Proxy Vs. VPN Vs. SmartDNS [A Comparison]
Founder and CEO of KeepSolid, a company that builds modern security and productivity solutions
Cybercrime, internet surveillance, and geo-blocking are nowadays as big an issue as ever. No wonder, then, that more and more concerned netizens are looking for ways to protect their personal data, sensitive information, privacy, and internet freedom. Sooner or later, they hear advice to use either proxy servers, VPNs, or SmartDNS services. But what’s the difference between them, and which one to choose?
This is what I’ll try to explain today. Sit back, relax, and prepare to get yourself in the know on the topic of internet security, privacy, and freedom!
Defining Proxy, VPN, and SmartDNS
Let’s start with the basics, shall we?
What is a proxy?
Proxy, or proxy server, is the most basic tool to achieve anonymity on the internet. When you’re connected to a proxy server, your web requests and internet traffic don’t travel to and from its destination as normal - it’s first routed through the proxy server.
Thus, for the recipient server your traffic seems to originate from the proxy server for all intents and purposes. Your real IP address is masked behind that of the server, and your real location is concealed. In other words, you become anonymous.
What is a VPN?
Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is an out-of-the-box security and privacy solution. It combines proxy’s IP masking and traffic routing capabilities with data encryption. This way, VPN ensures that your internet traffic is safe, your anonymity is complete, and your online freedom is uncontested.
Another benefit of the VPN technology lies in the realm of corporate application. Since it essentially creates a private network that can be accessed over the internet, VPN allows users to operate as if they were directly connected over the private network. For this reason, companies and businesses often use VPNs so that their remote workers could connect to the corporate network wherever they are, all the while staying protected.
What is SmartDNS?
Although this wouldn’t be technically correct, you can think of SmartDNS as basically a dedicated, high-tech proxy server. But where proxies (and VPNs, for that matter) redirect the entirety of a user’s internet traffic via their servers, SmartDNS forwards only specifically determined traffic. All the other data is left to travel through the web as it would normally. Also, it changes your device’s DNS, not IP address.
These features make SmartDNS particularly useful for:
Accessing speed-sensitive geo-restricted sites and services (e.g. online streaming websites) with any internet-capable devices
Accessing geo-blocked sites and services that can’t be tricked by masking your IP address (e.g. particular streaming services like the US Netflix)
Not affecting your browsing experience as a whole (e.g. to avoid lags or triggering IP-based authentication)
Differences between proxy, VPN, and SmartDNS (short version)
Differences between proxy, VPN, and SmartDNS (long version)
Pros of proxy
Proxy servers’ fundamental benefit lies in masking IP addresses. While you’re connected to a proxy server, your internet traffic is redirected through it before reaching its destination. This will make it appear to any third-party observer as if your traffic originates from the proxy server’s IP address, and thus, from its physical location, not from your real one.
Proxy servers allow you to bypass simple geo-blocking and content restrictions. In addition, hiding your public IP address makes it significantly harder to track you down and find out your real location. Finally, since proxy technology doesn’t apply encryption, it doesn’t slow down your internet connection.
Cons of proxy
Unlike VPNs, as I’ve mentioned, proxy servers lack encryption. Without it, all the internet traffic that you send to the proxy server remains unprotected. If anyone inspects the packets you send, or intercepts your traffic (e.g. using spyware, or if you’re connected to a compromised public WiFi hotspot), they will be able to read it freely.
In addition, unlike top-tier VPNs and SmartDNS, proxy servers can’t bypass complex geo-blocking. Many services that employ location-based restrictions are well-aware that proxy servers exist, and so they use special techniques to prevent circumventing geo-blocking with virtual IP addresses. You won’t be able to access, say, the US Netflix, and many other streaming websites using proxy.
Pros of VPN
A VPN creates a secure and private “tunnel” between your device and the internet. When your web traffic travels through this tunnel, it is encrypted and hidden from any prying eyes. VPNs use a host of security and anonymity technologies to prevent unauthorized third parties from getting access to your personal data and sensitive information.
VPN technology is similar to proxy servers in that it also masks your real IP address behind a virtual IP. The main difference here is that while a proxy server is exactly that, a single server, many VPNs offer hundreds of different VPN servers to choose from. Thus, you’ll always be able to find a virtual location to unblock the content you need, and easily switch servers on the fly.
Cons of VPN
The main caveat with VPNs is that they negatively impact your connection speed. Encryption of internet traffic inevitably consumes processing power. Combine this with additional network distance and you will understand why latency can suffer when connected to a VPN (even though this can be fixed to some extent by choosing VPN servers nearby your physical location).
Another drawback of VPN technology is that sometimes you don’t want ALL of your web traffic to run through a VPN server. Some services detect and ban VPN traffic, while others simply require you to be in your home country to work properly (e.g. online banking). Finally, some services like Gmail can find it suspicious if you’re constantly hopping between different IPs and may even suspend your account.
Pros of SmartDNS
SmartDNS is in many regards similar to proxies. The biggest difference is that, instead of a proxy server masking your IP address, you get a DNS server that leaves your real IP address intact while still unblocking geo-restricted content. Thus, the sites and services that need to be unblocked will be unblocked, while the entirety of your traffic will remain as unsuspicious as ever.
In addition to that, SmartDNS will not hinder your internet connection, which makes it the best option for unblocking speed-sensitive services, like video streaming websites. And to top it off, you can use it on any internet-capable device without setup. Simply configure SmartDNS on your home WiFi router, and all devices connected to the network will enjoy its benefits.
Cons of SmartDNS
To put it plainly, SmartDNS is NOT intended for protecting users’ personal data, privacy, sensitive information, or anonymity. It doesn’t encrypt your traffic, nor does it mask your real IP address.
Also, every SmartDNS service provider offers its own library of sites it can unblock. There is always a chance that the site you wish to access is simply not available with a particular SmartDNS service, so be sure to double-check this with a provider before picking one.
Thus, every service has its pros and cons. Hopefully, this guide will help you to choose a solution that works best for you!
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