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VPN Vs Firewall: What’s The Difference & Do You Need Both?

In today’s interconnected world, cybersecurity is a significant concern. It's becoming increasingly clear that antivirus software just isn’t enough to protect us from malicious attacks anymore. In 2020, there were over 304 million ransomware attacks in the USA alone, causing great disruption to many user's service.  

How can we fully protect ourselves from these attacks? Two different options, a Firewall and VPN, will both protect your ID. What is better between a VPN vs Firewall, though? Which one will keep me fully protected?  

A Virtual Private Network (or VPN for short) is a private connection where users can securely access the internet through an encrypted network. There is no way to access it without being part of the VPN.  

Its roots date back to 1996 when a Microsoft employee wanted to make a more private connection between the computer and the internet. Originally created for business purposes, VPNs are now available to the public as cyber threats began to increase over time. 

A VPN can privately access websites that aren’t accessible due to geographical locations. You may have seen a few commercials for VPNs, allowing their users unrestricted access to Netflix USA or the BBC, for example.

They are essentially granting access to a user outside of the geo-restricted location to view websites or shows otherwise unavailable to them.  

Remote Access VPN is the most common form for commercial use. It gives users access to restricted websites from their province or domain and is incredibly easy to set up and use. For businesses or stronger VPNs, there are two different types: 

  • Intranet-Based VPN  
    This form of network provides several users in different locations access to a set of resources in an encrypted space. It creates a secure place for information that can’t be accessed by anyone else. 
  • Extranet-Based VPN  
    The difference with an extranet base is that it allows two separate intranet networks to connect without granting access to one another. It allows two different companies to conduct business without stealing information from each other.  
macbook screen showing a VPN

VPN Pros & Cons 

A VPN hides your IP address. Governments, businesses, hackers, etc., cannot see a log of your online activity. This also gives you security on public Wi-Fi, which is usually not very secure.  

VPNs will also combat price discrimination – airlines do this, for example, by charging higher prices to internet users based on location. If they don't know where you've come from, they can't charge you more.  

Always opt for a paid private network; free VPNs won’t offer you the same privacy. Paid VPNs can be pretty expensive, though. Most networks require upfront payments, and higher-end VPNs will have higher prices.  

There’s also the recent surge of VPN blockers on certain websites such as Netflix. Nord VPN can bypass this, but it is not possible on all VPNs. 

Benefits 
  • Access to geo-restricted content 
  • Security on public Wi-Fi 
  • Protects your online ID 
  • Removes price discrimination 
Negatives 
  • Doesn’t stop malicious content 
  • VPN Blockers stop access to certain websites 
  • Expensive 

Firewall Overview & Types Explained 

Firewalls are a type of barrier between your devices and incoming traffic (the internet). It will carefully inspect all incoming data into your device and block certain IP addresses or specific data based on predetermined rules.  

The simplest description is that it will stop malicious content from accessing your computer. The information is inspected through ports, which are entry points to your computer, and exchanges data with external devices. 

Firewalls have existed since 1988, where the first generation was known as packet filters. These would inspect incoming ‘packets’ and allow certain data is based on the ruleset. 

As technology advances further, firewalls have also had to develop faster and become more secure. Different types of firewalls will protect your computer in different ways. All have their merits and disadvantages. 

  • Hardware Firewall  
    A hardware firewall is installed on the mainframe and inspects all packet traffic into the system before it reaches the network. It uses a physical appliance to block and allow certain data through and only blocks external data.  
  • Software Firewall  
    Software works differently, as it will be installed individually to different computers. Firewalls in your home computer will most likely be a software firewall. They will inspect packets from the endpoints of a network instead and blocks unwanted access from further entry.  
  • Cloud-Based Firewall 
    Also known as proxy firewalls, they use a cloud server to block or stop unwanted access to a private network. The size and capacity of the security can be adjusted to its need and can be installed remotely on multiple devices.  
secure lock on screen with cybersecurity background

Firewall Pros & Cons 

Firewalls are generally very secure and good for your system. It monitors all the traffic to your computer and will restrict all hazardous data. This means hackers cannot access your network as they do not have permission to enter it. 

