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What’s the Difference Between VPN and Proxy Services?

Difference between VPN and Proxy
“VPN or proxy?” That’s the kind of question you’re likely to be asking yourself when looking for a way to access geo-blocked and firewall-restricted online content. Well, we know that deciding between the two can be tough, so we’re going to be going over the difference between VPN and proxy services in this article.

What Is a Proxy?

A proxy is a service that lets you hide your IP address and access geo-blocked or firewall-restricted websites. It can be either a computer or an application that acts as an intermediary between your device and the Internet.

How Does a Proxy Work?

It’s pretty simple – when you use a proxy server, the request you send to the Internet (to connect to a website, for example) is intercepted by the proxy. Then, one of two things will happen:

  1. The proxy will check its local cache to see if it already has the content you requested stored in it. If it does, it will return the content without forwarding your request to the Internet.
  2. The proxy will forward your request to the web if it doesn’t have the content you want in its local cache. Once it receives the data, it will send it back to your device.

What Is a VPN?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a service you can use to access the web in a safe manner. It hides your IP address, encrypts your Internet traffic and data, and helps you bypass geo-blocks and firewalls.

How Does a VPN Work?

Basically, the VPN acts as an intermediary between you and your ISP. You run the client, connect to a VPN server, and your Internet traffic gets redirected through it. Your IP address also gets replaced with the server’s IP address too.

All your connection requests first get encrypted by the VPN client, are then sent to the VPN server, the server decrypts them, and then forwards them to the web. Once the requested data is received by the server, it encrypts it and sends it back to the VPN client on your device. Once the content is received, the VPN client will decrypt it for you.

So, What Is the Difference Between VPN and Proxy Services?

Even though VPN and proxy services seem very similar, they do work differently. Long story short, both VPN and proxy services will hide your IP and online identity to some extent, with the main VPN and proxy difference being that the VPN will encrypt all your data.

But if you want to find out what the real, in-depth difference between proxy and VPN services is, you should see how each service performs in the following categories:

Online Security

With VPNs, you get to enjoy a higher level of Internet security because they often use powerful encryption to protect your personal data and online traffic from cybercriminals, such as the AES-256 standard which is military-grade encryption. VPNs will also often use secure VPN protocols as well, such as SoftEther and OpenVPN.

Online Security

Proxies often don’t use any type of encryption, so you’re left exposed on the Internet. Some proxy servers might use an SSL-type encryption, but that kind of security is unfortunately not very reliable.

One way proxies could offer some security is by blocking access to malicious websites so that users like you don’t accidentally connect to them. Allegedly, there’s also a chance that if you access a malware-infected website through a proxy, the malware ends up on the proxy server instead of your device, though there’s no guarantee that is true.

And yes, a proxy server does hide your IP address just like a VPN server does. However, the main difference between proxy and VPN services in this case is the fact that the owner of the proxy server can always see your real IP address when you use the proxy service. A VPN provider normally can’t see your address when you connect to a VPN server since the VPN client-VPN server traffic is encrypted end-to-end. Even if a VPN provider were to see your real IP address, if it’s a decent one, they won’t keep any logs about it.

Internet Privacy

A VPN can offer you a better level of online privacy since all your Internet traffic is completely encrypted. That means that nobody will be able to monitor what you do on the web – not your ISP, not a government surveillance agency, and not any would-be hacker.

With a proxy, you don’t really get to enjoy much online privacy since your Internet traffic is normally not encrypted, meaning your ISP (and anyone else for that matter) can see what you’re doing online. What’s more, if you access anything via HTTP when using a proxy, the proxy owner will be able to track your online activities too.

You could lower those risks by using an encrypted proxy, but we already mentioned that the SSL encryption they use isn’t extremely reliable.

Online Speeds

A proxy server doesn’t normally have a direct impact on your Internet speed since it doesn’t generally use strong encryption (or any encryption at all). What’s more, a proxy could potentially load requested web pages faster if they are cached locally since they don’t need to forward your requests to the Internet.

