping coffee and waiting to steal your credit card information?
Proxy and VPN Disadvantages
If you use proxy servers to hide your Internet activity, you may experience performance issues that prevent you from streaming or downloading the content you want. High ping times and other traffic on the proxy server can cause web pages to load slowly. For this reason, some users pay for a private proxy server that limits the number of users accessing it, speeding up your connections.
Proxies are also prone to security vulnerabilities: they can be vulnerable, allowing bad guys to infiltrate networks or steal private data. Some proxies can track and store your browsing habits and also record usernames and passwords, rendering the promise of anonymous browsing moot.
VPNs can also suffer from performance issues depending on their proximity to the VPN server you connect to. VPNs use a local client to connect to the VPN server, so local CPU or memory issues can slow down connections. Best VPNs are typically more expensive than a proxy server and often more complex to manage.
Just like proxy servers, VPNs cannot guarantee anonymity while browsing. Neither service encrypts your traffic all the way to the web server. A VPN only guarantees an end-to-end encrypted connection if you use the HTTPS protocol when you head to a new web address. Your data will be encrypted up to the VPN, but from that point it may be unencrypted all the way to the web server. For some sites, this may be irrelevant: an information-only site with no login or payment options, for example, but for any sites that require login or online payments – or any sensitive data – make sure the site is enabled to use HTTPS. Remember that the S stands for “moderately secure.”
Advantages of proxy and VPN
The main argument for using a VPN instead of a proxy is the full encryption of all traffic you get with a VPN. Relative to the cost, a VPN is more secure than a proxy at a comparable price. VPN providers maintain their own networks and you use their IP addresses for your connections. The best VPN providers advertise a logless policy, meaning they have no data about your browsing habits to share.
As an IT manager responsible for data and user security, both solutions have their advantages, and you probably have both configured for your organization. For users on the network, you can route traffic through a proxy server to log web traffic, protect the organization from malware or other attacks, and enforce a web content policy.
If users are working outside the office, use a VPN to provide a secure connection for accessing corporate resources such as email, internal shares, etc.
Proxy vs. VPN: Which is right for me?
Privacy and security are very important these days, whether it’s your corporate data or your personal data that you need to protect. Make sure you invest time and money in the right tools for your security goals: Both proxies and VPNs provide an extra layer of security and privacy for your data.
If you want to give your team the ability to work remotely with secure access to company resources, you should set up and maintain a VPN user who will use the VPN to access the network.
If you’re more concerned about what sites my users are accessing, a proxy server is the better tool.
To get the best value for your money and protect your data as a security-conscious citizen, you should sign up with a reputable VPN service which you can find on vpnwelt.com. Most VPN services allow you to use servers in different locations to bypass content restrictions. If you also need to use a free proxy server occasionally for this purpose, you should be aware of the risks.
If you’re just starting to implement your enterprise-level data security strategy, you need to be prepared for more complex attack vectors. Insider threats, APTs, privileged account escalation – along with plain old social engineering – are just as dangerous to your data as an unencrypted data stream.
Neither a proxy nor a VPN will protect you 100% from the cybersecurity threats your organization faces: you can’t stop an insider from stealing personal data, launching a ransomware attack, or starting a coordinated infiltration.