Firewall vs Antivirus – What’s the Difference and Do I Need Both in 2024?

Firewall vs Antivirus

If you’re comparing firewall vs antivirus products, you may be wondering just what the two products are, how they’re different, and whether you need both to protect yourself from viruses and malware.

In this guide, we break down antivirus vs firewall features and explain the real differences between the two – and how the best antivirus software can help.

The Main Difference Between a Firewall and an Antivirus

There are several key differences between firewalls and antiviruses, but they complement each other to provide comprehensive security. With a firewall, you can make sure your network is protected from unauthorized access. Antiviruses give you great, targeted protection from threats already on your device.

Here’s a snapshot firewall vs antivirus comparison, covering their key features and functionality.

Antivirus Firewall
Implementation Software Software and hardware options available
Main Purpose Removes threats already on your device Blocks threats from getting onto your device
Function Identifies and removes malware from devices Monitors network traffic and blocks unauthorized access
Key Limitation May misidentify software and files as threats Can’t deal with existing threats

Antivirus vs Firewall – How Does Antivirus Software Work?

Antivirus software helps detect, prevent, and remove viruses and other types of malware from computers. You can use this software to search your hard drive for viruses or worms and isolate, quarantine, or remove them.

Depending on the type of software, it will detect viruses either by:

  • Detecting Suspicious Behavior — The program reviews your programs and flags any software acting unusually.
  • The Dictionary Approach — The software checks a file against a dictionary of known viruses and deletes, quarantines, or fixes the file.

To help ensure greater ongoing protection, antivirus software typically runs automatic updates.

The Different Types of Antivirus Solutions

There are several types of antivirus solutions on the market today. These include:

Web-based antivirus solutionsCloud-based antivirus solutionsSignature-based antivirus solutionsMachine-learning antivirus solutions

These programs provide protection from viruses straight from the web. With web-based antivirus software, you can scan your device without needing to download anything and use a virus scanner right from your browser. An example of this is Google Chrome’s built-in antivirus scanner.

These solutions keep track of every new type of malware that comes into circulation by drawing on remote data from the cloud. This type of software offers near real-time protection against viruses and malware.

This software relies on virus signatures to identify previously-analyzed viruses. Virus signatures are unique datasets that categorize a piece of malicious software as a threat.

While this type of software was a popular choice for defending against viruses in the past, it can only be used to identify malware that has already been identified by security experts.

Rather than depending on code to detect new threats, machine learning makes use of algorithms powered by sample data to compare threats vs safe files and detect malware.

In contrast to signature-based malware solutions, antivirus software powered by machine learning can detect malware threats in real-time.

Pros and Cons of Antivirus Software

What are the advantages and limitations of antivirus software? We’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages here.

Pro – Prevents Malware from Infecting Your Device

Antivirus software can defend against viruses. There are over 5 billion malware attacks daily, highlighting how important it is to help make sure your computer is protected against new and upcoming digital threats.

You can use antivirus software to scan files and applications for malicious code before you download them onto your device. Many programs will also alert you to suspicious websites and email attachments, helping to keep you safe from malware that may infect your device.

Pro – Detects and Removes Malware

While antivirus software can help defend against an attack, it can also help detect malware that’s already on your device, quarantining it and removing it to mitigate damage. This can go a long way to helping protect your files and data and helping keep you safe from financial crimes like identity theft.

Pro – Keeps Your Device Working Smoothly

Malware and viruses can also undermine the performance of your computer, taking up storage space, consuming processing power, and burning through your battery life. Malware can also cause your apps and system to malfunction or crash. Getting the right antivirus software can solve this.

Con – Can Issue False Warnings

Antivirus software can sometimes flag safe files or programs as being dangerous. This is most likely to occur if you’re using free antivirus software or if you’ve installed newer, unverified software applications onto your device.

Con – Antiviruses Don’t Offer Total Protection

You can’t rely on antivirus software to offer complete protection from online threats. Antivirus software finds and removes malware and can block dangerous downloads.

To help keep your device and information as safe as possible, you need a multilayered approach that includes measures like installing a firewall and choosing unique passwords to ensure you have well-rounded protection.

Con – Slower Device Performance

A hard fact is that antiviruses will slightly slow down your device. As antivirus software demands additional memory and takes up space on your device, it can impact the speed at which your phone or computer runs.

Having antivirus software on your device will affect its performance far less than if you actually get infected by a virus, so keep this in mind if you’re weighing up the pros and cons of the software.

Antivirus Vs Firewall – How Does a Firewall Work?

A firewall is a piece of software or hardware that can block data from specific locations, applications, or ports while ensuring access to the data you need. People use firewalls to block unauthorized access to and from networks that may cause harm. Firewalls can be used to prevent criminals from accessing private networks.

The Different Types of Firewalls

There are a number of different types of firewalls, which take a range of different approaches.

Proxy FirewallsPacket-Filtering FirewallsStateful-Inspection FirewallsCircuit-Level GatewaysNext-Generation FirewallsDelivery-Based Firewalls

Proxy Firewalls make use of proxy servers, which act as a network getaway between web applications and devices on the network. They mask real network addresses and can intercept incoming and outgoing messages.

