There isn’t one single reason people decide to start looking into VPNs and proxies. Maybe, you just hate getting bombarded with targeted ads after you visit a specific website. Perhaps, you want to bypass censorship or access content that’s not available in your country. Or, maybe, you just value your online privacy.
Whatever your reasons may be, VPNs and proxy servers always come up as the two main ways to hide your IP address while you browse. But don’t be too quick to use those terms interchangeably: they’re very different.
So, what’s the difference between the two? And which one is better for you as a student? Which one should you choose if you want to keep your search for a reliable essay writing service like EssayPro private or often connect to public Wi-Fi networks? Let’s break all of this down.
What’s a Proxy?
Before diving right into the differences between the two types of services, let’s define what they are first. A proxy server is exactly that – a server. It works as the middleman between your device and the servers of the website you want to visit or the service you want to use.
Whenever you access a website using a proxy, here’s what happens:
- The request from your device (i.e. from your IP address) goes to the proxy server;
- The proxy server transfers the request to the website on your behalf, but using its IP address;
- The website sends data in response to the proxy server’s IP address;
- The server transfers that data to your device.
Essentially, all that proxy servers do is switch your IP address for their own when communicating with other servers. That can come in handy when you try to bypass geographic restrictions. However, streaming services usually recognize whether a proxy is used, so it won’t work on Hulu or Netflix.
In a corporate setting, proxies are commonly used as a firewall or a filter. In this case, the proxy server is configured to decide whether to grant the connection to a particular website or not.
What’s a VPN?
On the surface, VPNs (virtual private networks) do the same job as proxies – hide your IP address. But in reality, that’s not exactly true. They do a lot more than that.
When you try to access a website, here’s what happens if your VPN app or add-on is turned on:
- The VPN client encrypts your traffic on the device itself;
- The encrypted data is then transferred to a VPN server, thus hiding your location and IP address;
- Your request gets to the website itself;
- Its response is sent to the VPN server;
- Data gets encrypted on the server before being transferred to your device.
So, in a nutshell, VPNs do the same job as proxies – and then some more. This encryption tunnel is one of the main reasons anyone from students to freelancers should consider using a VPN. It doesn’t just hide your IP address; it also encrypts the data exchanged between your devices and the world wide web.
5 Key Differences Between Using a Proxy and VPN
Now that everyone’s on the same page with the definitions, let’s look under the hood of both options and compare them.
1. Level of Operation
Most proxies work on the application’s level, be it your browser or email application. This means that all the data transmitted in the background by other apps or the operating system itself doesn’t go through the proxy. Ergo, your IP address remains out in the open in those data packets.
Most VPNs come as an app you install on your device. Once it’s installed and turned on, all of your outgoing traffic goes through the encryption tunnel. Yes, that even includes automatic updates!
2. Stability & Speed
These two aspects can make or break your browsing experience. No one likes to see the buffering icon every 20 seconds, right?
When it comes to the quality of connection, let’s be clear: it depends heavily on the service itself, whether it’s a VPN or proxy. That’s because different services have different networks, bandwidths, and maintenance quality.
That said, the consensus is that VPNs, on average, offer a more stable and fast browsing experience. So, if you plan to stream videos and download large files, they’re a better option for you.
Let’s imagine a hacker is trying your data in transit while you’re checking if you’ve received the payment for your latest freelancing gig to your bank account online. Which option would protect you better from this type of attack?
The jury is unanimous on this one: a VPN. Most paid VPNs encrypt your data using the AES-256 method before it leaves your device or the VPN server. This means the data in transit is simply unreadable to third parties – and this encryption method makes it impossible to crack, too.
Most proxies, on the other hand, do nothing to encrypt your data in transit. Plus, if you use a free proxy, you have around two out of three chances to stumble upon a server that:
- Doesn’t allow HTTPS;
- Injects ads.
It might seem simple here: if both hide your IP address, then both allow for private browsing, right? Well, wrong.
Your internet service provider (ISP) collects tons of data about your online doings. ISPs commonly log which websites you visit, how much time you spend there, what device you use, and where you are located.
A proxy server won’t hide all of that data from your ISP. But a VPN will. All the ISP will be able to see is the encrypted data. Without the means to decrypt it, they’ll be in the dark about your online activity. (Just make sure the VPN you choose has a no-log policy – that way, your browsing history will remain 100% private.)
Of course, you can easily find both free VPNs and free proxies online. But remember: if you’re not paying for the product, you and your data are the product. So, go ahead and dismiss the free options altogether if you care about your privacy.
The paid options vary in price, of course. But since proxy servers are mostly a corporate solution, their pricing bites a lot more than VPNs’. Affordable plans for a proxy can start at $75 per month. VPNs, in their turn, will cost you around only $10 a month – all while delivering more.
In Conclusion: Which One Is Better for Students?
Proxy servers find their application mostly as firewalls and web filters in offices. But as a student, you won’t need them to do this job.
Since they’re more expensive and do less for that amount of money, the verdict is clear: it’s a VPN you should be looking for. That rings especially true if you:
- Connect to public Wi-Fi networks a lot, including to handle sensitive data (e.g., your bank account);
- Wish to keep all of your online history 100% private;
- Want to browse the web as usual, without crazy speed fluctuations or random connection cuts;
- Would prefer a more affordable solution.
Just remember that not all VPNs (or proxies, for that matter) are created equal. Some are great; others are mediocre. So, when you shop around for a VPN, make sure to pay attention to:
- Encryption method (AES-256 is the most secure);
- Zero-log policy (or lack thereof);
- Connection stability and speed;
- Device support and quantity limits;
- Server locations.