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Antivirus vs. VPN: Which One to Choose?

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Antivirus and VPNs often have overlapping features but handle different core aspects of the user’s cybersecurity profile. Thus, combining antivirus software with a VPN is best to get the best coverage rather than choosing one.

However, some cases may warrant only needing an antivirus or VPN software. 

And if you need both, knowing which antivirus-VPN combinations work best is best.

So, in the rest of this guide, I discuss the unique benefits and drawbacks of both cybersecurity tools and help you combine them for the best results.

Quick Info: Antivirus vs. VPN

  • Antivirus software deals with file-level threats but may sometimes offer internet-related protection packages.
  • VPNs deal with internet-level threats but may sometimes offer file-level protection too.

Why Do You Need a VPN?

why do you need a vpn
VPNs help to bypass geo-restrictions like this from anywhere

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) was mostly used for changing IP addresses and spoofing your GPS location data, but they’re much more than that now.

Here are a few unique reasons to pick a VPN provider over antivirus software:

  • Change your IP address. Connecting to a VPN server assigns you the IP address associated with that server. Thus, you can surf the web with IPs in different countries without traveling.
  • Unblock content. Changing your IP address may also grant you access to content available in other countries. For example, connecting to a Canada server unblocks CBC, a Canadian-exclusive service, from anywhere.
  • Get DDoS protection. Some VPN providers offer DDoS protection against gaming, forum, and other online threats. Here’s a list of the best VPNs for DDoS protection.
  • Encrypt your connections. You can connect to a VPN server to encrypt your internet connection. Thus, your ISP, government, hackers, and other unauthorized groups can no longer see what you’re doing on the internet.
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi attacks. VPNs provide network-level protection on unsafe public Wi-Fi networks via their encryption technology. Thus, hackers can’t deploy session hijacking, conversation hijacking, man-in-the-middle, and other common public Wi-Fi hacking attempts on you.
  • Block ads. Some VPN providers like NordVPN (Threat Protection) and Surfshark (CleanWeb) have in-built ad blockers to serve you a cleaner web version. This also prevents adware attacks and ad trackers from impacting your cookie/session traffic.
  • Privacy. Again, VPN encryption keeps your connections private. That helps you beat invasive data collection by your ISPs and possible identity theft attempts by hackers.

That said, some VPN providers also feature antivirus software. 

However, that is an exception and not the norm here. I’ll discuss that further down the line.

Why Do You Need Antivirus Software?

why do you need antivirus software
Some of the benefits of a reliable antivirus service

Antivirus software has evolved from protecting offline files to active online protection too. But how do they really stand out from a VPN service? Here are some considerations:

  • Active threat protection. Reliable antivirus software scans all the websites and services you interact with online to ensure you’re not putting yourself/your data, and your device at risk.
  • Malware scans. Antivirus software will also scan your device to know if there’s dormant malware already in the system.
  • Firewall setup. Not all antivirus software has a firewall build, and it’s not as robust as standalone firewalls, but it’s a nice-to-have feature to make threats impotent.
  • Sandbox mode. Don’t trust a file? Open it in the antivirus sandbox area to keep it contained if it tries to launch malicious codes into your system.

Some antivirus software handles other online protection functions like ad blocking, but that’s an exception to what they’re truly meant for.

If you’re wondering which to choose between this software and a VPN, continue below.

VPN vs. Antivirus: Which Should You Get?

vpn vs antivirus
Sometimes, you need a VPN and antivirus against next-level threats

Now that you know the unique antivirus and VPN software offerings, which one is best for you?

I’ve simplified their core differences in the table below to help you make a better decision.

Criteria: VPN Antivirus
Private internet browsing  
Malware detection  
Malware removal  
Ad blocking ✅ (Some)
Public Wi-Fi security  
Online traffic encryption  
Firewall setups  
Bypassing restrictions  
Defeating online censorship  
DDoS protection ✅(Some)
Torrent downloads anonymity  
Detecting phishing attempts  
Removal of existing virus files  
Hide IP address  

The comparison table above shows you that a single tool can’t do everything. 

In other words, you may need a combination of these cybersecurity tools for the best online coverage.

