You can use a VPN or proxy to overcome content barriers, but you cannot trust a proxy to protect your privacy. Find out the risks before choosing.
There are several valid reasons for viewing blocked content online. You may need to access a video for blocked work in your location or display a politically sensitive website without attention. In many countries, VPNs and proxies allow regular internet users to do so.
However, VPNs and proxies differ when it comes to your privacy. A low-quality, free proxy can increase your risk of hiding while exposing you to malicious scripts and ads. Some proxies are only found for the purpose of tracking what you are doing. This guide describes the risks and best options.
What is a proxy? What is a proxy server?
A proxy server is a computer that acts as an intermediary between you and the site or service to which you want to connect. The proxy hides your real IP and location from the target site; this allows you to overcome content blocks and other restrictions.
Some proxies also offer some degree of privacy protection, but it’s not wise to assume that all of them do. Tests have found that many proxy services log data and block secure websites, thus providing a detailed record of your activity. Basically, monitoring is their business model.
How Proxies Work
When you load a web page through a proxy, the request is sent from your computer to the proxy server. The server receives the content you want, then forwards it back to your computer to hide your IP and location from the target service or site.
The data sent to and from the proxy server may or may not be saved by the provider. It may or may not offer some encryption – most proxy servers do not.
There are hundreds of proxy servers for consumer use. They are changing wildly about their speed, privacy features and reliability. Before using one, it is really important to understand the type of proxy and the risks you are using.
Most Popular Proxy Types
Proxies can be provided using different protocols and it is important to check how they work.
- HTTP Proxy
An HTTP proxy is the basic way to get a web page from another server through an unencrypted connection. Therefore, when such a proxy hides your identity and IP from the target site, the proxy acting between them can see everything you are in and probably has a financial incentive to keep a record.
It is also possible for the proxy owner to inject additional content into the pages, which means that you may be exposed to ads (or in some cases, more ominous additions, such as hidden malware). An amazing number of proxies inject some kind of code or modify the content of pages, and these are the versions your browser caches. That’s why they hang out even after you disconnect.
Most HTTP proxies were found to block HTTPS requests. Why is that? They’re only interested in letting you access the pages they can watch. This should give you an idea of their business model.
- HTTPS Proxy
An HTTPS proxy improves the HTTP proxy by adding encryption between your computer and the proxy server.
Not perfect, but an improvement in the HTTP proxy. However, although the proxy server cannot track you in detail, it can log sites you visit at a basic level. Such proxies are really only suitable for occasional use.
- SOCKS Proxy
A SOCKS proxy is a more versatile version of an HTTP or HTTPS proxy. It can manage web browsing as well as additional protocols such as email, ftp and torrent. Using SOCKS with the torrent application is one of the main use cases and can help prevent ISP reduction.
If your provider introduces SOCKS5, it means that you can only log in using a password. The server does this with SSH.
If you are not a harsh torrent user, you may find that the time and challenges required to set up and use SOCKS are excessive compared to the simplicity of a VPN with more benefits and a shallow learning curve.
- Web Proxy
Web proxies allow you to use a browser-based form to go to a blocked web page, or to hide your IP from the site owner. Usually, web proxies are free. In some cases, they can be accessed without having to install any software, which is a great advantage.
The disadvantage is availability. Pages created with web proxies may sometimes appear confused or lack original functionality. You may find that the layout is more basic or some features are not working. In addition, when using web proxy services, you will almost certainly be advertising at low speeds.
These proxies are useful for occasional use when you cannot install the software. Normally, you don’t want to surf the web using one.
- Proxy URLs
Sometimes URLs are blocked at an ISP level, and anyone who tries to reach a site in the block list will see an error page.
Proxy URLs are designed to bypass these top-level blocks by redirecting an unblocked URL to a blocked address through a proxy server. Often, these URLs will not be widely advertised for obvious reasons.
What is VPN?
In precise technical terms, VPN is a complex proxy type. But don’t let this confuse you. VPNs are designed for privacy and ease of connection, and VPN providers take greater care to ensure that they are not blocked or tracked against their competitors in the proxy market.
VPNs also add a lot more functionality compared to a proxy. For example, you can select the server to which you will connect with a good VPN. Some of the best providers have more than 100 servers in different countries. This can help you get the best possible speeds wherever you are, or let you change your location to virtually anywhere in the world.
After setting up your VPN, all traffic passes through the VPN without having to configure each application separately. Just install and connect to your provider’s application once. On mobile devices, the ability to push one button at a time and provide protection for all your data traffic at once is a big plus.
VPN vs Proxy: Which one to choose?
On the surface, VPNs and proxies seem to be hiding your IP and mimicking your location. But that’s where the similarities end.
A proxy is a strange but effective way to quickly navigate through a content block. Therefore, if you need to access a lesson video on YouTube and are geographically restricted to another country, you can paste the URL into an HTTPS proxy and access it once. Many of us will tolerate ads and this will slow down.
However, proxies are often unreliable, lacking features, and may even increase the risk of curiosity. It would be foolish to use a proxy and assume that no one is watching what you are doing.
VPN providers know that their customers do not want to log on; The best providers will not record anything about your event. In addition, you will not be exposed to strange code injected into web pages, and you will benefit from the protection of an encrypted tunnel for all your internet traffic.
All this makes VPNs the only logical option for privacy protection, long-term use, and the use of multiple applications.
If you’re serious about browsing without hiding, a good VPN provider is the best way to do this. You may want to browse our list of the best VPN services.