What’s The Difference Between A VPN, A Proxy, and Tor?

anonymous browsing

If you’re looking for the best way to remain anonymous online, then you’re probably trying to decide if a VPN is the best choice for you, or if you should go with Tor or a proxy. I get it, there is a lot of information available out there and it can get really confusing rather quickly.

Though this may seem complex at first glance, it’s really not once you get past all of the technical jargon.

As an online privacy advocate, it is super important to me that I stay as anonymous as possible online. If you feel the same way, then let me tell you how these tools can help you, and then you can determine which one best meets your needs.

What Is A Proxy?

At it’s core, a proxy just acts as sort of a middleman between your computer (or other internet-connected device) and the websites you’re accessing on the internet.

A proxy does change your IP address so that it appears as if your traffic is originating from a different location. This is helpful when you’re accessing an online tool or website that limits traffic by IP address.

In the past, I have used proxies when accessing tools that make repeated requests to Google. After a few requests, Google starts making you do captchas, which is where the proxies come into play. By changing proxies, you can get around those captcha verifications, thus making the entire process a bit quicker.

Proxies come in the free and paid varieties, though I have primarily worked with the free proxies.

The important thing to know about using a proxy is that it does not encrypt your data. So, while it masks your IP address, all of your data is still visible for anyone who wants to intercept it.

As you can see, the only thing that is anonymous when using a proxy if your IP address location. So, it’s not really ideal for the privacy concerned who want to achieve total anonymity online.

What Is A VPN?

Though this site already has a beginner’s VPN guide, the short definition of a VPN is that it encrypts all of your data and works as sort of a middleman between your computer (or other internet-connected device) and the websites you’re accessing on the internet.

All of your online activity goes through the VPN tunnel, which encrypts it, and no one can see where are you actually physically located (your real IP address) or what you are doing online.

The important thing to remember with a VPN is that you need to use a provider that has a kill switch so that if your connection drops, the kill switch effectively stops all internet activity to prevent the leaking of your real IP address and unencrypted data.

You’ll also want to avoid any of the free VPNs because they are likely going to be keeping logs on you and selling them to third parties. Instead, you’ll want to use a paid service for your VPN needs.

VPNs are also your best privacy option if you’re looking to do some P2P activities, like torrenting, or if you’re looking to bypass some geoblocks on content or sites restricted in your country.

What Is Tor?

There’s a lot of talk online about Tor being the ultimate solution for online privacy, but it honestly seems like that is not really the truth at all.

The first thing that you need to know about Tor is that it is run by volunteers because it is completely free to use. So, there is no paid incentive for anyone to offer you top of the line service. Plus, when someone is doing something for nothing, there is the opportunity for nefarious intentions to be in play – I’m not saying that there are, but you just never know about people’s true intentions.

Tor kind of works like when you use multiple proxies. It basically bounces around your internet connection off of different relays (or nodes) from those volunteers. On paper, it truly does sound like the ultimate in online privacy.

In actuality, the Tor exit nodes are easy to identify, which means that they can easily be blacklisted by websites. What’s worse is that some of those volunteers are managing malicious nodes, which means that you’re sending malicious packets of data. And do you really wanna be sending malware and other shit to other websites? That’s actually why a lot of websites block traffic from Tor exit nodes.

There’s also been a few instances of people proving how Tor isn’t actually secure, like when MIT broke the Tor anonymity. Basically, you’re just not as anonymous or protected when you use Tor as you might think.

Which Is Best For Staying Anonymous Online?

In the VPN vs proxy vs Tor debate, I think it’s safe to say that a VPN offers you the highest protections in privacy and security.

Nothing can make you truly 100% anonymous online, but a VPN gets you pretty close to it.

And depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, you may discover that you need to use a VPN in combination with Tor to meet your online needs. Sure, this double duo will slow your speeds down a bit, but it will offer you the utmost of security.

I think for most people, myself included, paying for a quality VPN (like NordVPN or ExpressVPN) is really the perfect solution here.

Summary

It should come as a surprise to literally no one that I think the best option for online privacy is using a paid VPN service. VPNs are cheap, easy to use, and keep my privacy and data protected when I travel all over the world.

If you prefer a different setup, then I’d love to hear about it and how it works out for you.

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