With data merchants and advertisers following your every move, it’s more important than ever to protect your privacy when you’re surfing the web. But between a VPN, a proxy, or Tor, which solution will do the job better? They can all help you maintain your privacy online, but what makes them different?
What is a proxy?
A proxy server is an intermediary between the browser and the Internet. The browser connects to the proxy, which connects the browser to the Internet. When it comes to all the websites and Internet services you use, the proxy is your online identity. Your real IP address is hidden behind the proxy. You can set up a proxy on your device or you can connect to one of the many proxies available online. If your device is mobile you can use a 4G proxy. The 4G mobile proxy has the same use as the proxies you install on your laptop or desktop computer.
By hiding your IP address, a proxy can help anonymize you on the Internet; however, some proxies communicate your IP address to the destination site. You can also use a proxy to appear connected from a different location than your real-world location; perhaps because you want to access geographically blocked content.
What most proxies cannot do is encrypt Internet traffic. If you use an unsecured Wi-Fi network, for example, anyone connecting to the same network can snoop around your online activity. Proxies also work on an application-by-application basis, and you can’t simply configure one to cover the entire device. Lack of encryption is one of the main differences between a proxy, a VPN, and Tor.
Speaking of VPNs…
What is a VPN?
Like a proxy, a VPN is a remote server that connects the user to the Internet. VPN stands for “virtual private network”, and its privacy aspect is the one that has a great weight in the debate between VPN or proxy.
When you connect to a VPN, it encrypts all Internet traffic between your device and the VPN server. A VPN covers 100% of Internet traffic, which includes not only the browser, but also games, social applications, etc.; if something connects to the Internet, it will pass through the VPN. Proxies do not usually provide such a complete level of protection, even if one is configured on your device.
VPNs cover much the same ground as proxies, but with the addition of encryption of all traffic (although some proxies offer HTTPS encryption). A VPN can hide the user’s IP address from the web services they use and allows them to change their location in the real world. A VPN can be set up in Windows and MacOS as easily as it can be added to your Android or iOS device.
VPN is an ideal solution for protecting your online privacy, and is available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. Get military-grade encryption and protection against hackers and anyone trying to spy on you.
What is Tor?
Tor is a free open source tool run by The Tor Project that anonymizes Internet traffic under numerous layers of encryption. When you use Tor, it sends your traffic through a series of three relay points called “nodes,” to obscure its point of origin before delivering it to the website you’re trying to visit. Tor relies on volunteers who maintain its network of relays, which covers thousands of nodes, and most people access its network through the Tor browser.
Each node removes an encryption layer to reveal the next relay point for its traffic. When all the layers have been decrypted, the final relay sends your traffic to your destination website. It’s the nature of Tor’s multilayer encryption method that gives Tor its name: “Tor” comes from “The Onion Router. Of course, the actual process is somewhat more complicated than peeling an onion, but it’s a good way to get an idea of how Tor works.
When it comes to comparing a VPN with Tor, it’s the layered encryption method and the traffic replay system that sets Tor apart. But if you use Tor to browse the Internet, it won’t cover everything you’re doing with other applications (which a VPN does).
Proxy, VPN, or Tor: which solution is best?
You have three options for online privacy, but between a proxy, a VPN, and Tor, which one is best for your needs? Is Tor better than a VPN? Is a VPN faster than a proxy? Is a proxy easier to use than Tor?
We’ve evaluated the differences between proxies, VPNs, and Tor based on seven different criteria.
Icon_01In the era of streaming and high-definition video content, speed is essential. Since both proxies, VPNs and Tor add additional steps between the user and the web, all three solutions could cause a decrease in Internet speed, albeit to varying degrees.
Proxies are suitable for simple tasks, but be careful not to reveal confidential personal information while using them; especially free ones. This includes logging in to your email and shopping online. A free proxy may not be your best option if your priority is speed, although you should be able to use streaming on many paid proxies. But like any intermediary, they are also prone to disconnections.
Many VPNs are fast enough for video transmission, although there is no guarantee. If you can, try to select a VPN server located near you, as connecting to distant servers can affect your speed. Some VPNs automatically connect you to servers with less traffic to improve your speed, even if they are not the closest ones. If your VPN includes an automatic connection feature like this, use it.
Because Tor bounces its traffic through its relays before delivering it, it’s usually the slowest of the three options. This is the price you pay for the way Tor hides its source through its repeater network.
Anonymous proxies hide their IP address, but transparent proxies do not, and both reveal themselves as proxies to the destination server. While some anonymous proxies only obscure your IP address, others go further.
HMA’s free Web Proxy applies HTTPS encryption to any site you visit, and will also encrypt URLs visited locally on your computer. This way, anyone who tries to look at your browser history will only see strange symbols.
While you are connected to a VPN, web sites and services will only see the IP address that the VPN server has assigned to you. But cookies and other trackers on your device will still be visible with a VPN. Unless you block them by other means, it will allow online retailers to create a unique digital profile of your preferences and behavior through a process known as “fingerprinting.
Although some services can detect VPN traffic, they are not able to look inside. There is only one party that can access your identity when you use a VPN: the VPN provider. For this reason, many VPN providers boast that they do not keep records of their users’ activity. If you purchase a VPN plan, be sure to choose a provider that will preserve your privacy.
