Firewall Vs Antivirus: Key Differences Compared

With our digital activity on the increase, the need for better cybersecurity is growing. Firewalls and antivirus software work together to ensure that your information and laptop are safe from viruses and hackers.

However, which is better in the firewall vs. antivirus debate?  

We decode the differences and articles to give you the best advice below. 

Firewalls are designed to protect your computer assets from external threats. They act as digital border guards monitoring traffic coming in and out of your computer.  

Apprehensive IP packets are prevented from leaving or entering a network. Depending on the type of firewall, it can hide or change your IP address for safer scrolling.  

silver macbook pro on a desk

Firewall History And Generation 

Initially, firewalls were names for special walls that were built between terraced houses to prevent fires from spreading between houses. However, it didn't take long for the name to take on a new meaning in the tech industry.  

First Generation (Connection-Oriented Firewall) 

When digital firewalls were created in the 80s, they revived the name. The original firewalls acted as gateway sentinels that defended against unstructured and non-targeted attacks on a computer system. First-generation firewalls were not effective against targeted attacks, unlike more modern editions. 

Second Generation (Content-Oriented Firewall) 

Second-generation firewalls defend against single-stage targeted attacks. They have additional security functionality and are typically placed in specialized places in the network for optimal function. Content-oriented firewalls are more advanced than their connection-oriented counterparts but were evolved in the third generation. 

Third Generation (Intent-Oriented Firewall) 

Third-generation firewalls look at various indicators to determine an attacker's intent before leveraging appropriate security and countermeasures. Some of these countermeasures include: 

  • Multi-stage attacks 
  • Blended attacks 
  • Outright sabotage 

By tailoring the attack, they can better protect your digital devices. 

monitor displaying software code

Types Of Firewalls 

  • Packet Filters  
    Pocket filter firewalls either forward or discard the packet after applying a specific set of rules. Then, depending on whether the packet passes those rules, the packet filter decides on the appropriate outcome. More advanced versions of the packet filter include the dynamic and stateful packet filters.  
  • Application Gateway  
    Also known as a proxy server, an application gateway firewall behaves as a proxy or replacement. It decides the flow of the application-level traffic and can hide your IP from the outside world for added security for your personal data.  
  • Circuit Gateway  
    Circuit gateway firewalls act very similarly to application gateways with some key differences. Circuit gateways create a new connection between themselves and the remote host. It can change the source IP address in the packets from the end user’s IP.  

Firewall Pros & Cons 

  • Monitors traffic 
  • Protection against trojans 
  • Prevents hacking 
  • Access control 
  • Better privacy 
  • Cost 
  • User restriction  
  • Limits computer performance 
  • Can’t protect against all attacks 

What Exactly Does Antivirus Software Do? 

If firewalls are border patrol, antivirus is a detective. Antivirus software works on a file-to-file level scanning, spotting, and inhibiting destructive files or behaviors. 

The typical process for an antivirus can be summarized as detection, identification, and removal. To prevent further attacks, antivirus software isolates or deletes corrupt files and monitors internet traffic carefully.  

Antivirus History And Generation 

Antivirus was first invented in the late 80s and has been helping protect both professional and personal devices ever since. 

First Generation (Simple Scanners) 

First-generation antivirus software used simple scanners that needed to detect a virus signature within a file to actThese simple scanner antivirus programs were effective but needed the signature of specific viruses to function. This means that they could not search for viruses that they were not aware of. 

Second Generation (Heuristic Approach) 

Second-generation antivirus software looks for possible attacks by searching files for code that looks virus-related. This helped it spot unknown new viruses and work against polymorphic viruses that can constantly change and adapt. 

By being free of needed specific signatures, second-generation antivirus software could neutralize a higher volume of threats. 

Third Generation (Memory-Resident) 

Third-generation antivirus software recognizes viruses based on their activities rather than a signature or specific structure. Memory-resident viruses would write themselves directly into the computer system’s memory and leave very few signs of infection. 

By using memory-resident antivirus software, even more viruses could be prevented and defended against.  

Fourth Generation (Behavior-Blocking) 

Fourth-generation antivirus software works on virus prevention rather than detection. It seeks to block any weird activity within files by regularly scanning, monitoring, and searching. By blocking malicious behavior in real-time, virus damage can be prevented as soon as possible. 

monitor with software code

Types Of Antivirus Protection 

Malware Signature Antivirus 

This antivirus protection detects malware signatures. Once it finds potential malware signatures, the antivirus scans for specific codes or viruses and disables them as quickly as possible. While this software is effective, it is unable to address new or adapted viruses. 

