Isometric illustration of a laptop with code and a protected password field

Firewall & Antivirus: Know the Difference

Antivirus software is also known as antiviral or AV software. It protects computer files, hardware and operating systems from malicious code like viruses, worms, spyware and other malware. Some desktop antivirus programs can perform real-time scans of emails received via a network connection. In addition to antivirus, security software also includes firewalls used to protect individual PCs or servers by blocking incoming/outgoing traffic on a local area network. A firewall is software that is installed to stop unauthorized users from accessing or leaving a private network. Here are the differences between a firewall and an antivirus.

1. Security functions

A firewall’s primary purpose is to protect the system from unauthorized access. The firewall controls all internet traffic between two networks and distinctly blocks all untrusted incoming traffic connections. The firewall monitors the incoming and outgoing protocol packets and then decides whether these should be allowed through or denied access by sending messages to host computers. A firewall functions similarly to a traffic officer at a junction, deciding whether or not a motorist may proceed through an intersection. Compared to antivirus, a firewall exclusively stops viruses that attack using network protocols. Whereas an antivirus protects a local computer from harmful software, a Windows firewall safeguards network traffic from all incoming and outgoing packets on the network.

2. Functionality

Antivirus is designed to protect malicious software on a local computer. If you have an antivirus installed on your computer, whenever you get a virus warning saying that a file has been infected and you have to save it to your desktop, it will already be saved to the antivirus database. It will then start scanning the files, and if the virus is found, it will be deleted. The same is done for malware via email, but not in the case of a firewall. A firewall will not stop the virus from entering your system, but it will stop the virus from getting a hold of your files; therefore, you will have to resolve the issue manually.

3. Compatible Applications

Windows firewall has compatibility with network-related applications such as FTP and SMTP servers that run on Windows operating system. Compared to Antivirus, windows firewall is compatible with all types of files, not just viruses. Since it cannot stop malicious spam emails and other malicious content in email attachments, it will allow them to pass through the gateway. The Antivirus will stop the malicious content from downloading but not allow it to execute.

4. Security Features

A firewall protects and provides security to the system by preventing unauthorized users from accessing the internet and downloading malicious software and other programs. While an antivirus safeguards your computer system against viruses only, it does not provide any protection against different types of malicious programs. Also, an AV is limited in its protection because it can only detect and remove the virus or malware it comes across but isn’t capable of preventing future infections.

Bottom Line

Security is the ultimate need of a computer. A firewall and antivirus can’t give you full security since they don’t protect against malicious software and viruses from an external source such as the internet. You still need to install malware scanners on your computer and use the antivirus to protect the operating system, so firewalls and antivirus are more of a friendly switch.

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