In today’s world, where internet security is a matter of great concern, one needs to know about terms like proxies, VPNs and Tor, which are all great tools that help guard one’s privacy online and also help ensure better security. The basic thing that these tools provide is anonymity to the user. Though it’s one common thing that these three tools provide, there are differences. Let’s examine different aspects pertaining to proxies, VPNs and Tor:
You use a proxy when you are gaining information from any source online, to prevent that source from gaining information from you or about you. Thus a proxy prevents the stealing of information like IP address, contacts, the websites you visit, etc.
The proxy acts like a third-party client that receives the browser request from you and then passes it on to the target server. The response is directed to the proxy, which then forwards the data back to you in the same manner.
Proxies are also used to block websites and inappropriate content—especially by network administrators. It also helps block scams, unproductive internet usage etc, which in turn helps businesses minimize loss.
The other side of the picture is that a proxy helps you access a blocked website by circumventing IP address filtering. Similarly, you could also use proxies to access websites that are not accessible otherwise from your geo-location because the web server is only aware of the location and IP address of the proxy.
You can use a VPN (virtual private network) to transfer the traffic in your network to a public network or to a server from a remote connection or system. The basic difference between a proxy and a VPN is that the VPN captures the entire connection from your system or network (from every single application that’s installed therein) whereas the proxy captures the connection of just a single application on your system/network, like, for example, a browser.
VPN establishes a secure tunnel between your computer and the target network—simultaneously providing security, while also ensuring privacy by preventing the data from being intercepted or viewed in transit.
Tor is a software/browser that lets you browse the internet anonymously. Tor is free and it works by bouncing your communication over a network of thousands of relays (provided by volunteers) all across the world and thus you are granted virtually absolute anonymity while you are browsing the internet. Tracking down a Tor user is practically impossible because if you attempt doing that (assuming you have the resources to decrypt the traffic), you’d see traffic coming from a lot of random locations.
Tor users can sometimes be traced or identified—but that is a function of operator error. Tor itself provides anonymity, but the people using Tor often do things that leave clues and hints in their wake.
How to choose?
So, which is the best of the three? How do you choose?
Well, the choice depends on various factors—the most important being performance and the encryption level provided.
From a performance perspective, the proxy is probably the best option. Proxies require little bandwidth and low amounts of processing power. VPNs typically require much more processing power and bandwidth. Tor also frequently suffers from slower performance depending on the volume of people using it at a given time.
As for encryption, the VPN is the best choice. A proxy hides your IP and masks your identity, but it doesn’t encrypt the information that happens between you and the proxy server. Encryption across Tor depends on whether or not the website you are visiting encrypts its data or not. So, it’s your responsibility to ensure encryption of your data. A VPN, however, encrypts your traffic through a very secure encryption tunnel from the remote computer to the VPN server. Thus, the VPN turns out to be highly secure, compared to the other two, in terms of encryption.
While Tor is good for someone—like an activist, or a journalist, etc. who wants to mask his or her identity—a VPN is ideal for businesses, and organizations worried about data security, and proxies are best for individual internet surfers and hobbyist internet surfers who are more concerned with online anonymity.