Shadowsocks Explained – The SOCKS5 Proxy for Bypassing Firewalls

There is a constant battle between users of the internet and governments worldwide. The former wants to enjoy exploring the vast internet space in privacy and freedom, and the latter wants to control the experience, or at least keep a close eye on browsing history. Whether it’s due to national security concerns or opposing views, governments use Internet Service Providers (ISP) to censor websites and services that fall under those categories.

It also seeks to ban the use of tools that can circumvent these restrictions. Hence, VPNs remain blocked in China, North Korea, and the United Arab Emirates. Technologies evolve to combat the stringent detection firewalls, and one such technology is Shadowsocks.

It’s a lightweight proxy solution that is designed to evade national firewalls and allow the user to access censored content on the web. Let us explore what makes Shadowsocks different from other proxies and if you should consider it as an alternative to VPN.

How Shadowsocks Works

Shadowsocks is based on SOCKS proxy, which allows users to use a remote server as a proxy for internet traffic.

It was born out of the need for a reliable way to bypass the Great Wall of China. The original developer named “Clowwindy” eventually shut down the project in 2015 after intervention by the police. But because Shadowproxy is open-source, Clowwindy’s project was spearheaded by other developers. Today, there are several forks of Shadowsocks available.

Shadowsocks works with other types of traffic, not just HTTP, and unlike most proxy services, it uses encryption and authentication. It is primarily a TCP-oriented protocol but works on UDP. It is another advantage Shadowsocks has over regular proxy servers.

The protocol grew popular in China thanks to its ability to evade the Great Wall of China. It can blend in with HTTPS traffic, thus making it difficult for detection systems to block it. Shadowsocks can be configured with different settings, which makes the job more difficult for the firewall. As we mentioned earlier, Shadowsocks utilizes encryption and now even supports AES encryption. So, the ISP as a man-in-the-middle cannot sniff your data packets.

Shadowsocks vs VPN

Virtual Private Networks is more suited when privacy is concerned. It creates a tunnel between you and the VPN server and secures communication via powerful encryption. Regular proxies can only send HTTP traffic through the remote server, including HTTPS proxies. But a VPN communicates every kind of traffic through the secure tunnel, giving network traffic a blanket treatment.

Shadowsocks, in comparison, is much more akin to a VPN. It can handle multiple types of traffic and also uses encryption. It is lightweight and allows you to reroute internet traffic to its destination through a remote server. But it is not built for privacy, which is the area where a VPN excels. A VPN creates a virtual tunnel between you and a VPN server, encapsulating everything in this tunnel.

Over time, the Great Firewall of China has grown to detect VPN traffic. Since there are a couple of major VPN providers and a handful of VPN protocols, it has become possible to detect the signature. And unlike Shadowsocks, which initiates a TCP connection and closes it, thus resembling normal HTTPS traffic behavior, a VPN connection stays open.

There have been developments in the VPN space to bypass such firewalls. Using OpenVPN on Port 443 is another way to blending in with HTTPS traffic, but the protocol’s signature can be detected through machine learning. So using OpenVPN is not completely reliable anymore in China.

Should You Use Shadowsocks Over VPN?

It comes down to what you want to achieve. Shadowsocks is popular among the denizens of China, thanks to its ability to bypass the firewall. There are repositories available on GitHub that allow you to set up a Shadowsocks server by renting a VPS server. So, if your goal is to bypass such firewalls, then Shadowsocks might work better than a VPN. But if your goal is to bypass censorship and protect your privacy, then there is no better tool than a VPN.

There is also the ease-of-use when it comes to using a VPN. iProVPN is designed for simplicity and has apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. It requires nothing more than a simple installation, and with a tap of a button, you get connected to a VPN server.

VPN is a Better Package

When you consider VPN’s tunneling and encryption and how it hides your DNS requests from the ISP, it is the better option. Your anonymity relies on the VPS hosting service, whereas iProVPN is a zero-logs VPN service that never tracks or records your online activities. Shadowsocks should be used only in regions where VPNs are banned.

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