You’ll likely have heard all about Virtual Private Networks (VPN). A VPN is great for those who want to up their levels of browsing security by hiding their IP address and encrypting their device’s connection to a Wi-Fi network. It’s also great for accessing movies and TV shows on popular streaming services that wouldn’t usually be accessible to you, as well as other geo-restricted sites.
But VPNs aren’t perfect. They sometimes provide unstable connections, cause you to be blocked from certain sites, and can even sell your data to third parties.
So what are the best affordable and effective alternatives to VPNs?
1. Smart DNS
SmartDNS is a great product that allows you to access sites that are usually geo-restricted in your location. This service uses your Domain Name Server (DNS), and operates similarly to a proxy server, which redirects your internet traffic through a remote server so that your IP and location cannot be deciphered.
However, SmartDNS doesn’t redirect the entirety of your internet traffic, as a proxy server would. Instead, it mostly redirects your DNS queries to its remote servers. DNS queries involve a user’s device requesting information from a server. However, unlike proxies, SmartDNS also doesn’t hide your IP address.
So what does this mean in practice? Essentially, SmartDNS can change your device’s location so that you can access geo-restricted content.
Because it doesn’t involve any encryption, SmartDNS can offer a considerably faster connection speed than a VPN usually could. This is great for streaming videos, gaming, or when you need to get work done online without constant buffering.
You can also avoid being blocked by certain websites using SmartDNS. Many sites track your IP back to the VPN’s server and then restrict your access because you are hiding your IP. That’s why you might not be able to access some content while connected to a VPN. With SmartDNS, you can overcome this hurdle.
But it’s crucial to note that this isn’t the perfect solution for those looking to enhance their security online. SmartDNS doesn’t hide your IP address or encrypt your data. It’s a great option for those who solely want to access geo-restricted sites and content, but not for those who want to increase their security and privacy.
2. Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)
Zero Trust Network Access, or ZTNA, involves providing brokered access to data and applications within a network. These have a focus on security and privacy, wherein users must verify their identity or employment as a way to access content and software.
This kind of technology basically provides the basic services of a VPN and operates on a zero-trust principle. ZTNAs are more for larger corporations with many users and prevent cybercriminals from infiltrating an entire network, as they are limited to what their verification can give them access to.
So if an attacker has already got into a network, zero-trust security means they come up against more hurdles before accessing other areas.
Someone using ZTNA is given access via an encrypted tunnel, wherein their IP address is kept hidden, as would be the case when using a VPN.
3. A Proxy Server
Before the widespread introduction of VPNs, proxy servers stood as the main way for internet users to hide their IP addresses and stay safer online.
Proxy servers act as intermediaries or gateways between you and the internet. The server has its own IP, which receives your internet traffic. So, if someone were to try and find your IP while you’re using this intermediary, they would only be able to find the proxy server’s address. In this way, proxies are similar to VPNs.
But there are some key differences between proxies and VPNs. Firstly, proxy servers do not encrypt your internet connection, as a VPN would.
Secondly, VPNs function on an Operating System (OS) level, while proxies operate on an application level. This means that VPNs encrypt the traffic of every single internet-connected application you’re using, but proxies cannot do this.
So, proxies are great for low-risk situations, like accessing geo-restricted web resources and content. However, they’re not the best option for providing a highly secure mode of surfing the web.
Additionally, the cache data used by proxies make it possible for them to remember sensitive information, like passwords, so this is another important aspect to note, for good or ill.
However, the majority of proxy servers are entirely free to use, unlike most reputable VPNs, which almost always charge users a monthly fee. Of course, you can get deals on VPNs, but these often involve committing to very long-term contracts.
If you want to hide your IP address without paying for it, and access sites that would otherwise be blocked in your country of residence, proxy servers are a great alternative to VPNs.
But some individuals choose to use private proxy servers that do come at a price. Public proxies can be at risk of cyberattacks, and can result in poor connection performance at peak times when a high number of individuals are trying to use the proxy server. Depending on what exactly you want to do using a proxy, you may be more suited to using a private server.
There is a huge range of proxy servers to choose from right now, such as Bright Data, Oxylabs, and Scraper API. Be sure to check the reviews before you start using one, as there are a number of proxies out there that just don’t do their intended job and lead to poor connection performance.
VPNs Are Useful, But Not The Only Option
While we can all admit that VPNs certainly have their uses in a range of different areas, they’re not the only option for accessing geo-restricted content, hiding your IP, and increasing security. The options above offer similar features, and sometimes at a lower or non-existent cost!
Consider these services before spending big bucks on a VPN service long-term.
Heard the term “proxy server” but have no idea what it means? Here’s how a proxy can help beat region blocking and more.
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