VPN or Proxy? Navigating Privacy Tools


With new developments in privacy and security, staying private while online has been a topic which has recently created a lot of attention. With the introduction of legislation’s  such as the Investigatory Powers Bill, which was launched in the UK last November, and allows the government to hack into people’s computers, the Australian government have tightened the rules of accessing many websites, and most recently, the U.S. gave Internet Service Providers the right to collect and sell user data without their consent.

With all these changes people around the world have started to get concerned about their privacy, this has led them to start researching tools that could help them stay private. These tools are VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and proxies.

NordVPN, a VPN service provider, has noticed their user inquiries triple after the latest development in the U.S., which gave ISPs the right to freely sell user data. Overall, Google searches for VPN increased by a quarter after US Congress decided to cast away ISP privacy rules. Similar trend were noticed after each change in privacy rules around the world: for example, when Australia strengthened copyright infringement rules, VPNs saw a 500% surge in subscriptions.

While most people realize that they need to protect their privacy online, they often wonder which privacy tool they should choose – a VPN or a proxy – and whether it will be easy enough to use.

VPN vs. Proxy

What is the difference between a VPN and a proxy, and how to choose the best option?

Both VPNs and proxies are similar in one major feature: they hide one’s IP address and make it seem that a user is connecting from another location. However, the main difference is that proxies do not encrypt Internet traffic, while encryption is what makes VPNs security and privacy oriented.

Proxies are great for streaming geo-blocked content, as they do not slow Internet traffic – or for by-passing content filters. However, any entity – such as ISP, government, or a hacker who can snoop on anyone using Wi-Fi in a coffee shop – can access your data despite the proxy. In addition, certain Flash or JavaScript elements in a user’s browser can easily reveal their identity. Moreover, a proxy is only configured for a certain application, such as a web browser, but is not installed computer-wide. Those who are not concerned about keeping their Internet traffic safe, and only want to stream a movie, can use proxies. However, they should be looking at one of the paid options, as free proxies are sometimes known to steal user data themselves.

VPNs. VPNs are a main tool for those desiring to protect their online privacy and security. VPNs are set up computer-wide and protect the traffic of each application used – each Internet browser, email app or online game. How does a VPN work? A user’s Internet traffic gets encrypted and routed through a secure tunnel between two points: the computer and a remote VPN server. This way, no one can access the data that passes through the tunnel – it becomes completely invisible to ISPs, government snoopers, advertisers, identity thieves and hackers. When a user installs a VPN and goes online on an unprotected Wi-Fi – at a hotel, restaurant or airport – their data will also be automatically encrypted, and they can even proceed with their online banking or shopping.

Is it hard to install a VPN? While VPNs were initially a tool used mostly by early adopters, currently many VPNs have updated their user interfaces and are easy to use by anyone who goes online. For example, NordVPN has developed apps (for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac) that starts working simply by turning an ON button. The app can quickly connect you to the desired destination by simply clicking on the country name, as it automatically selects the quickest server available. For those who like to tinker with custom server options, a detailed list is available with load and distance information – change between them with a simple click. The application contains many user-friendly features, including kill switch, detailed server list, access to SmartPlay technology and more.

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