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If you are alive and functioning as a member of society in 2020, chances are you've used a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or a proxy server in the past. It may have been to stream a sports channel not available in your home country, to gain access to a foreign website, or to overcome the one-vote-per-IP address challenges associated with having multiple people in one household trying to do the same thing online.
VPNs and proxies make life — and being entertained, in particular — easier. But in 2020 protecting your personal and corporate data is more important than ever, with the number of victims of cybercrime growing each and every year. Key internet statistics show that this year alone, tens of millions of Americans will have their digital identities, credit-card numbers, or hospital records hacked or stolen.
According to RAND research organization’s most recent report an estimated 64 million American adults —more than a quarter of the adult population — had their personal data breached in 2016, and that number is only growing.
For businesses especially, protecting customers’ data is absolutely critical and is the minimum that most people expect from companies they invest time or money in. In 2014, Ebay was hacked, accessing 145 million records, and in 2018, a Marriott International data breach affected roughly 500 million guests. Yahoo holds the record for the largest data breach in history to date, with the theft of 3 billion compromised accounts. Not even the big guys are immune from data theft, it would seem.
A whopping 68 percent of business leaders feel their cybersecurity risks are increasing, and their fears are justified: 62 percent of businesses experienced phishing and social engineering attacks in 2018, and data breaches exposed 4.1 billion records in the first half of 2019. To top it all off, a mere 5 percent of companies’ folders are properly protected, on average. At the same time, Microsoft has found the average cost of a business data breach to be $3.8 million. So the question of whether a proxy or VPN is better for protecting personal data is an extremely valid one.
Let’s start by looking at what each of these data security tools are before assessing which is best to use in 2020. A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, allows you to create a secure connection to another network over the Internet, while a proxy server, also known as a "proxy" or "application-level gateway", is a computer that acts as a gateway between a local network (for example, all the computers at one company or in one household) and the internet.
A proxy server acts as a middleman, if you will, in the flow of your internet traffic, so that it appears as though your internet activities appear to come from somewhere else. For example, if you are located in Australia but want to access a film or website only viewable for internet users in the United Kingdom, you could connect to a proxy server located within the UK, which would then allow you to view that website or watch that film.
Proxies are typically considered safe for lower-risk activities, like watching region-restricted YouTube videos, or bypassing IP-based restrictions on services. But when it comes to higher-risk activities, VPN is always best. This is because a VPN encrypted tunneling service secures 100 percent of your internet access, unlike a proxy which only secures a torrent client or web browser.
Proxies only hide your IP address, and don’t have the capacity to encrypt traffic between your computer and proxy. Proxies come with few additional security considerations, meaning that prying eyes or anyone who truly wants to identify private information can do so. VPNs, on the other hand, can protect you and your customers’ data from ISP tracking, government surveillance, and hackers. VPNs provide comprehensive data protection, and will capture the traffic of every single application on your computer, from your web browser to your online gaming to your Google Drive, which is of course constantly running in the background as you browse.
On a practical level, VPNs are also far more dependable than proxy servers. The connection is more reliable than proxy servers, which drop more frequently, and with a VPN you’ll also get faster connections and military grade encryption. To seal the deal, most operating systems have integrated VPN support, allowing pretty much anyone the opportunity to shield browsing activity from prying eyes, the government, hackers, and so forth.
Worldwide spending on cybersecurity is forecasted to reach $133.7 billion in 2022, with estimates in place that a business will fall victim to a ransomware attack every 11 seconds by 2021. It’s time we started taking cybersecurity and data protection seriously. Given that a VPN can cost as little as $5 a month, it seems absurd to consider anything other than not investing in one in 2020 - to protect both yourself and your business.