Related: Malware Vs APT: What's The Difference?

System Monitoring antivirus 

System monitoring antivirus software looks for any suspect or atypical user behavior on your device for each profile. This applies to visiting unfamiliar sites, accessing many files at once, and an overall increase in data usage outside the norm for your profile.  

Machine Learning Antivirus 

Machine learning antivirus monitors your ‘normal’ computer or network behavior. If any suspicious activity comes up, it can limit it quickly. This type of antivirus implements its algorithms to facilitate a broad search for malware and can work in tandem with other antivirus types to create effective protection. 

Antivirus Pros & Cons 

  • Virus protection 
  • Spyware protection 
  • Web protection 
  • Spam protection 
  • Cost-effective 
  • System slow down 
  • Security holes 
  • Little customer support 
  • Frequent advertisements 

Firewall Vs Antivirus: Key Differences Explained 

Device Checks 

One firewall vs. antivirus difference lies in which is best for device checks. Antivirus software is best in this category as it can restrict the devices allowed to function at the endpoint. For example, USBs can be prevented from accessing your device.  

Mail Inspection 

In this category, your email app or provider is best for performing mail inspection. However, next-generation firewalls can work with antivirus software to filter your emails if necessary. If this added security is something you are interested in, it can come as part of a package depending on the provider.  

Port Blocking 

Port blocking is often considered a traditional way for firewalls to inspect traffic. When port-blocking, firewalls look carefully at where traffic is going and what protocol it has. Using its internal code, the firewalls then decide whether to allow or deny that traffic.  


Anti-spam detection is best done by your email provider, as with the mail inspection. However, firewalls can add to your mail security by scanning attached URLs and scan for IP addresses of known hackers and malware that could harm your system. 

Web Filtering 

With modern generations of both firewalls and antivirus, both types of software can perform web filtering tasks. If this is something that you want to incorporate into your cybersecurity, make sure that it is listed among the perks in your desired product. 

File Inspection 

According to the differences between firewall and antivirus, antivirus is technically the better of the two at file inspection as it works within your device. Firewalls can inspect files traversing or entering your network for any suspicious activity or internal code. 

Remove Malicious Codes 

Antivirus software is trained to identify and remove malicious programs and code. On the other hand, firewalls can identify the potential threat but reject the traffic or isolate the endpoint. This is a key difference between the two that needs to be considered. 

Searching Malicious Payloads 

Both antivirus and firewall software can take care of searching payloads for malicious intent. As we have stated previously, both programs will take a slightly different approach to search malicious payloads, but either one can take care of the problem.  

Scheduled Scans 

Of the two, antivirus software is better for those looking to give regularly scheduled scans of your systems. You can typically schedule them yourself or set periodic reminders within the software to run a scan. Firewalls will not typically have this feature. 

Access Computer Health 

Just like people do, your tech will occasionally need a health check to identify any issues and signpost ways to fix problems. In this case, antivirus programs are the best option for assessing your PC's overall health. These are often able to be scheduled, or reminders can be set. 

man using laptop and monitors at a desk

Do You Need Both Firewall & Antivirus On Your Computer? 

The short answer is yes. You do need both firewall and antivirus on your computer or laptop. A firewall cannot protect you from all viruses and malware alone, and it is not always impenetrable. Likewise, an antivirus program cannot always detect each type of malware that could come your way.  

Although we recommend having both, if you can only have one program, we would suggest having firewall functionality on your router.  

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Is Windows Defender a firewall? 

Windows Defender is a free anti-spyware program that comes with Windows 7. It is enabled by default and scans for malware. In Windows 10, Windows Defender comes with firewall capabilities.  

Does Windows 10 need antivirus? 

While Windows 10 does come with Windows Defender, we still recommend pairing it with a third party antivirus application so that you can achieve maximum protection.  

How do I know if my firewall is blocking a URL? 

If you encounter a black screen with something like 'this website has been blocked,' the URL is probably being blocked by your firewall. To access it regardless, you can switch to mobile data, visit the IP address directly, view a cached version of the site, restart your modem, or use a VPN. 

Related: VPN Vs Firewall - What's The Difference?

Which Is Better - Firewall Or Antivirus?  

As for the antivirus vs antivirus software debate, we would argue that they are both excellent security measures to have. To find the right type and brand for you, shop around and read both the policies and customer reviews carefully to find the best one for your home and budget.