What’s the Difference Between a Smart DNS and a VPN?November 20, 2019 No Comments
Featured article by Tim Mocan, Independent Technology Author
When it comes to unblocking content, VPNs and Smart DNS services are the go-to options nowadays.
But how exactly are they different from each other? And which service should you use to enjoy a great online experience?
Well, here’s everything you need to know about that:
What Is a Smart DNS & How Does It Work?
A Smart DNS is an online service that uses rented DNS servers to help you unblock geo-restricted content by hiding your DNS address. Like your IP address, it too can contain data that reveals your geo-location.
Besides replacing your DNS address, a Smart DNS also intercepts all your connection requests to a specific website. When it does that, it replaces any information in the requests that can leak your geo-location with new data that points to whitelisted regions.
Smart DNS providers will usually have a list of unblocked websites you can access with the service on their website.
Smart DNS – Pros and Cons
The main advantage of Smart DNS services is the fast speeds you get to enjoy with them. Basically, you get your original ISP speeds without any sudden drops – unlike what happens with some VPNs. Also, there is a slim chance that content providers like Netflix won’t block Smart DNS services. Usually, they focus more on VPNs and proxies.
While that does sound pretty good, there are some annoying drawbacks:
- To offer you those fast speeds, a Smart DNS has to give up encryption. Without an encrypted tunnel, Smart DNS cannot prevent ISPs, advertisers, government surveillance agencies, and hackers from spying on your traffic.
- Because a Smart DNS doesn’t encrypt your traffic, it can’t stop your ISP from throttling your bandwidth (essentially lowering your speeds) or selling your data to advertisers.
- A Smart DNS only hides your DNS address, not your IP address. Anyone can still see it, and use it to find out personal stuff about you, including what country and city you live in, who your ISP is, and what your ZIP code is.
- Smart DNS services can only help you bypass geo-restrictions. They can’t do anything against firewalls.
What Is a VPN & How Does It Work?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is an online service that hides your IP address, and encrypts your Internet traffic. Here’s a simple overview of how it works:
- You download, install, and run the VPN client.
- When you connect to a VPN server, the client starts encrypting your connection requests, and forwarding them to the VPN server.
- When you successfully connect to the VPN server, it replaces your real IP address with its own address.
- Once the VPN server starts receiving all the data the VPN client sends, it decrypts it, and forwards it to the appropriate web server.
- When the VPN server gets the data you requested, it encrypts it, and sends it back to the VPN client on your device.
- The VPN client then decrypts the content so that you can view and interact with it.
That sounds rather complex. And it is – but only in the background. You won’t notice any of it as it takes a second of time at most.
VPN – Pros and Cons
VPNs hide your IP address, which helps you unblock any content you want. Also, it makes it harder for advertisers to track your digital footprints.
Besides that, VPNs encrypt all your traffic, making it indecipherable to anyone who tries to view it. That is vital nowadays since it helps you:
- Avoid creepy government surveillance.
- Stop ISPs from throttling your bandwidth because you use “too much data.”
- Stop ISPs from sharing your data with third-parties.
- Prevent hackers from eavesdropping on your traffic to steal sensitive data.
- Make torrenting safer by avoiding copyright trolls.
Best of all – by encrypting your traffic and hiding your IP address, VPNs also help you bypass firewalls, whether it’s in a country that censors the web or at work and school.
Pretty much the only legitimate complaint about VPNs is their impact on your online speeds. Depending on the service, you might see things slow down.
Of course, that won’t happen 100% of the time, and it really depends on multiple factors like:
- How far you are from the server. If it’s on a different continent, some slowdowns are normal.
- How good your ISP speeds are. If they are too slow, there’s not much a VPN can do.
- Whether or not the VPN provider uses bandwidth caps, and if they have properly optimized their servers for speed.
- How powerful your CPU is. If it’s too weak, slowdowns can occur because the encryption/decryption process takes place at the CPU level.
- Usually, if you do experience a slowdown with VPNs, it’s a minor one that doesn’t really affect your online experience that much.
Smart DNS vs. VPN – Which One Should You Use?
It’s really dependent on your preferences. But, overall, you should only use a Smart DNS if you need fast access to geo-restricted content and don’t care that someone could monitor what you do and watch on the web.
If you want to enjoy a decent level of anonymity, and also bypass online censorship, then you should always use a VPN.
Sure, VPNs might slow down your speeds sometimes, but if you use stellar services, such as ExpressVPN, you don’t really need to worry about that since you get tons of high-speed servers (3,000+) with unlimited bandwidth. Most of them also support IKEv2, which is an excellent protocol for streaming geo-blocked content – it offers high security but is also very lightweight.
Plus, ExpressVPN actually has its own Smart DNS that unblocks BBC iPlayer and Netflix, so you can actually switch between the VPN and it at no extra cost at your leisure.
About the Author
Tim Mocan has been writing about VPNs and cybersecurity for over three years. He enjoys learning about the latest in Internet privacy news, showing people nifty ways to protect their online freedom, and relaxing with video games when he’s not ranting about online censorship.DATA and ANALYTICS