The difference between a VPN and a web proxy

Virtual private networks (VPNs) and secure web proxies are solutions for better privacy and security online, but it can be confusing to figure out which one is right for you. Here’s a look at how these services protect you and how to choose the best option for when you’re online.

Stop ISPs from spying on you

When you use Firefox, Enhanced Tracking Protection automatically blocks many third party web trackers from following you around the web. But here’s an interesting fact: your internet service provider (ISP) that you are paying for an internet connection — can still observe and track you.

Because your internet traffic moves to and from your devices (computer, phone, tv, tablet) through your ISP, they can see where you go online. An ISP can see what sites you visit, how long you’re on them, your location and information about your devices. An ISP may not know the specifics of what you did on those sites (like what you bought, searched for or read) thanks to encryption, but they could make inferences about you based on the sites that you visited. That personal data can be used to create detailed profiles about you. Why would ISPs do that? In short: this data is valuable.

ISPs can use this information for their own ad targeting or for monetization opportunities that could include sharing your information with third parties interested in data mining, marketing and targeted advertising, which means less privacy and more tracking. Browsing in private mode doesn’t prevent ISPs from seeing where you go online. But sending your web traffic through a web proxy or VPN can make it much harder.

When should you choose a VPN or a secure proxy?

VPNs and secure web proxies have shared goals: they secure connections. They can, and do, mask your original IP address and protect web traffic that you send between you and your VPN or secure proxy provider. But when would you want to use a VPN vs a proxy?

Secure web proxy: browser-level protection

A secure web proxy works for tasks that you might do only in your browser. This can amount to a lot of activity like shopping, paying bills, logging into social media and reading emails. A secure web proxy serves as an intermediary between your browser and the internet. Your web browsing data will pass through a secure tunnel to the internet directly from your browser, masking your IP address, so the web server you are contacting doesn’t know exactly where you are in the world. And that makes you harder to track and target.

A proxy is useful when you’re browsing the web on a public WiFi. When a proxy is enabled, it will stop eavesdroppers on the same network from spying on your browsing activity or reading your transactions on unencrypted sites. It sounds harmless, but public WiFi networks can be like a backdoor for hackers.

VPNs: device-level protection

VPNs do more than proxies in that a proxy only protects what you do in your browser, whereas a VPN protects all your traffic, including your browser, wherever you have a VPN installed and enabled. VPNs provide added security and privacy for all your online activity — an important consideration if you want to keep your activity to yourself and make it more difficult for data hungry trackers and ISPs to create a profile of you across all your devices, like your phone, computer and tablet.

A VPN works by creating a secure “tunnel” between your device and the internet at large. It protects your privacy in two key ways:

  1. Concealing your IP address, protecting your identity and obscuring your location.
  2. Encrypting your traffic between you and your VPN provider so that no one on your local network can decipher or modify it.

A VPN also offers security on open and public WiFi connections. Open WiFi can be risky, and it’s impossible to be sure that someone else isn’t connecting to the same network to snoop on what you’re doing. Even if your traffic is encrypted, they can still see which sites you are visiting. And if you’re using an app that doesn’t have encryption — and even today, many don’t — then they can see everything you are doing in that app. Mozilla VPN is a fast, secure, trustworthy service that can help close the security gap for you. Mozilla VPN also lets you choose your “location” (where your traffic appears to be coming from) from more than 30 countries.

Choose a trustworthy service

The most important thing to consider when picking either a VPN or a proxy service is choosing a trustworthy company. Be sure you understand the terms you’re agreeing to. Many claim to be great and focused on privacy, but a large number of them fall short on their promise. Not all proxy and VPN services are secure and private. Some will log your online activities so they can sell your data and information to marketing firms themselves. Other services will try to convince you to install malware on your devices.

We’ve done the legwork to ensure that Mozilla VPN respects your privacy, and it’s something we’re willing to stake our reputation on. Mozilla has a reputation for building products that help you keep your information safe. We follow our easy to read, no-nonsense Data Privacy Principles which allow us to focus only on the information we need to provide a service. And since we are backed by a mission-driven company, you can trust that the dollars you spend for this product will not only ensure you have top-notch security, but also are making the internet better for everyone.

Was this article helpful?

Obsessed with your privacy since 1998