Proxy Server

Proxy Alternatives: Use These Instead of Proxies

Janis von Bleichert
Author
Last update

You'd like to anonymously browse the Internet, access websites that are censored in your location, or watch streaming content from abroad? If so, proxy servers can come in handy, since they create a connection between your device and the Internet, concealing your IP address in the process. However, they are far from being the only option.

Proxy servers are used by many individuals, organizations, and businesses, but they also have certain disadvantages. In this article, we'll let you know what their shortcomings are, as well as what sort of alternatives you might want to consider trying out.

Disadvantages of Proxy Servers

In comparison to other options, proxy servers suffer from a few drawbacks, namely that they:

Lack encryption
Even though they conceal your IP address, proxy servers don't encrypt your connection. This means that you're still exposed to cyber criminals and other third parties.

Are not designed to cover your entire Internet traffic
When manually configuring a proxy server, it will work at the operating system level, but only for those applications that feature a proxy option and support the protocol you've selected. Other operating system-level solutions, more reliably guard all of your Internet traffic.

Are frequently slow and unreliable
Owing to the fact that they're usually free, proxy servers are particularly appealing. All the same, you get what you pay for, so, don't be surprised if your connection is unreliable and/or slow.

Pose a security risk depending on who is operating them
Most of the time you won't be able to find out who is running the proxy server you're using, especially if it's free. Operators can monitor your activities or manipulate HTML.

Aren't particularly user-friendly
Web proxies and proxy browser extensions exist, however, for enhanced flexibility, you'll need to manually configure a proxy connection on your system. Novices should be capable of doing this, however, most of the other solutions are more user-friendly.

3 Alternatives to Proxies

Determining which alternative is best for you depends on what it is that you want to do, and which of the disadvantages of proxy servers you'd like to overcome. Basically, three options exist:

1.

VPNs: Safe & User-Friendly

A VPN is probably the readiest alternative to a proxy server. They also function as an intermediary between your device and the Internet but encrypt all of your Web traffic rather than just concealing your IP address. VPNs work at the operating system level and guard Internet traffic regardless of where it comes from.

With a VPN, you can also get around pesky geo-restrictions and surf anonymously, all the while protecting yourself and your data thanks to the encryption it provides. This is particularly important if using public WiFi. All of these features are offered in a user-friendly package, making it possible to virtually jump around the globe with just a few clicks, connecting to servers practically anywhere.

In contrast to proxy servers, VPNs are typically paid services, with completely free offers usually being suspicious. However, most of the services from our sample are priced competitively, with quite a few offering solid free versions of their software (with limitations, of course).

Advantages and Disadvantages

Encrypts your entire Internet connection

Features user-friendly apps

Very reliable

Typically premium

Speed loss owing to encryption

Some VPN services lack credibility

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2.

Tor: Surf Safely

If looking for even greater anonymity, Tor might be what you're after. This program encrypts your Internet traffic in several layers, routing it through multiple nodes (Tor relays), rather than just a single server (as with a VPN). Since the sequence is random, and the servers are operated by volunteers, you'll benefit from even stronger encryption than with a VPN.

Whenever someone speaks about Tor, they generally mean Tor Browser, which is based around Firefox and pre-configured for accessing Tor network. With Tor Browser, you can access both the World Wide Web as well as the so-called Darknet. Tor Browser can be downloaded for free from Tor Project.

Tor Browser's start page looks like this.

It is nearly impossible to gain any insights from a user or their activity if they're connected to Tor. For that reason, it's the go-to tool for journalists, whistleblowers, and anyone who wants to maintain the confidentiality of their communications and sources.

All the same, your Internet service provider (ISP) and other third parties can see that you're using Tor, with some services even blocking Tor traffic. Owing to its intricate encryption, Tor connections are also slower, with the added drawback of not being able to change your virtual location (such as for video streaming).

Advantages and Disadvantages

Extremely robust encryption

Free; no ads

Highly reliable thanks to its decentralized structure

Comparably slow

Only anonymizes Web traffic, not your entire Internet connection

3.

Smart DNS: Streaming Alternative

Should you be using a proxy server primarily to circumvent geo-restrictions, Smart DNS could be a nifty alternative. These are often paid services that allow users to borrow the DNS addresses of servers located elsewhere. This overcomes geoblocking, allowing anyone to access content from streaming libraries that would otherwise be unavailable where they're physically located.

One particularly neat feature of Smart DNS is that you won't need to install any extra software: The required DNS settings can be configured directly in your operating system. All that's necessary is a DNS address, which you can get from Smart DNS services like Unlocator.

If you're using Windows 11, go to Settings > Network & internet > Advanced network settings and click on "More network adapter options".

Smart DNS can be configured on Windows with just a few clicks.

Next, right-click on the network connection that you'd like to modify, and click on Properties in the pop-up window that opens.

Choose the right network connection.

Now, double click on Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4), and in the next window, choose Use the following DNS server addresses. After that, simply input the DNS address you received from your Smart DNS in the field.

Input the DNS address you received from your Smart DNS provider.

After restarting your system, annoying geo-restrictions will be a thing of the past on your device.

Advantages and Disadvantages

No speed loss

Works on most end devices

Mostly premium

No encryption

Typically only allows access to specific websites

Overview: Proxy Alternatives

Below, we've summarized the most important differences between the various solutions introduced above:

Proxy serverVPNTorSmart DNS

Encryption

Typically none

Powerful

Extremely powerful

None

Cost

Usually free (with limitations)

Generally premium (from a few dollars per month)

Free

Often premium (starting at a few dollars per month)

Usage

Manual setup/configuration (except web proxies and browser extensions)

User-friendly apps

User-friendly app

Manual setup/configuration

Speed

Theoretically no change, however, free servers are usually slow and unreliable

Some loss owing to encryption; connections more reliable

Significant loss owing to robust encryption

No change

Reliability

Depends on the proxy server

Generally reliable

Very reliable

Depends on the Smart DNS provider

Uses

Circumvent geo-restrictions
Surf anonymously (with limitations)
Filter content
Enhance speed
Burden-sharing

Circumvent geo-restrictions
Surf anonymously
Safeguard your privacy

Surf anonymously
Secure communications
Circumvent geo-restrictions and DNS blocks
Access the Darknet

Circumvent geo-restrictions

Conclusion

Proxy servers are useful companions to digital life, however, they aren't without alternatives. Should you prefer a more user-friendly solution that encrypts your entire Internet traffic, is reliable, and offers stringent security standards, a VPN could prove even more practical. These can also be used to circumvent geo-restrictions and more effectively safeguard your privacy.

On the other hand, should anonymity be essential, for example, if you're a journalist, Tor is the best solution. For just accessing geo-restricted content from abroad, a Smart DNS will likely meet your needs.

Or maybe you'd still prefer to work with a proxy server? In our step-by-step guide, we'll show you just how to configure one on your system.

Author: Janis von Bleichert
Janis von Bleichert studied business informatics at the TU Munich and computer science at the TU Berlin, Germany. He has been self-employed since 2006 and is the founder of EXPERTE.com. He writes about hosting, software and IT security.
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