VPN and Smart DNS Services

By Jayden Andrews. November 19, 2019

In this age of increased surveillance, everyone needs a tool to secure their online activities. There is also the issue of gaining access to your favorite content, especially from overseas channels. So, you need a system to help you access your favorite content, without exposing your location or your device information to attackers.

If you love watching movies and shows, you have probably noticed that some content is not accessible in all the countries. For instance, Netflix offers different programs, depending on your location.

Fortunately, there are many ways to gain access to geo-blocked content while concealing your online identity. One of them is using a VPN. But sometimes, all you need is to get rid of restrictions from your IP address without affecting internet speed. In that case, it might be a good idea to use a Smart DNS.

Sadly, there has been an ongoing debate about VPN vs. a Smart DNS, leaving most users confused about which one offers a better online experience. In this guide, we will give you a quick rundown about these two technologies and how they differ. At the tail end, we will tell you which one is better for you. 

So, What Is a Smart DNS, and How Does It Work?

You may already know that a VPN is a service that helps you use the internet is a secure and unrestricted manner. This technology will even let you browse safely on public unsecured Wi-Fi connections. Similarly, a Smart DNS is a proxy server that allows you to get around geo-blocks to access any content of your choice. This service replaces the Domain Name System (DNS) address provided by your ISP to your own preferred DNS service. With this technology, you can gain access to geo-restricted content such as Hulu, HBO, and many others.

How Does a Smart DNS Work?

In the past, a DNS was a quicker way to translate domain names into IP addresses. Interestingly, most people may not know that you were supposed to enter the numerical digits to access a domain. Today, you can access the same domain name using human-friendly language.

A Smart DNS is a more advanced than its predecessor. Obviously, a Smart DNS is more complicated than just letting you access geo-restricted content. It does not only remove some information from your real IP, but it is also faster than the original DNS when it comes to access.

With that said, it is necessary to note that a Smart DNS doesn’t assign you a new IP address. It just adjusts how a website or service you are trying to access sees your IP address. This service spoofs your location, tricking a website into thinking that you are accessing from an area it actively serves. So, sites that are generally unavailable in a particular region can become accessible through the use of a Smart DNS. 

Smart DNS vs. VPNs: Similarities and Differences

Their Similarities

A VPN and a Smart DNS are different. But from the users’ perspective, both of them seem to function similarly. In other words, you can use the two technologies to fool a service or a website into thinking that you are in a different location. That is why you can use both of them to get around geo-restrictions.

With a VPN, the destination websites only see the IP address of the VPN server you are connected to and not your real IP address. So, if that server is in the UK, then you will appear to these sites as if you are in the UK. The good thing with most VPN services is that they allow you to choose the location of your VPN server. As mentioned above, a Smart DNS will not give you a new IP address, but it will selectively intercept the websites you want to visit. That is the extent these technologies are similar. So, how then can these two technologies be different?

Their Differences

1. Encryption

The most noticeable difference between a VPN and a Smart DNS service is that a VPN provides privacy protection, while the latter offers none. With a Smart DNS service, your web traffic will not have additional encryption. What this means is that your ISP and government can still see what you are doing online.

A Smart DNS will only help you spoof your location for specific websites. Taking this into account, it would be a bad idea to use a Smart DNS service on public Wi-Fi networks. So, why would anyone use a Smart DNS? Well, this leads us to another set of differences.

2. Compatibility

A VPN only works on specific routers that are compatible with the VPN client software. So, if you don’t have such routers, then you will have to run your VPN on every device individually. This setup can be an issue if you are using equipment like Apple TVs or game consoles.

A Smart VPN, on the other hand, works on the router level, which means it can cover all your connected devices. Since it can work on any router, a Smart DNS allows you to specify which DNS you want to use.

3. Performance

Unlike VPNs, Smart DNS services usually have a negligible effect on the connection speed. You see, channeling all your traffic via a secure tunnel can subject you to congestion and often incurs performance overhead. So, if you are using a particular server with several other people, you are likely to experience a performance drop.

4. IP Address

By now, you already know that a Smart DNS does not change your IP address. Not only does a VPN assign you a new IP address, but it also channels all your traffic through a remote server in the country you want to access the content.

5. Accessing Blocked Content

While the two technologies might help you access geo-restricted content, a VPN is more robust if you are looking to unblock censored content. So, if you are trying to access restricted content on your college or you are in a country where the internet is censored, a VPN will help you.

Smart DNS vs. VPN: Which one Should You Use?

These two methods can be effective at letting you access restricted content, but they work quite differently. Now, you are probably asking yourself: Which is the better one? The short answer to this question is that it all depends on your needs. Before we look at the best use cases for each service, let’s first summarize their powerful features.

While no security system is completely impenetrable, a VPN is as close to it as possible. Premium VPNs allow you to channel your traffic through a military-grade encryption tunnel. These VPNs come with a combination of features that work in unison to not only mask your identity, but also secure your data. So, the only way someone can attack your device is when you authorize the downloading of malware, while connected to a VPN.

A Smart DNS leaves your IP and internet traffic untouched, so you are likely to experience a faster speed. And since it operates at the router level, you can use it on a variety of devices. Besides this, Smart DNS services usually come with a list of pre-blocked sites, simplifying things for you.

When choosing which to use between a VPN and a Smart DNS, you should take into account what you are trying to achieve with them:

  • Media Streaming: If you are looking to stream video that is not available in your country, a Smart DNS might be a better option due to its lightweight nature. Since it doesn’t encrypt traffic, you will enjoy the full speed as provided by your ISP.
  • Bypassing Firewalls: If you are working in a government-censored environment, you may want to use a VPN since it is the only tool that offers you full anonymity and protection. While both of them may do the same job, a Smart DNS has a different approach to getting around the restrictions. Smart DNS services rarely bypass firewalls. When you use a Smart DNS, you are connecting to a local server first.  From here, the native server relays your traffic to a DNS server in the country you want to access the restricted content. With that said, you can access several streaming services using a Smart DNS, except for Netflix.
  • Accessing Sensitive Service: If you are logging into your bank account or sending sensitive information over the internet, using a VPN is the best option. Most premium VPNs use secure VPN protocols and powerful encryption ciphers like AES to enable you to conduct your online transactions worry-free. 
  • Torrenting: When it comes to torrenting, a VPN is still the best service to protect your identity. Since a VPN uses encryption and masks your IP address, there is no way your ISP can monitor your activities. Most ISPs will throttle your connection or even terminate your service if they find out that you are downloading torrents.
  • Working with Multiple Devices: One of the best features of a Smart DNS is that the service is compatible with all devices. In fact, you don’t need to configure the device itself. For this reason, the service will allow you to work with a variety of devices that have different operating systems, such as game consoles and TV sets.

The Bottom Line

Generally, both services will help you enjoy your online freedom. The only difference is that they do it in different ways.

A VPN hides your IP address and encrypts your data by channeling your traffic through a remote server offered by your VPN provider. So, you are better off using a VPN if you want to protect your online identity and privacy from government surveillance, ISP snooping, attackers, and advertisers. While you may experience a drop in connection speed caused by encryption, it is often negligible.

A Smart DNS might be ideal if you want to access your favorite shows and movies, but you currently live abroad or fly overseas more frequently. Even if you travel less often, a Smart DNS can be useful. It gives you access to content that may not be available in your home country.

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