Proxy vs VPN vs Tor: What is the Difference?

Virtual Private Networks are a huge buzzword right now in the digital marketing space and basically with anyone that uses the Internet. But as with anything oversaturated, the information on VPNs is often conflicting and has people confused. For the most part, people tend to make them seem more complicated than they are. Then there’s competition from similar services and features that apparently perform the same function.

However, it’s important to note that a VPN offers a very specific service. This is a service that you can’t get with other privacy options.

Now, we’re not going to spend time debunking myths surrounding VPN technology here. That would take too long. But, we are going to make a comparison between Proxy vs VPN vs Tor so you understand the differences and similarities between these services

Then, we’ll give you our honest opinion on what we think is the best option. 

Of course, we must acknowledge that each one has its own purpose. But most people tend to choose VPNs for a number of reasons. One of them is the fact that they’re easy to use and more comprehensive. Tor and proxies are riddled with issues that come with being volunteer-run services. On the other hand, VPNs offer reliable safety and security through proper networking measures.

Attention: Read before you continue

Governments and ISPs across the world monitor their users online activities. If found streaming or browsing content on your Fire TV Stick, mobile or PC, you could get into serious trouble. Currently, your IP is visible to everyone. We strongly recommend you to get a good VPN and hide your identity so that your online experience doesn’t take a bad turn.

We use IPVanish which is the fastest and most secure VPN in the industry. It is very easy to install on any device including Amazon Fire TV Stick. Also, it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you don’t like their service, you can always ask for a refund. IPVanish also runs a limited time offer where you can save 73% on your VPN and they allow you to use one account on unlimited devices. This is a flash sale that can expire at any time.

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Here are the reasons why you must use a VPN all the time.

What is a Proxy?

what is proxy

One of the first things that happen when you connect to the Internet is that your link gets sent to the destination website server. That server is able to see a lot of information about you including your location, IP address and other connection details. A proxy can act as a barrier between you and the destination website, and shrouds your location info.

That’s why it’s called a “proxy” for your Internet connection. It basically tricks the destination website server into perceiving an IP address and location that’s slightly different from the real thing.

Proxies are a great way to evade regular content filters such as low-level online activities. These activities will ask for your location through an IP address. You can use a proxy to unlock online content that’s unavailable to users in your region or access certain websites that are typically blocked in your region.

What makes proxies so effective at shrouding your location and IP address? Low-stakes activity! But, the problem is that proxies don’t secure your connection. So, although it’ll appear as though you’re in a different location, anyone can see your location and IP address through free basic route tracing.

A proxy won’t secure your originating requests either so anyone can see and interfere with your online activity. This is especially if you’re doing something questionable like downloading copyrighted content or accessing blocked media.

Nevertheless, proxies can be helpful to a degree at hiding your location and boosting online safety. Plus, you have different servers at your disposal. You can use them to hide different types of traffic.

• HTTP Proxies

HTTP proxies will protect you in the context of web traffic. First, you input a relevant proxy address in order to link to your browser settings. This will automatically route your traffic via that specific traffic. HTTP doesn’t work for all scenarios. For instance, peer-to-peer connections and other form of traffic aren’t suitable for it.

Plus, it doesn’t offer any form of encryption or SSL/TSL. This means you need to limit your browsing to TLS compatible websites. This is especially important if you’re a frequent email user or someone that works with sensitive information a lot.

• SOCKS Proxies

Next, you have SOCKS proxies which are a level higher than HTTP proxies. They can handle all traffic types. You can use a SOCKS proxy to send all types of traffic, including an FTP connection, P2P connection as well as basic web traffic.

However, it’s not a perfect solution because it doesn’t come with encryption technology and you never know what you’re going to get in terms of loading and browsing speed. Typically, SOCKS proxies are the slowest out of all the options featured here.

• Issues with Proxies

Most people will jump at the chance of using a free proxy as a form of protection when downloading online content. But, as with anything free, these proxies come with their own problems. This includes malware, slow loading speeds, and inconsistent uptime. It can also be quite hard to figure out who’s operating the proxy despite the fact that you can see the person’s location.

Rather save yourself the trouble and go for a paid option like TorGuard. They offer a good quality VPN service plus email and basic web proxies. Sure, they won’t guarantee connection safety but they’ll still hide your IP address when doing low-risk browsing.

What is a VPN?

vpn service

A VPN functions similarly to a proxy except that it enables you to connect through an intermediary server while encrypting your actual connection. For instance, a VPN called IPVanish encrypts your connection to the remote server with a top-quality AES 256-bit encryption. It will also keep your traffic anonymous so the website you’re accessing can’t make out who you are or where you’re located.

This is pretty much the only way to use the Internet in a real incognito manner. It eliminates the possibility of route tracing while completely dissolving your initial connection.

How Does a VPN Work?