A firewall will prevent malware from collecting your information and selling it by isolating the trojan and blocking it from your sensitive data. 

Firewalls, though, can’t protect against other forms of malware that enter through trusted packets. So, you can still get a malware infection with a firewall. 

Your privacy is protected from hackers and website domains, as it will not allow access to your IP address or details to the websites. Hardware firewalls, however, can still be intercepted internally and require a lot of costly maintenance.  

Benefits 
  • Blocks any threats 
  • Stops hackers gaining access 
  • Can control the access points 
  • Extended privacy 
Negatives 
  • Only stops trojan malware 
  • Expensive 
  • Hardware firewalls can be intercepted internally 

VPN Vs Firewall: Key Differences Explained  

Whether you’re considering a firewall or virtual private network to increase your cybersecurity, knowing the differences and similarities can help you make the best decision for you.  

Intention 

A VPN will not block data from entering your computer. While it will make your presence anonymous on websites, it's only designed to stop an external data breach.

It’s a safer way to protect your privacy online. A firewall will stop all unwanted access to your device and will keep your data protected from trojans.  

Setup 

A VPN acts more like a tunnel or bridge to your websites – it's restricted in who can enter the VPN and hides user's IP addresses from domains. A firewall acts more like a buffer between two network points, inspecting any data traffic and blocking malicious software. Your IP address may still be visible to websites. 

Data Protection 

A firewall will stop a trojan from sending your data to third parties or showing your sensitive data. The difference with a VPN is that it will restrict anyone from accessing your information – it is entirely anonymous. Firewalls will allow data to be shared with trusted packets and aren't entirely anonymous.  

Safety 

It's important to note that a VPN does not protect your computer. You are still able to infect your device with malware inside the network if you were to click on any malicious links or downloads. A firewall will stop any malicious software before it enters your computer and won’t grant access to hazardous software.  

Preventing Hackers 

As mentioned, VPNs don't allow unauthorized access. It's encrypted from both your computer and the websites you visit, but again, this doesn't stop from links clicked inside the VPN. A firewall will prevent hackers from entering if they do not match the set security rules. Both are essentially very good at stopping data theft.  

vpn protection

Do You Need Both VPN And Firewall On Your Computer? 

In data protection, getting the extra security gives us one less thing to worry about. If you were to install both a firewall and connect to a VPN, then there would be a minuscule chance of a data breach. But do you need both to be protected?  

If you were to pay and connect to a VPN, and then install a firewall, then all your data is protected from the VPN access point and the end of the tunnel. The firewall would inspect the data entering and returning from the network, blocking any unwanted data you may have picked up inside. 

Something to consider is the cost – a VPN is expensive on its own, and your computer will already have somewhat of a firewall upon purchase. Including a firewall will increase costs and may not be a feasible option for some people.  


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Is it illegal to use a VPN? 

There are no laws in the USA and UK that would prevent you from using one, so they are perfectly legal. However – in Russia and China, for example, VPNs are illegal. Any illegal activity done in a VPN is still illegal and can still be traced back to you.  

Can a VPN break a firewall? 

They can't break firewalls so much as they tunnel underneath them. They will trick the firewall into granting access to websites that are geographically unavailable to you.  

Can a VPN be hacked? 

Yes – but it's extremely difficult to do so. The hacker would have to decrypt the network, which would take a lot of time and resources. Hackers tend to opt for key theft to access the VPN rather than solving encryption.  

Does a VPN or Firewall remove viruses? 

A VPN will not remove viruses – while it stops any potential hacks or data breaches, viruses can still enter your device through malicious links or downloads. Firewalls will block malicious data but can still grant access to trusted packets, which could contain viruses.  

Can the government block VPNs? 

Yes – some governments do block some or all VPNs to stop their citizens from accessing overseas IP addresses. In these instances, owning VPN access is illegal.  


Conclusion

Protecting our identities and data is a great concern online. The cyber threat of hackers and malware is now higher than it has ever been, and properly protecting ourselves is important.

Whether you go for a firewall, VPN, or both, knowing you can safely browse the internet will only give you peace of mind. Keep yourself and your loved ones protected and keep unwanted visitors out.