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Proxy vs. VPN: What Is the Difference?

Proxy vs. VPN: The Key Differences

Though proxies and VPNs both provide privacy, they do it differently. When comparing proxy vs. VPN capabilities, the difference is that proxies strictly act as a gateway between the internet and users. On the other hand, VPN traffic runs through an encrypted tunnel and the user's device, making VPNs an effective solution for ensuring network security.

What is a Proxy Server?

proxy server works as a gateway between the internet and users. It is also known as an intermediary server because it lies between end-users and all the webpages they visit. A proxy server has an Internet Protocol (IP) address of its own, so internet activities appear to be coming from somewhere else. It is set up like firewalls or web filters and protects your devices from cyber threats. 

The different types of proxies include: 

Forward Proxy

A forward proxy sits in front of clients and is used to get data to groups of users within an internal network. When a request is sent, the proxy server examines it to decide whether it should proceed with making a connection.

A forward proxy is best suited for internal networks that need a single point of entry. It provides IP address security for those in the network and allows for straightforward administrative control. However, a forward proxy may limit an organization’s ability to cater to the needs of individual end-users.

Transparent Proxy

A transparent proxy can give users an experience identical to what they would have if they were using their home computer. In that way, it is “transparent.” They can also be “forced” on users, meaning they are connected without knowing it.

Transparent proxies are well-suited for companies that want to make use of a proxy without making employees aware they are using one. It carries the advantage of providing a seamless user experience. On the other hand, transparent proxies are more susceptible to certain security threats, such as SYN-flood denial-of-service attacks.

Anonymous Proxy

An anonymous proxy focuses on making internet activity untraceable. It works by accessing the internet on behalf of the user while hiding their identity and computer information.

A transparent proxy is best suited for users who want to have full anonymity while accessing the internet. While transparent proxies provide some of the best identity protection possible, they are not without drawbacks. Many view the use of transparent proxies as underhanded, and users sometimes face pushback or discrimination as a result.

High Anonymity Proxy

A high anonymity proxy is an anonymous proxy that takes anonymity one step further. It works by erasing your information before the proxy attempts to connect to the target site.

A high anonymity proxy server is best suited for users for whom anonymity is an absolute necessity, such as employees who do not want their activity traced back to the organization. On the downside, some of them, particularly the free ones, are decoys set up to trap users in order to access their personal information or data.

Distorting Proxy

A distorting proxy identifies itself as a proxy to a website but hides its own identity. It does this by changing its IP address to an incorrect one.

Distorting proxies are a good choice for people who want to hide their location while accessing the internet. This type of proxy can make it look like you are browsing from a specific country and give you the advantage of hiding not just your identity but that of the proxy, too. This means even if you are associated with the proxy, your identity is still secure. However, some websites automatically block distorting proxies, which could keep an end-user from accessing sites they need.

Data Center Proxy

Data center proxies are not affiliated with an internet service provider (ISP) but are provided by another corporation through a data center. The proxy server exists in a physical data center, and the user’s requests are routed through that server.

Data center proxies are a good choice for people who need quick response times and an inexpensive solution. They are therefore a good choice for people who need to gather intelligence on a person or organization very quickly. They carry the benefit of giving users the power to swiftly and inexpensively harvest data. On the other hand, they do not offer the highest level of anonymity, which may put users’ information or identity at risk.

Residential Proxy

A residential proxy gives you an IP address that belongs to a specific, physical device. All requests are then channeled through that device.

Residential proxies are well-suited for users who need to verify the ads that go on their website, so you can block suspicious or unwanted ads from competitors or bad actors. Residential proxies are more trustworthy than other proxy options. However, they often cost more money to use, so users should carefully analyze whether the benefits are worth the extra investment.

Public Proxy

A public proxy is accessible by anyone free of charge. It works by giving users access to its IP address, hiding their identity as they visit sites. 

Public proxies are best suited for users for whom cost is a major concern and security and speed are not. Although they are free and easily accessible, they are often slow because they get bogged down with free users. When you use a public proxy, you also run an increased risk of having your information accessed by others on the internet.

Shared Proxy

Shared proxies are used by more than one user at once. They give you access to an IP address that may be shared by other people, and then you can surf the internet while appearing to browse from a location of your choice.