A VPN is basically a collection of servers from all around the world. This means whenever you use your computer to access a website, your connection will go through one of the many servers before it gets to the intended online destination. The same goes for when you’re on the receiving end of online information, it goes through a VPN server first.

This enables you to hide your information when sending and receiving online data. The website you visit can only see the VPN server instead of your actual location and server. Plus, all of your traffic will remain completely encrypted, even that which comes from the server. No more third-party involvement or cyber threats for you!

• Issues with VPNs

Although VPNs are as close to online security perfection as you can get, they’re not without controversy. Some VPN providers can actually save your traffic data so they can leverage it with government agencies and ad agencies.

However, not all VPN providers operate this way. But, those that offer complete protection come at a price. After all, you must pay for good quality in everything you do. Although there are free options, they’re usually not worth it.

The closest thing to a perfect VPN is one that offers decent security at a reasonable price, such as protection for multiple devices, unlimited bandwidth plans and more for the price of one coffee per month.

• Benefits of VPNs

It’s worth noting that pricey VPN providers offer superior features, reliability, and security. This includes a Windows kill switch feature which automatically disconnects you from the Internet whenever you accidentally leave the remote server. That way, it’s able to provide ongoing protection from data leaking and other threats. Another much-loved feature of the VPN is that it can bypass geo-blocking and break you into forbidden websites without sacrificing speed.

VPNs are also the only solution that offers secure P2P connections without slowing down your browsing speed, which is a feature that Tor and proxies just don’t have.

What is Tor?

tor network

In the proxy vs VPN vs Tor debate, most people tend to underestimate Tor. But, what is it exactly.

Most people view Tor as the ultimate solution to online privacy and anonymity but this isn’t necessarily true. Tor pivots your Internet connection so that it goes through multiple nodes before it gets to a destination website. It’s kinda like using several proxies at the same time.

Tor is popular because it’s free and easy to use. But, as with anything free, it comes with a lot of problems like being vulnerable to websites that can backlist your connection and IP address. That’s because Tor bounces you connection though recognizable servers that are relatively easy to travel with the right (free) tools.

Keep in mind that volunteers operate Tor nodes and you never know what they’re doing with your information. Some of the Tor nodes are notoriously unsafe and require you to have antivirus software.

Most websites will automatically block your connection due to the danger that comes with allowing a Tor connection. 

• Is Tor a VPN?

It’s not uncommon for people to confuse Tor for a VPN and while the two might be similar, they’re not the same.

As we said, a VPN is a collection of servers that encrypts your online connection so that your IP address and the data you share online remain completely hidden. It’s your VPN provider that manages your computer’s VPN software as well as the servers within their own network. That’s why it’s important to choose a trustworthy VPN service that’s guaranteed to protect your privacy.

The Tor server network enables anonymous connection and communication, and it’s operated by volunteers which means there’s no centralized authority that can have ulterior motives with regard to your data. That’s what makes Tor very different from a VPN.

• How Does Tor Work?

Thanks to the Tor network’s thoughtful design, it’s practically impossible for outsiders to see your activity or find out your identity. That’s because there are thousands of independent volunteers working round the clock to keep the network running.

So, whenever you send information through the Tor network, this is what happens:

  1. Your computer’s software (it could be a Tor-enabled program or the actual Tor browser) chooses three random Tor servers. This software connects these three servers together.
  2. This process begins with the Exit Node, which is meant to link you to the public Internet, which is blind to the message that you’re sending because it’s encrypted.
  3. The software encrypts the message for a second time by repeating the aforementioned process.
  4. The software encrypts the message for a third time by putting the third server (known as the Guard Node) through the same aforementioned process.
  5. The encrypted message is then sent to the Guard Node which eliminates the third encryption layer. Unfortunately, the Guard Node is unable to decipher the actual message on account of the two original encryption layers. But, it can still see the address of the nearest server.
  6. At this point, the second server receives a message from the Guard Node to get rid of its encryption. This still doesn’t reveal the actual message due to the remaining encryption layer. However, it can now see the Exit Node address.
  7. Now, this is where it gets tricky and dangerous. The Exit Node receives a message from the middle server to get rid of the last layer of encryption and protection so that the destination website can see the original message. The good news is that they still won’t be able to see where the message came from, though, only its contents.

To truly understand how Tor works, let’s take a closer look at the servers and what they know:

  1. The Guard Node is able to see your computer’s IP address. But it’s blind to the contents of the message due to the multiple layers of encryption hiding it. The only thing the Guard Node can see is that a message has been sent from your computer through Tor and that message must be relayed to the middle server.
  2. The middle server only knows where the message came from (Guard Node) and where it must go (Exit Node). However, due to the remaining layer of encryption, it cannot read the contents of the message. The Tor network doesn’t make the middle server privy to that information.
  3. Lastly, the Exit Node only knows the contents of the message because it must first remove the final encryption layer before releasing the message to its final destination. But, it cannot decipher where the message originated, only that it came through the middle server.