Packet-filtering firewalls, sometimes called application-level gateways, monitor and pass or block data packets.

They analyze and compare these packets against predefined rules and policies, accepting or denying packets. These types of firewalls help control traffic and defend against network infiltration.

Stateful Inspection, also known as “Dynamic Packet Filtering,” goes beyond reviewing the header information and inspects a data packet’s essential inbound and outbound data components.

The technology compares them to a trusted information database to see if they should be authorized to pass through the network.

A circuit-level gateway monitors traffic, acts on unauthorized attempts to access a network, and monitors Transmission Control Protocol data packet handshaking.

Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs) were built to defend against modern security threats. They typically boast enhanced security with the capacity to detect and block advanced attacks using security measures at the application, port, and protocol levels.

In contrast to traditional firewalls, NGFWs offer advanced features such as SSH and SSL inspection and reputation-based malware filtering.

Firewalls can be defined by their delivery method rather than the technology they use. Firewalls can be delivered using:

  • Software installed on your device
  • Hardware that monitors traffic coming in and out of a network
  • Cloud-based firewalls, hosted on an external network and monitored by a service provider

Pros and Cons of Firewalls

Now, we’ll cover some of the main pros and cons of firewalls.

Pro – Monitors Your Network Traffic

With a firewall, you can monitor your network traffic, helping to ensure that the data entering and leaving your network is safe and blocking any threats.

Pro – Defends Against Hacking

Some 422 million people have their data compromised each year, whether through data breaches or leaks. Firewalls can help stop hackers from accessing your network and stealing your data. This is particularly important for businesses that have a responsibility to safeguard customer data.

Pro – Block Malware

Firewalls can block a range of threats, from spyware to viruses. Firewalls prevent unauthorized access to networks, which cybercriminals can use to infect computers with malware or do other damage.

Many devices have built-in firewalls for defending against unauthorized access to your network, though you can get enhanced protection from purpose-built software, hardware, or cloud-based firewall products.

Con – Cost

Firewalls can be an additional expense if you want a sophisticated product or have complex network needs. Hardware-delivered firewalls, in particular, are often more expensive.

However, the cost of being exposed to malware could be far greater. You could lose important data or be exposed to fraud, while businesses may experience reputational damage or lose clients or customers.

Con – Doesn't Offer Total Protection

As with antivirus solutions, firewalls are only a part of the multilayered protection you need to help stay safe when online. While firewalls are integral for monitoring your network traffic and preventing unauthorized access, they can’t typically remove malware already on your device or stop you from accessing malicious sites.

Con – Limits User Access

In organizations, administrators need to work with firewall policies to provide access to network users. If a user wants to perform a new task or their role needs to be updated, then the necessary changes need to be actioned. This requires administration work, which requires management.

Do I Need Both a Firewall and an Antivirus?

A firewall filters your network traffic to block infected files, malware, and viruses, stopping cybercriminals from exploiting vulnerabilities. The goal of anti-malware software is to detect, disarm, and remove malware and viruses that are already on your computer or network by scanning files and quarantining threats.

You can’t rely on either an antivirus or a firewall alone to protect you from all online threats. Antiviruses and firewalls have two distinct jobs – firewalls are preventative, and antiviruses are proactive.

Fortunately, many modern cybersecurity products include both antivirus features and a firewall. Some also include features such as password managers and VPNs to further enhance your security.

Choose the Best Antivirus and Firewall Combination for You

What’s the best antivirus and firewall combination for your needs? Check out our comparison table to quickly compare some of the leading antivirus and firewall products on the market today:

Antivirus and Firewall Best for Starting Price Free Version Test Results Compatibility
Norton Affordable, high-quality security $2.50/m for 12 months 30-day trial – 6/6 in usability
– 100% detection of prevalent malware
Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
ESET Next-level diagnostics $4.17/m for 12 months 30-day trial – 6/6 in usability
– 100% against widespread malware
Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Intego Mac security solutions $3.33/m for 12 months 14-day free trial – 6/6 in usability
– 99.2% malware detection
Windows, Mac, iOS
Avast Free antivirus $4.17/m for 12 months Free-forever plan, 30-day trial 6/6 for protection, performance, and usability Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Bitdefender Easy to use $2.50/m for 12 months Free-forever plan, 30-day trial 6/6 for protection, performance, and usability Windows, Mac, iOS, Android

Summary – Firewall vs Antivirus

Firewalls and antivirus solutions offer two distinct security benefits. Firewalls defend against unauthorized access to your network, keeping you safe from cybercriminals looking to exploit vulnerabilities in your network.

Antiviruses identify, quarantine, and remove malware from your device. To help make sure you’re protected from digital threats, it’s a good idea to invest in both firewalls and antivirus solutions – but many products today include both sets of functionality.

Further Guides and Resources

If you’ve found this guide helpful, check out some of our other cybersecurity guides and resources:

FAQs

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Kirsten Lamb
Technology Expert
Kirsten Lamb
Technology Expert

Kirsten Lamb is a freelance conversion copywriter and content marketer with a specialist focus in technology. She previously studied at Keele University and The University of Edinburgh. She has over 7 years of experience in the marketing industry and has worked with brands like Hotjar and WooCommerce, plus on the tech side of Booking.com.