by: Julia Sowells
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 would act like a third-party client that would receive the browser request from you and then pass on the same to the target server. Whatever has to come back comes back to you only via the proxy, 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; you could use a proxy from another geo-location for that.
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.
Tor differs from Proxy and the VPN in a very basic way; the 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 absolute anonymity while you are browsing the internet. Tracking down a Tor user is practically impossible because if you attempt doing that (that too only if you are able to decrypt the traffic), you'd see traffic coming from a lot of random locations.
How to choose?
So, which is the best of the three? How to make a choice? Well, the choice depends on various factors, the most prominent of them being performance and the encryption level provided.
Coming to performance, it's to be remembered that while proxies can run on little bandwidth and low amounts of processing power, VPNs would need huge amounts of processing power and bandwidth. That way, using a VPN quite often slows down your entire system or connection and hence Proxy would be a better choice. Tor too, of late, is giving a slower performance since it's being used by too many people.
As regards the encryption aspect, a proxy, though it will hide your IP and mask your identity, would not encrypt the information that happens between you and the proxy server. Thus, data stealing can happen. Tor encrypting or not encrypting your data 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. The 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, a journalist etc who wants to mask his identity, the VPN is ideal for businesspersons, organizations and hackers. Proxies are best for individual internet surfers and hobbyist internet surfers.
Julia Sowells is a security geek with almost 5+ years of experience, writes on various topics