What is a Proxy Extension or Proxy Add-on? Proxy vs. VPN

What is a proxy extension and how to use one

When using proxies regularly, switching the browser settings from one proxy to another may be time-consuming. A proxy extension allows you to seamlessly select a proxy, enable the connection, and focus on your main task.

What is a proxy extension (sometimes erroneously called a VPN extension)?

A proxy extension (sometimes incorrectly called a VPN extension) is a browser extension (or add-on) that configures a proxy (most of the time an HTTP proxy) to the browser.

The primary role of a proxy extension is to provide an easy to use user interface to set up a proxy for your browser. Additionally, such an extension may protect you from different types of IP leaks (including WebRTC leaks), check your proxy connection, re-connect in case of a connection failure, use specific proxies for certain websites.

What is a proxy extension - A proxy extension configures the web browser and only the Internet traffic from the browser is redirected to the proxy server.
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Why do you need a proxy extension?

A proxy browser extension is a great way to go if you want the ability to switch a proxy on or off when you need it. Proxy browser extensions are most often used to hide your IP address and quickly access regional web pages when you don’t want to go through the bother of turning off your normal trusted VPN client or don’t necessarily want to change the specific server you are currently connected to. 

When you use a proxy browser extension, you can still stay connected to a VPN server that is for example located in the United States but changes the browser extension to for example connect to a server in the UK.

This will allow you to quickly change your public IP address and easily access a website that is hosted in the UK and is geo-blocked, without having to change your normal VPN settings to access the UK. Once done, simply switch off your proxy browser extension to resume working through your normal VPN service connected to the United States. 

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How to choose a proxy browser extension

A good proxy browser extension will allow you to easily unblock geo-blocked content, while at the same still hiding your personal information and securing the connection from cybercriminals, hackers and anyone else that want to snoop and check what you get up to on the internet.

The first thing you’ll have to check is if there is a proxy extension available for the type of Internet browser you use. While there are many proxy extensions available for both Google Chrome and Firefox, the number of options available for other browsers such as Opera and Microsoft Edge are more limited. If you want to use a proxy extension on a mobile web browser, your options are even more limited.

Many of the proxy browser extensions available on the market are however not safe. There have in fact been cases where some of them are known to have exploited users by sharing their private information without the users knowing it.

When looking for a proxy extension available for your browser of choice, the number of candidates may be overwhelming, and each extension will claim to be the best.

The best way to protect yourself is to avoid standalone plugins and rather choose one that is published by a trusted VPN provider (here are the ones the I recommend). Bad standalone plugins won’t encrypt your data, and in worst-case scenarios, they could actually be malware that has been designed to collect your personal information.

List of recommended browser extensions:
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How to use a proxy extension

After installing a proxy browser extension (Chrome extension, Opera extension, or Firefox add-on), you will see a new icon to the left of the address bar. Click on the icon, and a small window will show up.

If the extension needs an account to be able to use the proxies, you will need to create one and log in. Further, select the desired location or proxy and connect. Nice and simple!

Every time you need to connect, disconnect, or change location, open the extension interface and easily perform the desired action. No need for manual proxy set up.

How to use a proxy extension - the  NordVPN Chrome extension
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Proxy extension vs. VPN

Browser proxy extensions are not VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). They only set up a proxy for your browser. The proxy redirects the traffic flow in and out of the web browser to an external proxy server.

They are different from fully-fledged VPN clients in that the data exchanged between users and proxy servers is mostly unencrypted except for the browser data. The result is that a proxy extension does not control Internet activities for other applications, such as telecommunication apps, email clients, file sharing apps, and online games.

Although reputable browser extensions offer some of the benefits of a full-featured VPN, there are a few key differences:

  • A VPN encrypts all the Internet traffic on the system level, while a proxy extension only secures the HTTP traffic on the browser being used;
  • Proxy browser extensions only work on the browser installed on a specific computer. There are extensions available for most browsers, but some browsers for mobile are not widely supported;
  • Proxy add-ons/extensions normally do not allow selecting a specific server within a selected country;
  • Proxy extensions are very fast and light and enable you to jump between different locations quickly.
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Although proxy browser extensions do not provide the same functionality and security that a full VPN does, they are handy for switching between different locations fast, especially if you want to access geo-blocked content.

Be careful when selecting a proxy extension and only use ones supplied by reputable providers to prevent your information from being leaked.

I have a background in marketing and I have been working with proxies for several years. I started this blog to share my knowledge about proxies and proxy tools.