Many people like to debate the topic of “VPN vs. firewall” or “VPN vs. antivirus,” trying to promote one solution over the other. But the truth is that VPNs, firewalls, and antivirus software work best in unison, not separately.

Sometimes referred to as the three pillars of protection, an antivirus software, a firewall and a VPN often make up the three most important components for your online security. While these three serve a common purpose as your basics for securing your laptop or PC, they do function in their own specific ways.

What Is a Firewall?

Most people probably do not pay any attention to their computer’s firewall because it usually comes pre-installed on their computer system.

A firewall can be a hardware device or software that is responsible for monitoring incoming and outgoing network traffic. Firewalls can be used to secure your personal computer by blocking access to or from unsecured websites, and by preventing certain programs from connecting to the Internet.

Usually, firewalls are employed to make sure that malicious files and unauthorized online users don’t compromise a computer while it is connected to the web. They do this by blocking data packets that are not authorized to pass through the network.

You can also use firewalls to block various websites and online services. If you want certain websites or programs to be whitelisted, you can do this by adding firewall exceptions.

Sometimes, when you are installing a new program on your computer, you may have noticed a window appearing which prompts you to approve the program. This is the firewall keeping your computer safe from outside attacks by filtering incoming and outgoing data.

Most operating systems come with a pre-installed firewall, so you don’t need to worry about installing one. Generally, you’ll be able to configure the firewall in question through an interface.

To put it into picture, imagine your firewall as a security guard controlling the people in and out of a building. A guard may be instructed to restrict door-to-door salespeople from entering a building, but allow in businessmen. However, the security guard will not be able to know which businessman he was allowing in, who may have in fact been planning to conduct shady business deals in the vicinity.

One common problem with firewalls is that they can’t really determine exactly what type of data they are allowing on your computer.

So, while you might configure a firewall to allow only certain data packets that should theoretically be safe to pass through, if any of those data packets are malicious, the firewall will not be able to tell and will consequently let them through.

The difference between a firewall and a VPN can pretty much be summed up like this:

  • A firewall allows you to configure how your computer communicates with the web to prevent malicious files and hackers from compromising it.
  • A VPN lets you secure your connection (not your computer) when you’re on the Internet to make sure that cybercriminals will not monitor your Internet traffic to steal your personal data (like credit card details and login credentials).

Unlike a firewall, a VPN doesn’t allow you to establish data packet and network port restrictions on your computer. While some VPNs might feature a kill switch that cuts Internet access if the VPN connection fails, this is not the same thing.

Lastly, a firewall will not help you bypass Geo-restrictions online. In fact, firewalls can be used to enforce content restrictions which we have previously mentioned.

VPN

Many companies today allow access to their company networks through a Virtual Private Network. When a mobile user, remote office, vendor, or customer connects to a company’s network using the Internet, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides them with a secure connection to the company network server, as if they had a private line. VPNs help to ensure that transmitted data is safe from being intercepted by unauthorized people.

VPNs securely extend the company’s internal network beyond the physical boundaries of the company. The secure connection created over the Internet between the user’s computer and the company’s network is called a VPN tunnel. Many companies allow external access to their internal networks only via a VPN connection.

A VPN will only encrypt your data, but it will not help as much with computer viruses and malware. However, if you still choose to download infected files or use malicious links, a VPN will not be able to help you here.

In fact, there was a report that many free mobile VPNs had actually been injecting malware into devices. Which makes it so important for you to subscribe with only a reputable VPN provider you trust.

When surfing using a VPN, not only does it conceal your IP address (aka. who you are on the Internet), but your Internet traffic is also directed through an encrypted tunnel, safeguarding your connection and data exchange of your emails, passwords and files.

Difference Between a VPN and an Antivirus

Both VPNs and antivirus software aim to protect your privacy and data, but they do it in different ways:

  • A VPN will keep you safe when you’re on the Internet from hackers trying to monitor your activities.
  • An antivirus will keep your device safe by preventing malware or viruses from infecting it, and by removing malicious files when necessary.

Not many people realize this, but a VPN will not protect you from malware or computer viruses. It can encrypt your online traffic and data, but if you happen to click on a malicious link which ends up installing spyware or adware – for example – on your device, a VPN can’t detect and remove it.

And, obviously, an antivirus will not be able to encrypt your online traffic or hide your IP address or Geo-location to help you bypass Geo-blocks.

Anti-Virus

An antivirus is a type of software that detects and removes malicious software from a device – like viruses, worms, and malware. It should be noted that an antivirus combats both the spread of viruses and the spread of malware. So, if a product is called “antimalware,” for example, it’s pretty much the same thing as an antivirus. After all, don’t forget that a computer virus is basically a type of self-replicating malware.

Antiviruses rely on self-updates to keep up with the thousands of new cyber threats that are developed each day. After an antivirus scans a device and detects a malicious file, it will either delete it or quarantine it. Antivirus software is usually provided by third-party providers like Malwarebytes.

However, antivirus software is not always correct. Sometimes, antivirus software detects false positives – things that an antivirus might think are malicious when in reality they aren’t (like unofficial game patches, for example). Luckily, there is a way to identify false positives – here is an in-depth guide for that.

In the same security guard analogy from before, an antivirus works something like a security scanner which detects hidden weapons or explosives. Once it scans and detects an object which looks suspicious, the item is marked as a threat.

Difference between a firewall and an antivirus

A firewall lets you configure how your computer communicates with the Internet. For instance, you can have your firewall block certain websites that are known to contain malicious content.

Antivirus software, on the other hand, is used for securing a device (be it a computer, laptop, or even a USB stick) by scanning it for malware and computer viruses. The antivirus will also delete or quarantine any malicious files.

 Which one is more important.

Many security advocates regard VPNs as the most vital security components out of the three mentioned.

This is because a VPN privatizes your data from any hacker or snooper trying to intercept it, this prevents the threat of data and information theft which can lead to financial loss or identity theft.

If you did not use an antivirus software or firewall, and your computer or files turned out to be infected with viruses, it still will not be as large of a problem as if a hacker has stolen your whole identity and valuable information because you were unfortunate enough to be surfing on a public Wi-Fi they were snooping on.

Ultimately, a combination of these three components will help to provide you with the security and peace of mind to surf safely online.