Internet security is always a subject of debate. Still, with cybersecurity attacks on the rise as hackers find new ways to penetrate networks, users are looking for new ways to keep their data secure. Proxy servers and virtual private networks (VPNs) represent two of the best strategies for keeping your data and devices from some digital threats.

What is a proxy?

Whenever you use a device that has internet access, your browser downloads pages and content for your consumption. Whether you're reading a news article or an online spreadsheet, computers and other devices constantly save data to create an uninterrupted browsing experience. While this traditional method for internet use is certainly effective, it can leave you exposed to a number of serious cyber threats from across the web.

When you use a proxy, you mask the interpretation of your internet server. All the information you consume online travels first through your proxy server, and is then rerouted to your computer. The proxy serves as a middleman between the internet and your device, forwarding your request to target websites to download relevant information.

After ensuring that your content is free from bugs or other cybersecurity threats, all information is routed through the proxy server to your device of choice.

Should I use a proxy server?

There are various reasons why using a proxy server might be the right move for you. Consider some of the following security benefits to using a proxy server during browsing:

- Anonymous browsing — Browse virtually any intended website anonymously. All the content, the pages and data from your website are first routed to a proxy server for security purposes, and are then delivered to your device as soon as safety is confirmed.

- Illicit content avoidance — In seconds, a proxy server can deliver the content you're looking for. Thankfully, all content is first filtered to identify and remove any illicit elements that could compromise your device's performance, security or stored personal information.

- Circumvent content restrictions — Find proven workarounds that help you access files, and entire sites, stored behind restriction barriers. If you're looking to access a particular video or website that's blocked in your region, a proxy server can serve as an excellent workaround.

- IP security — No one can backtrack your IP address when you are using a proxy server, keeping your device and your digital trail even more secure.

These and other benefits are enough that many daily internet users trust proxy servers for their security needs. By routing all traffic through a remote server before it ever makes contact with your device, proxies work to save your devices, and their saved data, from harm.

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Proxy server drawbacks

Despite the number of benefits that a proxy server delivers, the model isn't without its drawbacks. Namely, proxy servers — like most other forms of cybersecurity — are not entirely secure, and configurations can easily become complicated. Proxy server drawbacks can include:

Persistent vulnerabilities — Proxy servers make browsing the internet entirely more secure. However, they cannot entirely eliminate the threat of a data breach. users should still be aware of potential security issues on the websites they visit, and should practice healthy browsing habits to avoid these issues.

Unencrypted data transfers — When traffic is routed from your device to a proxy server and then back, data is often transferred in an unencrypted format. This can sometimes it easier for hackers to infiltrate a network, since unencrypted data is often easier to obtain.

Coding requirements — Many proxy server configurations require a bit of coding before setup is complete. You'll need to make sure that no ports are left open when configuring your proxy server, so that cybercriminals don't have an easy way into your system.

Despite their drawbacks, proxy servers represent a superior alternative to unprotected browsing. They help keep your data secure, and can ultimately protect your device, and your personal information, from damage or loss.

What is a VPN?

Similar to a proxy server, VPNs — or virtual private networks — allow you to conveniently route all of your data to your device. With the help of a VPN system, your computer is configured to connect with an independent internet routing server. A proxy system is only capable of rerouting your web requests; however, a VPN connection can provide complete anonymity.

Your IP address, alongside the history of the sites and systems you visit, cannot be easily traced back to you. All types of traffic are properly encrypted.

Hackers and other cybercriminals won’t be able to intercept any data routed between your computer and a VPN server. All your sensitive and personal information will be properly masked from exposure to illicit attacks.

Should I use a VPN instead of a proxy server?

VPN servers have the ability to properly encrypt, and route, all your internet traffic anonymously — instead of simply anonymizing your internet experience. Virtual private networks can also help you circumvent geographically blocked or restricted content.

A VPN can also help filter spam that might otherwise compromise your device's browsing speeds or functionality. They further cross-check your devices for viruses or malware, and can block attacks before they have a chance to take root when browsing online.

Depending on your needs, it's possible that a VPN or a proxy server might better accommodate your needs. Both VPNs and proxy serves offer distinctive benefits to users. While VPN servers allow you to remain virtually unrecognizable online, proxy servers actually reroute your traffic to protect your devices and your browser from cybersecurity threats.

If you're looking to regularly leverage a VPN or a proxy server for your organization, there are a few things you'll need to know. Between VPN and proxy server configuration and upkeep, keeping data safe can feel like a full-time job. Fortunately, we can help - through one of several Cisco bootcamps created to inform your future. Become VPN or proxy-ready in weeks, and learn how you can deploy strong IT and cybersecurity protocols to further protect your organization, or even your personal files, from harm. Take full advantage of mentor-led sessionshands-on labs and flex learning paths to engineer your own path to success.