Smart DNS Speed

However, you should know that proxy servers often tend to be overcrowded. As a result, there’s always a chance you will end up dealing with slower speeds.

A VPN, on the other hand, is likely to slow down your speeds by a bit sometimes due to its encryption. The distance between you and the VPN server might also contribute to that slow-down effect as well (the same can be said about proxy servers, though). Of course, that’s not guaranteed to happen 100% of the time, and it might not even be too noticeable.

Still, if you choose a VPN provider that offers multiple VPN protocols, you might be able to use one that tends to offer better speeds (like SoftEther, for example).

Also, another thing worth mentioning is that a VPN can help you get rid of bandwidth throttling since it encrypts your traffic. If you’re not familiar with bandwidth throttling, it’s when your ISP limits your bandwidth because you’re using “too much data,” something that can actually lower your online speeds.

Extra Features

Unlike VPN providers, proxy servers don’t usually offer additional features like a Killswitch, an Apps.Killer, and DNS leak protection. Those kind of things contribute to the level of security and privacy you get to enjoy, but they also impact the user experience too.


Proxy servers often tend to be free to use – especially public proxies. However, free proxies often tend to be run by volunteers, meaning the service can go offline at random. What’s more, around 79% of free proxy servers don’t even use HTTPS, meaning your data is exposed online. Not only that, but some free proxies might even use JavaScript to inject ads into the client you use.

As for VPNs, while you can find free services, they aren’t worth it at all. It’s much better (and safer) to use paid VPN services. Unlike free VPNs and free proxies, paid VPNs offer better reliability, support, and security.

VPN vs. Proxy – Which Should You Choose?

Judging by what we’ve just discussed, it would seem that a VPN is your best bet if you want a great online experience. Of course, ultimately, the decision is up to you. Still, if you want to make sure your online data and traffic are fully secured, want reliable support, and want to make sure nobody can spy on your online activities, a VPN is the way to go.

On the other hand, if you just want to bypass geo-blocks and hide your IP address without encryption getting in the way, and aren’t worried about the state of your Internet privacy, you could try using a proxy server.

Looking for a High-End VPN Service That Also Offers Proxy Servers?

CactusVPN is just what you need then. We offer a VPN service that’s also paired up with a proxy service since our VPN servers actually double as proxy servers.

Our VPN service uses powerful AES encryption to make sure your data and traffic are always safe. Besides that, we also ensure your privacy is protected with our no-log policy and our Killswitch feature that makes sure you’re never exposed if your connection to the VPN server goes down.

Speaking of VPN servers, we offer 30+ high-speed worldwide servers, and all our servers come equipped with unlimited bandwidth. Furthermore, CactusVPN works on multiple devices and operating systems using our user-friendly apps.

Want to Use a Proxy? No Problem!

In case you were only interested in using proxy servers, or think you might sometimes prefer using a proxy instead of a VPN, you can use our VPN servers which double as proxy servers. You can use this additional service free of charge if you’re a CactusVPN user.

Unblock Over 300 Websites With a Few Clicks

If you ever need smooth, unrestricted access to even more content, we’ve got an extra service in store for you – our Smart DNS that lets you access 300+ geo-restricted websites from countries like the US, The UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland.

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The Difference Between VPN and Proxy Services – The Bottom Line

Even though the services are rather similar, the difference between VPN and proxy services is pretty obvious – a VPN will offer you extra online security alongside unrestricted access to geo-blocked and firewall-restricted websites. To get the best experience, you should look for a VPN provider whose VPN servers double as proxy servers too, so that you get to enjoy the best of both worlds.

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Tim has been writing content and copy for a living for over 4 years, and has been covering VPN, Internet privacy, and cybersecurity topics for more than 2 years. He enjoys staying up-to-date with the latest in Internet privacy news, and helping people find new ways to secure their online rights.

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