Shared proxies are a solid option for people who do not have a lot of money to spend and do not necessarily need a fast connection. The main advantage of a shared proxy is its low cost. Because they are shared by others, you may get blamed for someone else’s bad decisions, which could get you banned from a site.

SSL Proxy

A secure sockets layer (SSL) proxy provides decryption between the client and the server. As the data is encrypted in both directions, the proxy hides its existence from both the client and the server.

These proxies are best suited for organizations that need enhanced protection against threats that the SSL protocol reveals and stops. Because Google prefers servers that use SSL, an SSL proxy, when used in connection with a website, may help its search engine ranking. On the downside, content encrypted on an SSL proxy cannot be cached, so when visiting websites multiple times, you may experience slower performance than you would otherwise.

What Is a VPN?

A VPN is similar to a proxy server in that it makes internet traffic appear to be coming from a remote IP address. However, with VPNs, traffic runs through an encrypted tunnel between the remote VPN network and the user's computer or device, making VPNs an effective solution for ensuring network security. 

A VPN from a reliable provider ensures users have a safe way to browse the internet, especially when using Wi-Fi at a public location like a café. Users can connect to a VPN instead of a local Wi-Fi, which, when unencrypted or using weak security, can expose private information to others. 

There are different types of VPNs, including remote access VPN, extranet-based site-to-site, and intranet-based site-to-site. 

Corporate VPN

Corporate VPNs are used by businesses to protect users and their devices, regardless of where employees connect to these devices.

Individual VPN

These are services that are meant for individual use.

Proxy vs VPN

On the surface, VPNs and proxy servers may seem similar, but there are key differences to be aware of. When deciding between a proxy server vs. VPN, businesses should consider:

Proxy Vs VPN : Graphical explanation of difference between proxy Vs VPN


Proxy servers may hide your identity from websites, but they do not encrypt your connection. Using a public proxy server results in a less secure connection than connecting to a web server through a browser. VPNs are a secure solution because they encrypt data before sending it to the client, hiding your identity from the web and your ISP in the process.


While both a VPN and a proxy server will hide the user’s IP address, they handle data in different ways. Proxy servers serve as a "middleman" between a user and the web. They hide the user's IP address from a web server the user visits, but it does not secure the data that is sent and received. 

A VPN takes this process a step further. It hides the user’s IP address and location so they cannot be identified. At the same time, it uses end-to-end encryption so that an ISP or router cannot access user data, ensuring total privacy for the user. Also, even if encrypted data gets intercepted, bad actors will not have any use for it if they cannot decrypt it.


A proxy is a single server that may be used by many people at one time. This can result in delays in connection speed. A free proxy connection can prove even slower. VPN servers that are far from the user’s location can also result in a slower connection speed. However, if you use a VPN provider with the right technology and maintenance protocols, any delays will be unnoticeable.

Which is Better: VPN or Proxy?

While proxy servers and VPNs may seem similar on the surface, they are two different solutions. So which should your business choose, a VPN or proxy? 

VPNs provide greater protection because they encrypt traffic. For organizations that deal with sensitive data and need to keep their browsing activity hidden, a VPN is the ideal solution. 

Organizations that are simply looking for users to browse the internet anonymously can benefit from a proxy server. This also enables them to see which websites their employees are visiting and ensure employees can access sites that would otherwise be blocked in their country. 

Do You Need a Proxy Server if You Have a VPN?

A proxy server and a VPN will both mask a business’s IP address. However, a VPN will encrypt all data that is sent and received. This is a capability that a proxy server does not have. So for those that are currently using a VPN, there is no need to connect to an application or website via a proxy server.

How Fortinet Can Help

Security is one of the major roadblocks companies face in multi-cloud adoption. Companies that have adopted multi-cloud strategies need security-driven networking solutions. These solutions provide appropriate access control for all users, regardless of their location, a capability that is especially critical in today’s remote business world.

The Fortinet FortiGate product can help businesses secure their data, networks, and users. It has the capabilities of VPNs and proxies and uses Internet Protocol security (IPsec) and SSL technologies to shield users, multiple networks, and endpoints from data breaches. The FortiGate solution provides scalable and high-performance crypto VPNs that protect users from man-in-the-middle (MITM) and other types of attacks.