What’s the difference between a firewall and a VPN?

Emma McGowan 10 Sep 2021

Both are essential for network security.

You’ve probably heard of a firewall. You’ve maybe heard of a VPN. But what’s the difference? 

Since we’re living in a time when most people are ultra-conscious of germs and what they’re touching, maybe the easiest way to explain the difference between a firewall and a VPN is like this:

Think of a firewall as a rubber glove. It blocks bad stuff from getting to you. (But it also does more than that — which we’ll get to.)

A VPN is more like an invisible cloak. It keeps the bad guys from knowing your location and activities. Unfortunately, it can’t block viruses, so it’s always good to pair a VPN with a firewall (and antivirus software).

Companies usually use VPNs to let employees securely access remote servers from locations outside the office, while regular folks make use of VPNs when surfing the web in their coffee shop of choice. Firewalls are used by both home and corporate networks to protect computers and devices.

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN), hides your IP address, which is the string of numbers that identifies your device. It works by routing your network connection through a remote server, protecting you from those trying to find your location and other valuable data. A VPN is essential when you’re using public Wi-Fi or working remotely, as it encrypts your traffic and protects your information while it’s in transit. It’s like a private line to directly access a corporate server or a secure network, from anywhere. 

When you use a VPN, your internet service provider, government websites, and the websites you often visit won’t have a way of knowing your true location. If you really care about your browsing privacy and data security, a VPN is your best bet.

On the downside, as previously mentioned, a VPN can't protect your computer from viruses. You can't set up security rules on VPNs. To monitor for and erase viruses, you’ll need antivirus software. To block viruses from entering your network and to prevent data from being stolen, you’ll need a firewall. 

What are firewalls? 

A firewall watches incoming and outgoing traffic on your network. Firewalls block attacks  automatically and also allow you to set security preferences for what you let into your network or computer. If you don’t program a firewall to block a certain kind of site, content, or traffic, it won’t, even if that site has content that could hurt your system.

There are two types of firewalls:

1. Hardware or network firewalls

Hardware firewalls are physical devices that are placed between your computer and the internet. Their disadvantage is that they are separate devices that often require professional support for configuration and maintenance.

2. Software firewalls

Software firewalls are able to control the internet access and behavior of programs on your computer. Most computer operating systems (OSs) include a basic built-in software firewall feature, but firewall software is also available separately from computer stores and trusted online vendors. 

Which one should you use?

The answer is: Both! Set up a firewall along with a VPN. A VPN like Avast SecureLine VPN will hide your online activity and allow you to transfer data securely without slowing down your connection — even on public Wi-Fi, But, alone, it can’t protect your device from downloaded viruses or spyware. If you click a bad link on a malicious site, you may still be vulnerable. So a firewall will let you know before you visit potentially harmful sites. 

Even if you don't consider yourself to be tech-savvy, Avast Advanced Firewall can be quickly customized to your settings with simple controls. A smart profile setting automatically detects the number of devices on your network and sets your profile to private or public mode to protect you from intruders.

Installing an efficient and strong firewall around your network is essential. It’s a great way to secure your system from invasion and data theft. 

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