The internet is a perilous place, where various risks such as viruses, hackers, spies, and scammers threaten the security of everyone from large corporations to ordinary people surfing at cafes. Consequently, people are seeking ways to stay safe online, and antivirus software and virtual private networks (VPNs) have emerged as the most popular tools to protect their devices and themselves.
However, how these tools work and what kind of dangers they protect against are important questions to consider. Furthermore, it is crucial to understand how they differ from one another and which one is the most suitable for safeguarding your privacy, online activity, and data.
In this crucial update to our guides to internet freedom, security, and anonymity, we will provide answers to these questions and more.
What Threats Do You Face Online?
The internet is a breeding ground for various forms and types of digital hazards. The most common and dangerous among them is malware, which is an umbrella term for harmful software such as adware, spyware, and viruses. Among viruses, Trojans, Worms, and Boot Sector Viruses are currently the most prevalent types.
- Trojans are harmful programs disguised as useful applications that contain hidden viruses.
- Worms are malicious software that replicates themselves and infect multiple devices, causing widespread damage.
- Boot Sector Viruses are viruses that are commonly found in external storage devices like CD-ROMs. However, they have become less common in the age of cloud storage.
What happens after a virus infects your device?
After a virus infects your device, it can cause severe damage like deleting files, slowing down processing speed, or rendering hardware unusable. However, malware is not the only threat you need to be cautious of when using the internet. Whether you are browsing, streaming, or downloading, there are other hazards that you might encounter, such as:
- DNS attacks occur when hackers exploit flaws in the Domain Name System to gain access to your server. The most frequent type of DNS attack is DoS (Denial-of-Service), which can disconnect your device from the web either temporarily or permanently.
- Cybercriminals, governments, and ISPs may engage in surveillance and data harvesting.
- Hacking and identity theft are common dangers.
- Censorship laws and geoblocks can limit your access to certain content.
- Accessing blocked or restricted content may result in penalties.
- You may receive spam and fall prey to phishing scams.
The above mentioned risks can be quite alarming, and you may feel inclined to shut down your laptop and avoid using it again. However, the good news is that antivirus software and VPNs are capable of shielding you from almost every cyber threat that exists today.
Both of these tools safeguard you in different ways, and each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, it is important to delve into how antivirus applications and VPNs function in order to gain a better understanding.
How Antivirus Software Protects Your Devices
Each time you open a file, email, website, or app on your device, you introduce new code to the processor, which can put your device at risk of malware infections. However, there is a solution to this problem: antivirus software.
Antivirus programs continuously scan your device for any potential threats and compare running programs to known types of malware. They also monitor your computing activity to ensure that everything is normal. If the antivirus software detects any suspicious code, it isolates and removes the threat automatically.
The downside is that viruses and malware are becoming more sophisticated every day, which means that antivirus solutions must also continuously evolve to stay ahead of these threats. To remain protected, it is critical to keep your antivirus software up to date.
Benefits of using Antivirus
Here are the advantages of using an antivirus:
- Antiviruses provide a safety net against potential threats from files or links. In case you click on a malicious link or download a harmful file by mistake, antivirus programs can detect and eliminate them.
- Antiviruses operate silently in the background, which means they don’t interrupt the user. They are low-maintenance and don’t require much attention from the user.
- Many reliable antivirus programs are available for free or with a free version. For Windows users, an antivirus is already included in the system.
- Sandboxing is a useful feature offered by some antivirus programs. It creates a secure virtual environment where you can open suspicious files without risking infecting your device.
Cons of using an Antivirus
Using a reliable antivirus has minimal disadvantages as they operate in the background and typically do not affect computer performance. Nonetheless, utilizing free antivirus software can be dangerous, as these businesses will attempt to make a profit from their customers. An instance of this is Avast, which was discovered to be gathering users’ browsing histories and selling them to advertisers. As a result, it’s a good idea to choose a premium online security service when seeking one.
How a VPN Secures Your Internet Traffic and Personal Data
If antivirus software acts as armor for your device, then a VPN serves as your camouflage. A VPN helps you browse the internet anonymously by connecting your device to a secure private server and masking your real IP address. This way, you can access banned sites, restricted services, and geoblocked TV content with confidence that your data and identity are safe.
VPNs use a process called tunneling to both encapsulate and encrypt your data. The former hides your data, while the latter makes it unreadable to government agencies or cybercriminals who may intercept it. Top-quality VPNs utilize additional security measures such as automatic kill switches that disconnect your internet connection if the VPN server disconnects, preventing tracking.
However, it’s important to note that VPNs don’t necessarily protect you from viruses and other malware. The best VPNs may offer built-in malware protection, but this is not as comprehensive as an antivirus program’s ability to identify and remove existing viruses.
Benefits of using a VPN
Benefits of using a VPN can be summarized in the following points:
- VPN offers immediate security benefits as soon as it is turned on.
- Encrypting your traffic helps to protect your data with top-grade AES-256 encryption on every VPN server, ensuring your privacy.
- VPN allows you to access websites that may be restricted in your country by changing your location.
- It enhances your privacy by masking your browsing history from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and advertisers.
- VPNs usually provide additional security features beyond basic encryption.
- Premium VPN providers can protect multiple devices on a single account, enabling safe browsing on public Wi-Fi networks.
Cons of a VPN
The following are the negative aspects of using a VPN:
- Free VPNs may come with potential risks and issues, such as less stability and security compared to premium options.
- Your data may not receive complete protection, and you may experience slow internet speeds.
- It is advisable to use a trustworthy and high-quality VPN to avoid these drawbacks.
- Despite claims made by free VPNs to provide the same benefits as paid options, they do not offer the same level of protection and performance.
Antivirus vs. VPN: can they be used simultaneously?
VPNs and antiviruses serve the same purpose of safeguarding your digital security, but they employ different methods to do so. It is possible to use an antivirus in combination with a VPN, and this could be the ideal choice because it can protect both your device and internet connection simultaneously.
At times, there may be some overlap in the features provided by your antivirus and VPN services. For instance, a VPN’s Threat Protection feature can prevent ads and malware-hosting sites from appearing and also shield your device from botnet control. Additionally, this feature can identify malicious files and block trackers.
It’s not necessary to be concerned about these features coinciding because, in the realm of cybersecurity, having more protection is typically advantageous.
If you are concerned about internet security, it is important to consider both antivirus software and VPNs. These two measures provide effective protection against online threats and should be used in conjunction with each other.
Using only one of these tools leaves you exposed to potential risks. It is not a matter of one being better than the other, but rather, combining antivirus and VPN provides the strongest online protection possible.