Protecting the privacy of users when surfing the internet is turning out to be a big issue. That is because of the laxity in the system that allows ISPs to know everything about users and their online behavior. It seems pretty disgusting to many people who put a high price on privacy and are ready to explore options that allow surfing the internet with complete privacy with not a soul knowing about what they are up to on the web. The craze for freedom of browsing the internet without revealing the IP address is growing rapidly and so also the number of VPN subscribers because Virtual Private Network allows secured internet surfing by maintaining complete privacy. Why do people want to guard their privacy so fiercely is a question that might strike your mind?

The way the internet operates today, it will not be wrong to say that the ISPs are stalkers who track the online activities of every internet subscriber on their list. Just as people hate eavesdropping, there is a similar aversion to stalking. In addition to it, a bigger problem in the offing is that it is legal in many countries including the USA and UK for ISPs selling private browsing data to third parties.  The legislation passed by the US Congress and the Investigatory Powers Act of UK has legalized and empowered ISPs to trade with private data of subscribers even without caring to ask for their consent. That has sent alarm bells across the world as every internet user is not only under the surveillance of the ISP service providers, but all individual data is now open for sale. It is pushing more people towards VPN that allows browsing with anonymity.

There is yet another reason for choosing VPN. Governments are now trying to control the internet and imposing censorships that prevent streaming of specific content across some geographical locations. The right to view the internet without any hindrance gets curtailed which is hard to digest for many people who want complete freedom in seeing content without any restrictions. As VPN allows surfing the internet by hiding the IP address, it becomes easy to bypass censorships while maintaining complete privacy as your identity remains undisclosed. Moreover, VPN offers high-grade security which also gives a lot of confidence to users who can enjoy their freedom on the web without any limits.

VPN is just one method of hiding the IP address when surfing the internet. If privacy is the only goal of users, then there are some other methods too like using the Tor or The Onion Router and by using proxies. You must have heard about proxies and could be wondering if it is just another name for VPN. No, proxies are different from VPN even though we often speak about it in the same breath and use the terms interchangeably. Knowing the differences would help in making the right choice and fulfill your goals of surfing the internet by protecting your privacy. While all the mentioned services help to maintain confidentiality, the level of protection varies. On reading this article and by referring to Tim Tremblay’s website that describes the method of working of each you will be able to understand better how these are different.

VPN – working modality

When you access the internet through ISPs, you connect directly with the websites where your IP address is visible to all.  When you use VPN, you access the internet via some servers of the VPN service provider that acts as a buffer between users and websites thereby wholly hiding the identity of users. The traffic that reaches your device cannot see your identity like who you are and what kind of activities you carry out on the internet. The communication between users and websites takes place through a tunnel while the VPN server is wholly encrypted thereby ensuring complete protection of privacy. Even if someone hacks into your traffic, it will not be possible for anyone to access the information that remains protected.

The traffic from your device reaches the VPN server, and when exiting it to reach the targeted website, your IP address is stripped off from the system and the IP address of the server becomes visible to the site. All other information related to you also remains invisible.

How proxies work

The principle of working of VPN and proxies is the same at a broader level, but there are intricate differences that distinguish one method from another. Just as VPN acts as a middleman between users and websites, proxies too keep users out of view as traffic flows through a proxy server. You have to set up the proxy server by using one of the two known methods. Configuring it manually at the operating system level is one of the ways but quite complex. Another method is to set up a proxy for specific applications for which you want to use it. Setting up proxies requires a lot of software support as well as the support from major browsers.

The software provides the medium for communicating with websites or other internet resources and relays traffic through the proxy server that you have configured.  Except for behaving like a middleman, the proxy server does not provide any protection or encryption to the traffic that it handles. The traffic that reaches the proxy server deftly conceals your IP address by stripping it, but all other accompanying information remains as it is. Your identity remains partially hidden because there are other signs visible that can help people track your identity. Others would only see the IP address of the proxy server while you are surfing the internet.

Users set up proxies for specific applications, and it is not as a blanket cover for all applications. To redirect all internet traffic through a proxy server, you have to set up the proxy at the operating system level. Proxies are only able to mask your IP address but can do almost nothing to provide complete privacy for all information that you share on the internet.

The Onion Router (TOR)

The attraction of TOR is that it is entirely free and offers almost the same level of privacy with respect to hiding your IP address. However, it slows down the browsing speed considerably and is quite complicated.

To use TOR, you have to download and install the TOR browser that is very similar to Mozilla Firefox and based on it. TOR relies on a network of relay nodes which are nothing but volunteer-run servers and there are about 6,000 currently. The data that leaves your device will crisscross several nodes before reaching its destination and follow the same path when data flows back to your device. As the communication flows through many nodes in a chain, the node that receives the information is only aware of the previous and the next node that it communicates with thereby making it impossible for the service provider or websites to trace the path of communication. Moreover, the data remains encrypted end to end meaning from the service to the site and vice versa.

Although you can achieve complete privacy protection with TOR, the slow speed is a big concern and diminishes its attraction.  Random selection of nodes makes it uncertain about the distance that data has to cover and the chances of relying on low-quality internet services by the nodes slow down the process of delivering data to the final destination. File downloading takes long time and viewing online shows can be quite frustrating due to the bumpy ride. Simply put, the TOR browser is only good for browsing like an amateur without carrying out any other online activity.

Hide your identity behind Public Wi-Fi

If hiding the IP address is your only goal and you do not have much concern about protecting other aspects of privacy and even not bothered about security, then Public Wi-Fi can serve your purpose. When you use Public WiFi, the IP address remains concealed as it does not travel with the data.  A different IP address shows up. But that is all that it can do, and your privacy remains vulnerable because all your online activities leave a trace that others can track. Security threats are very high on public networks because unscrupulous people can easily hack into your system and do whatever they want.

Therefore, if you are trying to make the Public Wi-Fi more secure while maintaining anonymity, you have to use VPN, and if you are using VPN that offers complete protection, it does not make sense to use Public Wi-Fi.

Since most people want to maximize online privacy while keeping their identity or IP address is hidden and experience complete security while browsing the internet, VPN services offer all that they need. It helps to overcome the restrictions of censorship too besides bypassing geo-blocking.  Besides, it provides complete security for those using Wi-Fi hotspots as well as VoIP privacy and security.

To use the internet with complete privacy and security without the fear of bandwidth throttling, VPN is the best choice.