Antivirus vs Firewalls vs VPNs: What is the Difference?

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Antivirus vs Firewalls vs VPNs: What is the Difference?

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

So what is the difference between an antivirus, firewall and a VPN? Can they be substituted for one or the other?

Let us start by first taking a look at your firewall.



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

But do you know what it actually does?

A computer’s firewall functions much like its name, forming a barrier to control what gets in and out of your computer.

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

Your firewall is set-up to allow certain data packets through but blocks those which have no authorisation to do so (for example blocking certain network ports). Transport Control Protocol (TCP) packets contain information such as the source and destination addresses to ensure the data gets delivered properly. Each of these packets also contains elements which provides firewalls ways to match packets against firewall rules which determines if it is to be allowed or blocked.

However, your firewall cannot differentiate between the types of data passing through (which means you could be downloading a virus, Trojan, or computer worm).

To put it into picture, you could 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 businessmen he was allowing in who were in fact planning to conduct shady business deals in the vicinity.

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Antivirus software, something which most people are familiar with, helps to scan, detect and protect against computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses and other malicious software which can be hiding in files online or an infected USB/hard drive.

When an antivirus program scans a file and notices that the file matches a known piece of current malware, the antivirus program will delete or put it into quarantine (which is why it is so important to update your antivirus program regularly!).

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.

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A VPN like BolehVPN serves the purpose of maintaining the privacy of your Internet communications. VPNs work by encrypting your Internet traffic to hide your browsing activities from any hackers looking to steal your data.

(Read: What Is a VPN & Why Might I Need It?)

A VPN will only encrypt your data, but it will not help as much with computer viruses and malware. A VPN cannot protect you if you still choose to download infected files or click on malicious links.

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.

(Read: Top 3 Reasons People Want to Hide IP Addresses)



For many security advocates, they regard VPNs as the most vital security component out of the three mentioned.


Well, because a VPN privatises 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 Wifi they were snooping on.

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


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