Basically, this means no one can truly know the contents of the message or where it came from. And this is why Tor is famous for its anonymity.

• Tor Security

Proxy vs VPN vs Tor; does the latter option provide the right level of security? Well, Tor isn’t exactly the best when it comes to privacy if we compare it to other protection options. For instance, multiple MIT researchers have broken through Tor’s walls of so-called security without so much as even cracking their encryption codes.

This means anyone can look at a particular Tor connection ad use a technique known as traffic fingerprinting to see the type of content you’re looking at. They can even monitor the data to see patterns such as where the data is going and where it originated.

Moreover, Tor is often used by cybercriminals as a way to escape being seen while undertaking nefarious activities. That’s why government authorities insist on keeping a close eye on Tor at all times. Tor is particularly popular among deep web users (not to be confused with the dark web) because it enables them to hide their identity while going into dark web sites. For these and other reasons, Tor is considered quite unsafe by many.

Then, you have usability issues which seem to plague Tor users more and more each day. For example, Tor is not compatible for P2P connections and it opens you up to super slow loading speeds when compared to a VPN or proxy connection. While using Tor can encrypt your original connection, it must put it through multiple servers first.

VPN Encryption vs. Tor Onion Routing

vpn vs tor

The method used in routing messages is another hot topic when comparing proxy vs VPN vs Tor.

For example, when using a VPN to send a message online, the service actually encrypts the message before sending it through one of its many, many servers. From there, the message is further decrypted and sent to the destination website.

When receiving messages on your computer, they have to go through the VPN server first for encryption before actually reaching you. The VPN server is responsible for doing all of this encryption work and as soon as you connect to a CPN you’ll be able to use the same server throughout.

It’s worth noting that Tor uses a very complicated method known as Onion Routing. This means the message must go through three random Tor servers on its way to the actual website. Furthermore, the message will go through several encryption stages through the Tor software before it even exits your computer. Having multiple layers on the messages makes it difficult to uncover.

The message goes through multiple servers and each one adds a layer of encryption which must be decrypted in order to reach its final destination. But it doesn’t reveal the original location or the IP address of where the message came from.

This approach is effective at hiding the full details of the message from all three servers. None of them truly know where the message emanated or what its contents are. This is what enables the level of anonymity that Tor is famous for. The Tor software doesn’t stop there, however, because it also selects new servers every 10 minutes and that makes it practically impossible to hack into the network.

Which One Should You Use?

So, which should you choose between a proxy vs VPN vs Tor? We personally recommend a VPN. Proxies are convenient and easy to use but only when it comes to issues like geo-blocking. Tor is great at keeping your identity and data anonymous but it’ll slow you down considerably. VPNs provide the best of both worlds by providing you with a safe connection as well as super-fast browsing speeds.

Of course, there are still slow VPN services and proxies as well but at least you don’t have to worry about connection loss, even with the worst VPN services.

One of the best wat to fully encrypt your data and protect your anonymity online is to use a VPN and Tor at the same time. But, the resulting encryption algorithms can lead to super slow speeds and that’s not good for anybody. But, if anonymity and security are super important to you, then you should definitely consider this option because it’s your best bet.

It’s the type of setup you’re going to need if you live in a country or region with strict geo-blocking and similar laws, i.e. China. The best way to overcome these challenges is to connect through a VPN while using Tor. Luckily, there are certain providers that make this process easy.

tor vs vpn

But, if you’re thinking of using this tip just make sure that you start by connecting to Tor first followed by the VPN server. This is the best way to completely protect your data and your identity.

Now, if you were to flip the switch and connect to a VPN server first you’d experience a few problems. For one thing, you’ll have unencrypted traffic, some of the websites you want to access will block your connection from seeing the Tor exit node and you could be vulnerable to malware.

Of course, you may also experience slower speeds when using both Tor and a VPN. However, for most people, it’s totally worth it because you get great security and decent speed, and we’re using the word “decent” loosely here. Tor is perfect for anyone that wants to completely evade detection or oversight, while with a VPN like IPVanish, you can look forward to enjoying anonymous browsing and protection from a slew of cybersecurity threats.

Conclusion

When looking at the proxy vs VPN vs Tor trifecta, VPNs usually come out on top and it’s not hard to see why. VPN services are typically backed by companies that are actually liable for the type of security measures they apply. Tor and Proxies don’t have that type of accountability so you can never be sure just how safe your data is with them.

They still offer massive value though. Fusing Tor and VPN into one solution will slow down your browsing speed but it’s the best way to ensure anonymity. Proxies are cheaper and easier to use for hiding for IP address. But they’re not as comprehensive a solution as a VPN.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Proxy vs VPN vs Tor; which one would you choose? Let us know in the comments section below!

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