September 18, 2020

Comparison of proxy server, VPN and TOR

The problem of anonymity on the Internet varies from country to country as it is very much affected by current legislation. Terms such as censorship and privacy are interpreted in several ways. However, finding an anonymous way to surf the Internet may arise because of the need for confidential transmission of information, the need for access to a site that is closed to residents of certain countries, or the perception that online activities are being monitored. Anonymizers are used for this purpose, which are means of bypassing all kinds of blockages on the network.

When do you need an anonymizer?

Free access to certain services on the Internet can be blocked both locally, for example, only at work at the request of the employer, within a single provider or mobile operator, and globally, within a whole country. Owners of sites and hosters can be guided by both a personal decision and an order of the authorized state bodies. To put it simply, it will be impossible to visit a certain site for a resident of a certain region when blocking it. A slightly different problem is the collection of information from sites. Now almost all portals of different orientation require to go through the registration procedure, of course, users are forced to transfer their personal data. Such sites usually use cookies to track user activity on the Internet. This is unpleasant even when the information is transmitted to advertising networks, and it is quite different when this information falls into the hands of malefactors or government agencies.
Anonymous users have been successful in addressing both regional blocking of sites and information leakage. The principle of operation of these services may differ, but the main sense of them is to hide the real IP-address of the user.

Options for bypassing blocking

Proxy server technology does not apply directly to anonymizers, but it can perform this kind of task if necessary. The advantage of this technology is that you don’t need to install anything other than a standard web browser. To make the proxy server work, you need to specify the address of this server in your browser settings, after which the Internet will be able to perform any activity without any restrictions. The disadvantage is that the proxy server is used for the entire network, it can not work in parallel with the same server, so if one of the users is already using a similar method of surfing the network, then this option will be impossible to use. You also need to understand that proxy servers don’t have a selective configuration, that is, its work will be extended to all sites, not just those that the user needs, or you need to use specialized programs to work with the proxy, such as Proxifier or ProxyCap, then you can distribute and limit the use of the proxy to certain sites and services.

Tor browsers are used more often than any other method of anonymous surfing, it is based on a system of internal servers, thanks to which it is possible to create a secure connection. It is not possible to listen to or access it because the program sends messages with several levels of encryption through a chain of network nodes, making it impossible to monitor network activity. The data passes through the node chain, which will be rebuilt after a while and create a new chain. For a complete anonymous work with Tor, additional utilities are usually installed.

As for the VPN technology, it is also often used for remote access to internal networks, although it can be used for anonymous access to the Internet. The technology redirects all traffic, and VPN configuration is specific, in some cases it will be difficult to do without experience. To work in any case, you will need to install additional software. Such virtual private networks make it possible to display the address of the desired country in the logs of the websites, which will solve the problem of regional blocking, but you will have to pay for access.

Comparison of technologies

In order to understand the strengths and weaknesses, it is necessary to examine each of the technologies in more detail. A proxy server is a kind of computer between the user’s device and the network. Traffic will receive the address of this server, and the real address of the computer will not be visible to anyone. Another thing is that there is no encryption of information in this case. Proxy servers are connected to the Internet using either HTTP or SOCKS protocol. The first protocol deals with interpreting traffic at the HTTP level, so it’s a good protocol for normal surfing on a network. It is much faster than the same SOCKS, but it can’t do any other tasks. This protocol is suitable for hiding IP, so it can be used to access a site that has been closed to users from certain countries.

To perform other tasks, for example, to support e-mail, to work with torrent files, SOCKS proxy servers are used. Weaknesses of such a protocol are low security, comparable to HTTP servers, in addition, their work is slower due to the support of all kinds of Internet traffic. If security is not a top priority, then this is the best option. The browser is set up simply, in a few minutes. Proxy server can be either regular servers that were configured incorrectly, so that it was opened to any user, or special public servers. Usually, portals that have a list of available addresses place information on a free basis. Since many of the servers are just the ones that have been misconfigured, they may one day stop working, which will force you to look for a new address, so it is better not to be stingy and buy personal anonymous proxies.

When data security is at the top of the list, then you can use Tor. When entering the site with the help of proxy servers, data exchange takes place, all traffic is encrypted. The Tor servers, called repeaters, know only about the last two repeaters, so it is impossible to find a direct connection on the network, and at the same time, to calculate the user. Both the ISP and the repeaters don’t know anything about the user, about when and where he went. That is, level of anonymity here is appreciably higher, than in the previous way, but it can still be insufficient if not to observe councils on use of a browser. It is a question of the following:

All sorts of additional utilities that interact with Tor can send queries bypassing this browser, so they should be treated with great care, and if possible not installed at all.
Freely accessible Tor nodes can be blocked, so it is better to use Tor bridge, which performs the same function, but their data is hidden, to be sure.
A user who transmits data over the network is not known, but you can view the data itself by a third party provider who received a request from the last Tor host, and this is also available to the owner of that host.

The most secure way to bypass blocking and anonymity is to use a virtual private network, or VPN. The data is sent to the server through a special tunnel that is encrypted. The server itself can be defined by the provider or the authorized bodies, if necessary, but it is impossible to understand who has used such a service and what exactly this person has done. This level of privacy has been achieved through 128-bit encryption.

There are several popular VPN providers and almost all of them provide their services for a fee. Typically, they use a monthly subscription. Even after paying for the subscription, the user may still have traffic restrictions. However, VPNs have more positive sides, as there are no problems with servers in any particular region. Free services are minimal, and all of them have rather limited functionality. The advantage of private networks is that it hides all the activities of the computer in the network. This means that the real IP-address will be changed to the address of the selected region, and all traffic coming not only from the browser, but also from programs that use the Internet, will be encrypted.

To set up a VPN, you will need to install a program or application on your computer or mobile device, respectively. The configuration process is simplified by the fact that such services usually give detailed instructions. The problem is that it is not known for certain that the private companies that own such services do with their logs. Companies can monitor the user’s activity on the network, and theoretically, the information about it can get to the state authorities. Usually the period of logs storage does not exceed 10 days, but it is impossible to verify it. Just for this reason experienced users do not use only VPN. The VPN+Tor bundle is very effective. It is this sequence of utilities that allows you to hide your activities on the network, as well as hide the fact that the browser Tor, which may interest the provider. The level of secrecy will be noticeably increased, but it is problematic to configure these two programs correctly.

Where will it stop?

In addition to the problem of security in the network, there may be a problem of finance, as for the quality of protected proxies will have to pay. Obviously, free services have limited functionality, and such servers may also have slow and stable operation. Termination of a proxy server is a frequent matter, especially if it is a normal server, in the course of which configuration mistakes were made. If access to a site that is closed to a particular region is needed rarely, then you can stop at free proxy servers. More serious secrecy of the user costs money, on the other hand, instead, the user will receive stable work of servers, and all control from the provider or the authorized bodies becomes senseless.