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Accurate business intelligence is the lifeblood of any business, and there are a plethora of online marketing platforms and customer relationship management (CRM) tools to help business owners and marketers with distributing, finding, and analyzing priceless data. Equally, online security is just as important to maintain a company’s profitability and reputation; not least to stay legal when handling customers’ details – especially when trading in Europe under the jurisdiction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

It’s an unfortunate truth that the more successful a company’s marketing, the more online interest it generates. Consequently, being highly visible on the internet attracts the attention of cyber criminals. Business owners, CMOs (chief marketing officers), and chief technical officers (CTOs) when weighing up technology predictions, need to ensure that the more expansive their marketing, the tougher their online security.

One of the best ways to ensure this balance for any business is to analyze the features and benefits even-handedly between a Proxy vs VPN setup. Many people might already know that a virtual private network (VPN) is an effective way of anonymizing and location cloaking a company’s servers, but there are features of a proxy server setup that can augment a VPN’s benefits. For any company of any size, the ideal scenario is to use a proxy server in conjunction with a VPN. Let’s take a brief look at the advantages offered by both systems, to see how they complement each other perfectly in various use cases, but first – a very quick outline of how each system works.

Under the hood

A VPN simply places an encrypted middleman server in between the company’s devices and their internet service provider (ISP). This means that the ISP themselves can’t identify which account is accessing their servers, and it also means that cyber criminals can’t identify which IP addresses to hack if they wish to target a given company. Hackers tend to go for low-hanging fruit, so if your business’s servers are anonymized, the chances are that hackers attempting to install ransomware or go phishing will simply walk on by to find another less well-protected victim.

A proxy server however is slightly different from a VPN, as it tends to be a ‘static’ IP address, albeit anonymous – whereas a VPN usually assigns a different dynamic IP to the connection session each time it happens. The proxy is very useful to have when a company’s setup requires the same IP address every time it accesses an online service. Accordingly, bigger companies tend to use proxies as a matter of course.

Bypassing geographic restrictions

Both proxies and VPNs allow bypassing of restricted content, but a proxy server is fixed, so a company wanting to appear to be located in a different location from actuality would need to rent a pool of proxies, one in each desired location. However, a VPN provider usually has a list of international servers that the customer can choose and swap at will from whence to access the web.

SEO and digital advertising monitoring

Many companies want to create web pages that are more likely to be seen in various locations due to the nature of their content. For example, an outdoor clothing company might not want to advertise ski masks in Louisiana but promote them strongly in Aspen Colorado. By using a proxy server based in Colorado, marketers can ensure that their adverts and search engine optimized (SEO) marketing content is only appearing where it should. A VPN may not offer that level of geographic accuracy, whereas the proxy server can be rented from a location at the street and city level.

Web scraping

The practice of web scraping is a contentious topic, as it may well contravene the terms and conditions of the website being scraped. In essence, scraping is using automated software to download and record large amounts of data from a website, then store that data in a way that it can be easily processed by spreadsheet software and CRM systems. Most often, it’s done by competitors to understand pricing and shipping costs – for example, the ski mask manufacturer above might scrape a competitor’s website and use the results for a like-for-like comparison to adjust their pricing and range accordingly.

The reason that this must be done by a proxy server is simple; if the analytics software of the target website identified a competitor downloading all its web content, it could launch a lawsuit against the perpetrator. However, a company cloaking its activities via a proxy server, especially one placed in a residential area (as opposed to a commercial data center) will appear to be nothing more than an enthusiastic online shopper looking for bargains.

Remote work and Wi-Fi

If an employee of our clothing company is working away on business, they might well log onto public Wi-Fi from the lobby of their hotel or a local bar. These unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots can be a security nightmare, as hackers set up phantom networks near genuine ones., fooling the unwary into giving away passwords and worse. But if the company had a blanket VPN used across all their employees’ devices, any virus or phishing attempt would be cut off by the VPN client before any harm could be done.

Similarly, if an employee is working from home on their internet connection from their personal ISP, traffic can be monitored, and a business’s security could be compromised. Additionally, if the employee’s work activity is very data-hungry, the ISP might ‘throttle’ the person’s domestic connection for transgressing their fair usage policy. However, an employee using the company’s VPN could not have their connection slowed down, as their ISP couldn’t identify them or their location.

Dynamic pricing

Depending on whether a business is buying or selling dictates whether they’d use a VPN or a proxy server. As dynamic pricing works by offering prices to buyers dependent upon their perceived purchasing power, a company wanting to buy a product from a competitor or simply buy office stationery would be well advised to use a VPN server based in a less affluent area – this guarantees anonymity and likely cheaper prices. However, if the same company wanted to test its own dynamic pricing strategies and results, it would do well to use a static proxy server based in the specific location they’d like to test.

All in all, in this complex world of online buying, selling, advertising, and research, using a VPN in conjunction with a selection of proxy servers is essential for any organization’s overall success.

Featured image provided by Antoni Shkraba; Pexels; Thanks!

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