VPN, Proxy, or Tor?

VPN, Proxy, or Tor?

Understand the differences and similarities between VPN, Proxy, and Tor, and find out which one is better to browse the web more securely

2 years ago• Updated 1 year ago

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VPNProxy, and Tor are security tools for internet browsing, which allow you to hide where you are and protect your data. However, each of them has distinct characteristics, which make them more suitable for specific situations. Understand the differences between VPN, Proxy, and Tor, and find out which one is most suitable for safely surfing the internet.

Safe Browsing (Image: Danny144/Pixabay)

VPN, Proxy, or Tor?

While each of these tools is used to increase user security while browsing the internet, VPN, Proxy, and Tor have fundamental differences between them, while sharing some similarities.

Check out the differences between VPN, Proxy, and Tor below.

1. VPN

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and it describes exactly what it is, a virtual private network. It is an optional network service intermediary between the user and the Internet, such as a remote server, which offers two distinct services.

First and foremost is encryption, which protects all your data traffic while using the VPN. The second is confidential browsing, through an IP mask for your connection.

VPN (Image: StefanCoders/Pixabay)

It works like this: when using a VPN, your data is protected and cannot be read by others. At the same time, your IP is masked and your connection is identified by another source address, for example, changing São Paulo to Los Angeles.

2. Proxy

A Proxy server is an intermediary between the user’s computer and the internet, and it is he who sends and receives all his requests to the website being accessed. The server of the visited domain (the website) registers the proxy’s IP as a visitor instead of yours, and thus, it also serves to mask your identity on the web.

Proxy servers can be web services or physical servers, such as those for businesses. They concentrate connections from all computers at a single point, and they all share the same IP, the server’s, which will be used for browsing.

Proxy server (Image: kevinandthepup/Pixabay)

A proxy is by default a useful service to make someone anonymous on the web, and you can use several of them to make tracing the source IP more difficult. But unlike a VPN, a proxy does not encrypt data, so the user remains subject to attacks and snoopers, even more so if he is connected to a public network.

3. Tor

Tor, which stands for The Onion Router, is open-source software designed to anonymize web browsing by hiding the user’s connection under multiple layers of protection. Hence the “onion” in the name, or in Portuguese, “Cibola”.

When using Tor, user data loses all identification credentials, and data is encrypted in layers and sent to three relay points called nodes. Upon reaching the first node, one of the layers is decrypted to reveal the destination of the request (the site the user wants to access), and the request moves on to the next node.

When all layers are decrypted, the request sends traffic to the desired site, which identifies the last node’s IP as the source. Because of the way Tor operates, it is much more difficult to identify the origin of the connection.

Tor working diagram (Image: Fossbytes)

Tor was originally developed to protect the identity of activists and journalists, who could suffer censorship and reprisals, but in practice, the software, combined with a modified version of the Firefox browser, called Tor Browser, is one of the main tools for accessing the Dark Web, the darkest and most criminal part of the internet.

Which to use and for what?

VPNs, Proxies, and Tor are very different secure browsing tools, even though they all deliver on the promise of hiding the user’s identity. In comparison, we have:

IP hidingYesYesYes
CryptographyYesNoYes, in layers
embedded browserNoNoYes

Each service has a characteristic that makes it more suitable for a specific action. Therefore, we have the following recommendations:

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