Paul Korzeniowski

Paul is a seasoned freelance writer and leading security industry voice. He has covered technology issues for a few decades, completed more than 10,000 articles, and had more than 1 million words published. 

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VPN vs PROXYSecurity individuals and businesses want to protect their systems and make sure that personal and confidential information is not compromised.

To protect themselves, people mostly use two technologies: Proxy Servers and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

Both provide protection.

Proxies are easy to install and provide basic security features while VPNs are more complicated but encrypt information from end to end.

Why you should use a VPN or proxy servers?

Proxy servers and VPNs both are designed to protect sensitive information. 

They perform tasks, like keeping your interactions anonymous but secure information in different ways, which have strong and weak points.

Yahoo!’s breaches of 500 million records in September 2016 and a second breach of 1 billion records uncovered in December 2016 illustrate that even the world’s most sophisticated systems can be compromised.

To protect themselves, users need to beef up the security of their Internet connections, whether they are used at work, at home, or the local public coffee shop Wi-Fi network.


What is a Proxy Server?

what is a proxyProxy servers were designed to ensure that individuals surf the Net safely, according to Jeff Lauria, Vice President of Technology at iCorps Technologies. The system acts as a gateway or a buffer between your software and network connection to the Internet. A proxy is a decentralized solution that connects users through a network of relays rather than direct links. When you browse the web, all your traffic is routed through an anonymous server and then to your system. This design means that hackers do not see your IP address and information, but rather the proxy server’s IP location and data.

Proxy servers have been shipped for decades and come in various flavours. The primary proxy protocols used are SOCKS (Socket Secure), HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), and HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). SOCKS and HTTP do not encrypt data whereas HTTPS offers Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption.


Proxy Pros (+)

1. Your IP will be hidden

The benefit of this method is that your IP address is hidden from the sites you visit by bouncing your connection from server to server at random, in essence, losing the trail. Proxies work well for low-stakes tasks, like accessing restricted sites, bypassing simple content filters, and eluding IP-based service restrictions.

2. Some proxies are free

A proxy adds little overhead to the system process because the bulk of the processing is done on another computer. Customers find a number of vendors offering proxy systems, and these systems come with a wide range of capabilities and prices, including free proxies.

Proxy Cons (-)

1. Proxies are not designed to protect ALL of your Internet traffic

Proxies were not designed to protect all of your Internet traffic. Usually they operate at the browser level. Since proxy server connections are configured on an application-by-application basis and not computer-wide, users typically have to set them up one by one: configure your web browser, your BitTorrent client, or other proxy-compatible applications.

However, vendors, like Microsoft Corp., have tried to make it easier for users to have their proxy work with a number of applications rather than in an application by application fashion. Finally in some cases, certain web pages use non-browser technology, making viewing them difficult and sometimes impossible.

2. Network performance (slow)

Network performance can also be an issue. The relays add network latency, and your browsing can slow substantially if there are numerous hops that your data is passed through.

In addition, a proxy system becomes the central point of failure as well as a central point of attack by hackers, according to Dan Blum, principal consultant at Security Architects LLC. If the proxy goes down, the user may not be able to access the Internet.

3. Potential security flaws

Depending on the system, these solutions can have potential security flaws. Proxy servers only hide your IP address and act as a dumb man-in-the-middle for your Internet traffic. They don’t typically strip away identifying information from your transmissions beyond a simple IP swap.

4. Proxy doesn’t encrypt your traffic

Proxy servers often do not protect users from a number of attacks. Exploits, like malicious Flash or JavaScript elements in your web browser, can reveal your true identity. Since they usually don’t encrypt your traffic between your computer and the proxy server, anyone with access to your data stream (your ISP, a persona sniffing the Wi-Fi traffic at the airport, etc.) can snoop your traffic.

Free proxies

A number of companies, including AnonyMizer, AnonyMouse, Whoer, and HideMyAss offer free proxies. In fact, users can lists of free systems at Proxy4Free, a database that has been operating since 2002.

The free services typically offer rudimentary security checks and might be suitable for a one time tasks that takes a few minutes (and are not particularly sensitive in nature), but may not offer sufficient security for a company to feel confident using them.

Paid proxies

Commercial products come from Barracuda, Bluecoat, BGuard, Cisco, Mimecast, Microsoft, SonicWall, Symantec, Websense, and Webroot, Zscaler. These systems offer more sophisticated features, such as tying the proxy features to the corporate directory and providing access to applications based on users’ credentials.


VPN Pros (+)

1. You can hide your IP

Like a proxy, a VPN is a network connection that enables you to create a secure connection to another location, thereby allowing you to appear as if you are in another place. Your computer creates an encrypted virtual tunnel to the VPN server and all of your browsing appears as if it is coming from that device. Because all of the Internet traffic goes through the encrypted tunnel, your data is not exposed to eavesdroppers between your computer and the VPN server.

2. VPN doesn’t only mask, but encrypts your information

A VPN goes a step further than simply masking your information; they encrypt it. Unlike a proxy, which only secures your clients or web browser, VPN tunneling secures 100% of all your Internet access, replacing your local ISP routing for all applications. VPNs will capture the traffic of every single application on your computer, from your web browser to your online games to even Windows Updates running in the background.

what is a vpn

VPN public-key encryption exchanges a session key between a client and a server. Each transaction uses a different session key so that even if someone did manage to decrypt one transaction, that would not mean that they would have found the key needed to decrypt another exchange. They would need to spend as much time and effort on the second transaction as they did on the first. 

These systems encrypt information with algorithms ranging from a 40-bit secret key to a 256-bit secret key, that is to say ‘2 to the 40th power’ or ‘2 to the 256th power’. As computers have gained more processing power through the years, the lower power keys have theoretically become vulnerable to “brute force” attacks: basically trying each of the 2^xx possible keys until the hacker finds the one that decrypts the message or a password. Current solutions support different levels of encryption. Lower priced systems usually have lower encryption algorithms.

VPN Cons (-)

1. You need to install a software

A VPN is often viewed as a thick client, a tool that requires a lot of device software and can be difficult to set up, run, and use. The encryption software can be a challenge to deploy although suppliers are making inroads in simplifying installation.

2. Possible performance problems

Performance problems are possible. The entire connection is encrypted, and users pay for it in lost computing power. More complex algorithms offer a higher degree of security but tax systems, especially older devices weighed down by today’s ever increasing demands. For individuals who love downloading bandwidth intensive applications, like video and gaming, their system may become overloaded.

3. VPN systems can be compromised (highly unlikely)

VPNs offer various levels of sophistication. Ideally, the service implements load balancing and server randomization so that users always connect to different servers. Depending on the provider, VPN systems can be compromised. If a bad actor hacks into the network, they may make their way to the provider’s communications logs and eventually your system. Typically, the more sophisticated services tend to cost more than the barebones solutions.


Which VPN Should You Use?

Like proxy servers, VPNs come in different features and price points. Hotspot Shield, TotalVPN, and TunnelBear, offer free VPNs. Leading network equipment suppliers, like Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Intel, Juniper, Nokia, Palo Alto, SonicWall, and Sophos developed commercial grade solutions.

P.S. More VPN reviews can be found here.

So what should a user rely on to secure information? Proxies focus on information that is moving out of your system, and protect against threats like ransomware, according to iCorps Technologies Lauria. VPNs are better at keeping hackers from getting into your system with attacks like SQL injections. The two security solutions offer varying levels of protection where costs go up as the level of protection increases.

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