Proxy Servers Explained
If you’re looking to unblock sites and/or hide your IP address online, you’ve probably come across terms like “proxy server”, “VPN proxy”, “free web proxy”, etc. Is there a difference between a proxy and a VPN? Is one better than the other? Read on to find out.
What is a Proxy Server?
A proxy server is an intermediary between you and the internet.
A proxy server can sit on your local router, where it increases network efficiency, authenticates users on your network, and enforces content restrictions. These proxies are typically found at Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels or airports. They require no configuration by the user.
A proxy can also be on a remote server, where it helps the user bypass local censorship or restrictions imposed by your local network’s proxy. These proxies need to be configured by the user and help you hide your IP address and encrypt your traffic.
VPN Server vs Proxy Server
Technically speaking, a VPN server is a proxy server, although the term more commonly refers to HTTPS servers. If the proxy server is using HTTPS (also referred to as TLS, previously SSL), then it is actually very similar to a VPN, although a web proxy would only encrypt web traffic, while a VPN routes and encrypts all kinds of traffic through its servers.
A VPN server needs more permissions on the local device than a simple web proxy and as a result usually requires users to install a separate app. However, with a proxy every single application might need to be configured separately to use the proxy, and changing the desired proxy server location might require a complete reconfiguration.
What to Look For in a Proxy Server
As with free VPNs, a free proxy web server needs to recover its costs. They can do this by injecting ads into your traffic or by selling your data to advertisers. Either way, there is very little incentive for online proxy sites to keep your browsing fast, secure, and anonymous.
Remember, both paid and free proxy servers should always encrypt their traffic with HTTPS to encrypt your traffic and make sure it does not become monitored or altered in transit.
Advantages of a VPN Server vs. Free Proxy Server
Once you have the ExpressVPN app installed, selecting a location becomes easy and fast, and all your traffic is protected with strong encryption. This helps you bypass threats on your local network and helps you get access to the open and unrestricted internet you expect.
Not all proxy servers are malicious by nature, but it can be extremely difficult to separate the bad from the merely harmless. One 2015 test of over 20,000 proxy services found nearly all of them to inject some form of malware.
Speed is another important consideration. Free proxy servers are usually choked with an avalanche of users trying to get a free ride on what ends up becoming a very slow, congested highway. A premium VPN is like a private tunnel for you and your data, constantly optimized for stability and speed.
Before connecting to a free proxy server, do some research into whether it encrypts its traffic or merely claims to. You may end up sacrificing more than you bargained for in both speed and security.