Privacy is Tor’s priority: its replay encryption is designed to obscure your IP address. Each relay node knows only the IP address of the previous and next node in the chain. Tor is the preferred choice of insiders and political dissidents and anyone who cares about their anonymity; including cybercriminals and those pursuing other illegal purposes.
Be careful with Tor. If you don’t set it up correctly – and many people don’t – you could end up revealing your IP address or other personally identifying information. Your ISP may know if you use Tor, which can draw unwanted attention to you. In addition, maintenance of Tor is carried out by volunteers, and the user cannot check who is managing each relay module. You might be vulnerable to governments and hacker groups that create nodes to monitor Tor activity. If you use Tor, connect through a VPN that hides your IP address.
Winner: Tor (over a VPN)
When it comes to the integrity of your connection, proxies don’t even compete. The two most common proxy server protocols – HTTP and SOCKS – do not encrypt traffic at all.
HTTPS proxies provide the same degree of encryption as HTTPS websites. If you are going to use a free web proxy, make sure that it supports HTTPS and use it only for HTTPS websites.
VPNs encrypt your traffic from your device to your server, then pass it on to your destination website or service. If a hacker uses a “sniffer” to intercept your connection, the only thing they will get is your encrypted (and unreadable) information. This is how a VPN can protect the user on public Wi-Fi networks, for example. But in any case, you are running an additional risk if you entrust your data to third parties.
While Tor is directing its traffic through its relay nodes, the traffic is encrypted and safe from prying eyes. And because the relay path changes each time you use Tor, it’s not possible to predict where your traffic will go. There is one obvious vulnerability in Tor security: the exit node. If the website you want to visit does not use HTTPS security, someone can intercept your traffic as it leaves the Tor network; even HTTPS is not secure at all.
As mentioned above, proxies work by application. On mobiles, some applications may completely ignore their proxy.
Most major VPNs are available for all standard operating systems: both Windows and MacOS as well as Android and iOS. The VPN application should only require some minor manual adjustments to your device, if any. As soon as you activate it, your Internet connection is protected.
Tor’s only mobile solution is an Android app; iOS users can only access Tor through middleware applications. If you’re using the Tor browser, anything you do with other applications won’t be safe, unless you set them up to access the Tor network.
Winner: VPN and 4G mobile proxy
If you just want to surf the web a little bit, proxies are a quick and easy solution. Never use a web proxy to perform any activity that could disclose private personal information, such as your login credentials or credit card numbers.
When security is more important, a VPN is not much more complicated than a proxy. You have to go through the process of creating an account and downloading one, but once you’ve installed a VPN, you should be able to activate it with a single click or tap.
Installing and using the Tor browser is as simple as any other browser. Download it, install it, and follow the setup process, then enter the URL you want to visit. Your anonymity may be jeopardized if you change some of Tor’s default settings, such as whether or not to save your browser’s history.
Proxies and VPNs can support streaming content if the user is connected to a fast and stable server. If you want to access content from your country when you are abroad, all three options can allow you access, although with different degrees of usefulness.
Typically, a VPN provides the fastest and most stable speed, making it the best choice for streaming. However, some content providers block connections to major VPNs as a measure against those trying to avoid content restrictions.
Many countries have banned, restricted, or censored the use of VPNs and Tor, and you may have problems using these services there. In other countries, Internet privacy tools may not be explicitly illegal, but because of Internet censorship laws, you may be crossing a red line if you view or post certain types of content.
Even if Tor is allowed, it may arouse government suspicion because of its association with political dissidents, activists, informants, and the dark Internet.
Some countries have also banned proxies, but generally this is the least restrictive of the three options. Always investigate the laws of the country where you are before using Internet security tools.
The right choice for you
As you can see, among proxies, VPNs, and Tor, there is no objectively better option for all situations. Think about why you want to use one of these tools. Each of these options offers optimal uses and situations where they are not as useful.
When to use a proxy
You want to avoid content restrictions from time to time.
You do not have to perform activities involving the disclosure of your private personal information.
You want basic IP protection with an anonymous proxy, but do not need to encrypt your data.
When to use a VPN
You want to encrypt all incoming and outgoing traffic to your device.
You want to hide your IP address and real-world location from anyone but your VPN provider.
You want to avoid content restrictions on a regular basis (which, depending on who is restricting you, may be illegal).
You want to log into a personal account from a public Wi-Fi network.
When to use Tor
You want to protect your anonymity above all else and avoid tracking (and you plan to access only HTTPS websites).
You want to post confidential material as a confidant, political dissident, or other activist.
You have the expertise to set up your Tor network device, or you want to use the Tor browser to protect your online activity.
Can you use VPN, proxies, and Tor together?
You can combine a VPN with Tor or a web proxy. If you connect to a VPN and route your traffic to a web proxy, you should be able to use both services simultaneously. If you have both a device proxy and a VPN on your device, you can only choose one of the two options.
When you pair a VPN with Tor, you can also decide how: you can use Tor to access your VPN, or use a VPN to access Tor. The former allows you to access websites that often block traffic from Tor nodes, while the latter hides it from your ISP that is using Tor.
Tor over VPN: You can connect to your VPN and then access the Internet through Tor. This method is often used by those who have blocked access to the Tor network.
VPN over Tor: You connect to a VPN after your traffic leaves the Tor exit node. This prevents the websites you use from identifying you as a Tor user.