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VPNs vs. antivirus: what’s the difference?

As online threats grow more diverse, VPNs and antiviruses have started offering more wide-ranging security solutions. As a result, their features often overlap. Let’s look at how these two services compare, and find out which one is right for you.

Malcolm Higgins

Malcolm Higgins

Aug 02, 2021 · 4 min read

VPNs vs. antivirus: what’s the difference?

We’ll go into the differences between VPNs and antivirus software in detail below but let’s take a quick look at the most important difference between the two.

Antivirus software protects the user’s device. This software monitors the computer and scans any new files for potential threats. A VPN, on the other hand, is a system that primarily focuses on protecting data in transit. It encrypts the information that comes and goes from your device.

Here’s a two-minute video that explains this difference in another way.

What is an antivirus?

The main purpose of a modern antivirus is device security. This software will attempt to spot and block any malware or viruses from infecting your phone or laptop.

A good antivirus software should be able to detect all kinds of malware: trojans, keyloggers, cryptohackers, adware, and more. It does so by collecting information about threats globally and then updating a virus database on your device. Needless to say, keeping your antivirus up-to-date is essential for this process to work.

What are the benefits of an antivirus?

It’s very hard to be sure about the safety of a file or an online link. In a way, antiviruses allow you to make mistakes. If you click on a malicious link by accident, your antivirus will often be able to recognize and remove it. Here are some other benefits of an antivirus:

  • They work in the background and don’t disturb the user. Antiviruses are extremely low-maintenance because virtually everything they do, they do in the background.
  • Many good antivirus are free, or at least offer a free version. In fact, if you’re on a Windows machine, you’re already using an antivirus.
  • Sandbox mode. Whenever you’re unsure about a file, you can use sandboxes; these are secure virtual spaces. In sandbox mode, you can open a file you suspect to be malicious, without risking infecting your device.

What are the drawbacks of antivirus?

There aren’t many drawbacks to using a good antivirus. They work in the background and most will have little to no effect on your computer’s performance. However, using a free antivirus software can be risky, as the companies behind them will try to monetize their users.

For example, Avast's free antivirus software was found to be collecting users’ browsing histories and selling them to advertisers. Whenever you're looking for an online security service, it's always worth going for a premium option.

What is a VPN?

Like an antivirus, a VPN protects the user from online threats. But it does so by encrypting the user’s internet traffic and rerouting it though a remote server. In this way, the user’s IP address, their location, and their private data are all hidden. This will keep a user's private information shielded from hackers, criminals, and even their internet service provider (ISP).

VPNs also work in the background, but are usually easier to configure, suspend, or turn off than traditional antiviruses that tend to be more ‘sticky’ and may sometimes even be difficult to uninstall.

What are the benefits of a VPN?

If we think about antiviruses as a passive protection method, VPNs are the opposite. You can experience the benefits of a VPN as soon as you turn it on.

  • Encrypting your traffic. Your data is protected because your network is encrypted with top-grade AES-256 encryption.
  • Changing your location. VPNs let you access websites that are not available to your country.
  • Enhanced privacy. With a VPN, you can mask your browsing history from your ISP and keep your data private from advertisers.
  • Extra features. A good VPN usually comes with a variety of extra helpful features, beyond just basic encryption.
  • Protecting multiple devices. Premium VPN providers will secure your connection on several devices, so you can even log into public Wi-Fi safely. For example, a single NordVPN account will cover up to six devices.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN

What are the drawbacks of a VPN?

If you use a free VPN, you may encounter a number of risks and problems. These services are often less stable and secure than premium options like NordVPN. Your data may not be fully protected, and your internet speeds will probably suffer.

To avoid these drawbacks, make sure to use a high-quality VPN that you can trust. While free VPNs claim to offer all the same benefits as their paid counterparts, that's really not true.

Choosing between a VPN and antivirus

Type of protectionTool to use
Browsing the internet privatelyVPN
Malware detection and removalAntivirus
Secure connection to public Wi-FiVPN
Encryption of your internet dataVPN
Bypassing online censorshipVPN
Notifications about malicious activities on your deviceAntivirus
Protection of removable gadgetsAntivirus
Hiding your IP addressVPN
Health scanAntivirus

Antivirus vs. VPN: can they be used simultaneously?

VPNs and antiviruses both protect your digital security but they do it in different ways. Can they be used together? Absolutely. In fact, using an antivirus with a VPN may be the best option because you can protect your device and your internet connection at the same time.

Sometimes features offered by your VPN service and your antivirus will overlap. For example, NordVPN has a feature called Threat Protection, which blocks ads and malware-hosting websites, and protects your device from botnet control. At the same time, some premium antiviruses can also have ad-blockers and similar features.

But you don’t need to worry about these features overlapping because, when it comes to cybersecurity, more is often better.

Different problems, different solutions

Antiviruses and VPNs protect you from different threats, so both are useful. When you’re browsing the Web, a VPN can shield you from a variety of dangers including tracking, man-in-the-middle attacks, Wi-Fi spying, and more. And if you happen to click on a malicious link, your antivirus can jump in and limit the damage caused to your device.

If you want a high level of online security, we recommend that you use both of these tools. Antivirus software on its own might not be enough, but when paired with a premium VPN, it can offer outstanding protection.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN

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