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The Pros And Cons Of Using A VPN Or Proxy Service

VPN Or Proxy?

Often, the terms "VPN server/service" and "proxy server/service" get used interchangeably. That's not quite accurate. While both are similar in function, their differences can decide which is better for your given needs.

A VPN is essentially a secure wide area network (WAN) comprised of two or more end points, at least one of which will be a server. VPNs use any of several protocols to perform their tunneling; PPTP, L2TP, IPSec, and SSL are the most common. (It is beyond the scope of this article to talk about the inherent advantages and disadvantages of each approach, but there are plenty of resources for doing so.)

VPN technology is cheap, but it still suffers from the same congestion and latency issues as the public Internet because, after all, it's on the public Internet.

A proxy server acts as a middleman, fielding requests from clients requesting resources from servers. If you've seen Galaxy Quest, you might recall how Sigourney Weaver's character would field requests for information from the captain and then convey them to the ship's computer system. Then, when the computer supplied an answer, Weaver would repeat it back to the captain (even though everyone could hear the computer first-hand)? Weaver was acting as a proxy server. In real world computing, the client (the captain, in our analogy) wouldn't be in the same room. The end server can only see the proxy server and has no idea what client is doing the requesting, thus preserving anonymity.

"A VPN provides the highest level of privacy because it applies encryption to the entire session, protecting all applications that access the Web," notes Jason C., a TorGuard administrator. "A proxy simply tunnels the traffic with no encryption. However, it can be applied to specific applications that support proxies."

According to Ted Kim, interim chief operating officer of London Trust Media, maker of the Private Internet Access VPN service, all software will work with a VPN service. This is not true of a proxy service. The latter will take your request, perform any necessary processing (such as authenticating your user status), then send out your request as if it were its own. If a software application is written to work with this forwarding arrangement, then all is well -- and many do. Most Web browsers, Torrent clients, and so forth work very well with proxy services. But proxy forwarding falls flat when, for instance, needing to mask DNS requests such that they appear to come from another country. Proxying also struggles with games, VoIP, and other traffic types that flow just fine on a VPN.

"A VPN service adds a virtual network adapter that your PC is then told is the primary network adapter for the computer," explains Kim. "All traffic, whether it's designed to be proxied or not, will go out on the VPN to your end-point. This allows for traffic such as DNS, gaming, and VoIP to be routed out via that network with surprising ease. Our servers then take the traffic, anonymize it, and send it out to its destination. The client can relax in security, knowing there’s no identifying information about their personal IP address visible to the end-node at the network level."

Compatibility aside, the critical difference between these two service types generally boils down to security. Proxy services do not tend to be encrypted; VPN services do. With encryption in place, your ISP cannot see what is happening within your VPN connection. This may not be the case with a proxied connection. Caveat emptor.

On the other hand, encryption can slow things down, and therefore proxy services process streaming media and file downloads faster, TorGuard founder and CEO Ben Van Pelt tells us. Also, he adds, "a proxy server can be configured to provide IP masking for a single application or device that may not normally support VPNs."

For the ultimate in privacy control, you can use a technique called layering, or using both a proxy and VPN. This helps "prevent against accidental disconnects or IP leaks," Van Pelt says, adding that TorGuard provides discounts to customers who add connections.

  • PaulBags
    Eh. In NZ, I'm pretty sure the tics bill made it illegal to sell vpn service that the gcsb doesn't already have a back door to. I could possibly source a service from outside the country, but it will likely throw up a flag & be traceable back to me anyway, just because they can't see what's in the tunnel doesn't mean they can't see the tunnel.

    I figure I'm better off being unassuming. They can't read _everything_, might as well stay in the open and be protected by the masses & luck.

    Of course, I have nothing worth hiding...
    Reply
  • heffeque
    Eh. In NZ, I'm pretty sure the tics bill made it illegal to sell vpn service that the gcsb doesn't already have a back door to. I could possibly source a service from outside the country, but it will likely throw up a flag & be traceable back to me anyway, just because they can't see what's in the tunnel doesn't mean they can't see the tunnel.

    I figure I'm better off being unassuming. They can't read _everything_, might as well stay in the open and be protected by the masses & luck.

    Of course, I have nothing worth hiding...
    We've gotten used to governments from all over the world spying on us.

    Sad that things have come to this.
    Reply
  • knowom
    VPN for security and proxy for performance & content filtering.
    Reply
  • rayden54
    @heffeque
    No, the sad part is that people ever thought there was such a thing as privacy on the internet. When I was a kid people knew better.

    People shouting from the rooftops shouldn't get to be surprised when someone listens in. It isn't even spying when you're the one broadcasting the information.
    Reply
  • Reepca
    @heffeque
    No, the sad part is that people ever thought there was such a thing as privacy on the internet. When I was a kid people knew better.

    People shouting from the rooftops shouldn't get to be surprised when someone listens in. It isn't even spying when you're the one broadcasting the information.

    I suppose the real question is why our only mode of efficient communication is shouting from the rooftops. Someone should do something about that...
    Reply
  • razor512
    Unless you are running your own VPN server, you can be sure that any paid VPN service will log just enough information in order to be able to link your actions back to your IP address.

    If they did not, then they would be liable for the traffic for their customers. Imagine if a customer of the paid VPN service, decided to do something highly illegal like downloading or distributing child pornography. The VPN service will have enough bits and pieces logged in order to know which customer generated the illegal traffic.

    They literally cannot do otherwise without becoming a safe heaven for crime, or or providing criminals at least a criminals with a 1 time free pass to do something highly illegal. Furthermore it can also be interpreted as allowing someone to mask their own illegal activity by blaming it on the customers who they are not logging the traffic of.

    Overall, the VPN services will log information for their own network management needs, but you can bet that it is enough for them to figure out who did what on their network if the government comes knocking.
    (They may not all be explicitly recording your session, but there is going to be enough logged to essentially allow them to rebuild the details session if they wanted to)
    Reply
  • PaulBags
    Eh. In NZ, I'm pretty sure the tics bill made it illegal to sell vpn service that the gcsb doesn't already have a back door to. I could possibly source a service from outside the country, but it will likely throw up a flag & be traceable back to me anyway, just because they can't see what's in the tunnel doesn't mean they can't see the tunnel.

    I figure I'm better off being unassuming. They can't read _everything_, might as well stay in the open and be protected by the masses & luck.

    Of course, I have nothing worth hiding...
    We've gotten used to governments from all over the world spying on us.

    Sad that things have come to this.
    I acknowledge the reality, that doesn't mean I'm okay with it. I just see no point in fighting when no-one else will stand up by my side. I'm fine with the idea of even armed revolution, but if I stand up alone I'm just going to get chopped down. Better to smile & nod & bow, and enjoy what little freedom and comfort I have; and be ignored by the big power wielding entities.
    Reply
  • Vosgy
    "Australians will have two years of their metadata stored by phone and internet providers after the Abbott government's controversial data retention laws passed Parliament."

    Yay for Australia, cost of Internet is already too high, now with go up more as the ISPs need to store years of data and will pass that cost on to the consumer. Loose loose for the consumer.

    Damn backward country I live in.
    Reply
  • otokomae
    I'd really love to see a "VPN for Gaming Guide" or something like that, as many people use them and other, similar-sounding services to reduce lag or latency when playing online games.
    Reply
  • ctsboss
    Here is the real question, Can I use a VPN or Proxy to fool Pokerstars or Full Tilt into believing that I am NOT inside the US and allow me access and play on the site? I have heard of some people using this solution instead of actually moving to canada or mexico to play?
    Reply