What is the difference between a firewall and an antivirus?

Understanding the different kinds of security shields for your desktops and laptops

What is the difference between a firewall and an antivirus?

Cyber threats have been evolving over the years. To protect yourself from cyberattacks, it is recommended to install antivirus software and a firewall on your PC. This article explains the differences between the two cybersecurity tools to help you understand their distinct roles in protecting your digital assets.

What is an antivirus and how does it work?

Antivirus software is a program that can detect and remove malicious software (malware) from your PC or network. After scanning the files and folders for malware, it can quarantine, delete, or disinfect the affected files. It can also run specific processes for known malware signatures or suspicious behaviour patterns. Here is a look at how an antivirus works:

1. Real-time protection

Many leading antivirus programs can scan in real-time to provide round-the-clock security against threats on your PC. Once it identifies a threat, it blocks it before it causes any harm.

ALSO READ: How to get rid of virus from your mobiles and laptops

2. Signature-based detection

In this method, the antivirus compares files and programs against a database of known malware signatures. If the antivirus finds a match, it considers the file malicious and quarantines, deletes, or disinfects it.

3. Heuristic-based detection

In this method, the antivirus checks the files and programs for malicious behaviour even if they don’t match the known signatures. The antivirus takes appropriate action once it detects malware.

What is a firewall and how does it work?

A firewall is like a gatekeeper that monitors and controls incoming and outgoing network traffic. It operates at the network level, analysing traffic based on source and destination IP addresses, ports, and protocols. Here’s how it works:

1. Packet filtering

Each data packet that passes through a firewall is compared to a set of rules. A firewall blocks a packet that violates the rules.

2. Network address translation

A firewall can change your internal IP address. This makes it difficult for hackers to identify the devices that are connected to the same network.

3. Intrusion prevention systems

Some advanced firewalls include IPS capabilities, which actively detect and block potential threats like malicious code or unauthorised access attempts.

Key differences between an antivirus and a firewall

An antivirus works on the device level to detect and remove malware. It focuses on internal threats that have already made their way onto the device. It can identify threats like viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware, and spyware.

A firewall, on the other hand, works at the network level by monitoring and controlling network traffic. It provides protection against external threats trying to enter the network. It can identify threats like unauthorised access, hacking attempts, and denial-of-service attacks.

A firewall, unlike antivirus software, can function as hardware. A hardware-based firewall is a physical device that protects a network by filtering traffic between the internal network and external sources, such as the internet. It secures all connected devices at the network gateway.

Some of the popular antivirus programs include Norton, McAfee, Avast, Bitdefender, and Kaspersky. Many comprehensive security suites offered by antivirus providers include firewall features. Windows Defender, which is included in the Windows operating system, has both antivirus and firewall features.

ALSO READ: How to turn off Windows Defender on your laptops and desktops

Both antivirus and firewalls are important as they complement each other to provide comprehensive security. Hence, it is essential to install both cybersecurity tools on your computer.

A firewall acts as a frontline defence, preventing unauthorised access and malicious traffic from entering your network. Antivirus software, on the other hand, focuses on detecting and neutralising malware that has already infiltrated your system. With both present on your laptops and desktops, you can rest assured that it is completely free from security threats.

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