Before you pay for the different software, let’s explore options to get them in the same package.

Do VPN Providers Offer Antivirus Software?

Some VPN providers like Surfshark offer antivirus software, but not as part of the basic VPN subscription. Thus, you’ll have to shell out extra to get this antivirus software.

However, it’s arguably better to go for a standalone antivirus software provider since they’ve been in the business long enough and can focus on that aspect of cybersecurity.

do vpn providers offer antivirus software
Some VPN providers like Surfshark also offer antivirus protection

Even so, reputable VPN providers with antivirus software options can be considered since they’ve excelled in one aspect of cybersecurity and can translate that experience to the next stage.

Likewise, some antivirus software may attack VPN software.

But when coded by the same company, the chances of that happening are low.

So, if you’re interested in getting your reliable antivirus and VPN software from the same provider, here are some recommended options:

Provider VPN Software Antivirus Software
Surfshark Get Here Get Here
NordVPN Get Here “Threat Protection” comes with all NordVPN plans.
CyberGhost Get Here Security Suite (only for Windows devices)

However, some antimalware offerings (like NordVPN’s Threat Protection) are limited. 

So, they might not be able to scan your device for threats but only work for files you download while it’s enabled.

Can Antivirus Work With VPNs?

Antivirus software can work with VPN services, but they often clash, depending on the operating system and how both software services are set up.

For example, the NetShield feature, which some VPN providers use for ad-blocking, might conflict with antivirus software. Thus, keeping both software from working the right way.

can antivirus work with vpns
A Reddit user who combines antivirus and VPN

That’s why it’s best to combine your VPN with proven antivirus software that works with it right out of the box. Likewise, you should choose antivirus software with a user-friendly interface and customizable options. That way, you can always tweak it to keep working with your VPN, even if either software (or the OS) gets updated and breaks compatibility.

Troubleshooting Antivirus & VPN Connection Problems

troubleshooting antivirus and vpn connection problems
The problem may also be your choice of VPN and antivirus

If you’re having problems using your antivirus software with a VPN provider, here are some troubleshooting tips that may help:

  • Choose premium services. Most problems can be solved by choosing premium services since they’ll offer more reliable connections. If unsure of what to pick, combine NordVPN with Malwarebytes.
  • Whitelist the VPN. Your antivirus software may be attacking your VPN service as malware. So, whitelist the VPN inside the antivirus software settings. However, only do this if you’re using a reliable VPN since free/bad VPNs may truly contain threats.
  • Disable overlapping features. More is always better regarding cybersecurity, but some overlapping features may cause both software to misbehave. For example, NordVPN’s Threat Protection may interfere with your antivirus’ ad blocking tech.
  • Speak with customer support. Contact customer support staff to resolve the issue if all else fails. This may be the VPN or antivirus customer support, so it’s best to get premium software. Otherwise, you’ll be left without support when you need it.

Best VPN-Antivirus Combos to Get Right Now

I tested 21+ reliable VPN providers over two weeks to find which ones offer the best compatibility with popular & effective antivirus software across my mobile (iOS and Android) and PC devices.

Of these, only three VPN providers made the final cut, and only one antivirus software made it to the finish.

So, check the table below to find the best VPN-antivirus combination for a comprehensive security model.

Interesting Reads:

Frequently Asked Questions

VPNs aren’t better than antivirus software or vice versa, but technically incomparable since they don’t perform the same cybersecurity functions. 

Thus, a VPN can complement antivirus software to provide a more robust online security package.

NordVPN isn’t an antivirus but features a Threat Protection package that acts as antimalware. The Threat Protection comes with every NordVPN plan, blocking ads, scanning downloaded files for malware, and restricting access to malware-infested websites before you land on them.

However, it doesn’t offer real-time malware protection, won’t scan your device for existing malware, or delete malware already on your device.

Land The Perfect Cybersecurity Combo!

VPNs and antivirus software have drawbacks in what level of protection they can provide. But together, they do a better job of easily handling file- and network-level protection.

However, not all antivirus software plays well with VPNs.

Fortunately, I tested NordVPN with Malwarebytes antivirus, and they synced perfectly together.

If you’re ready to land this ideal cybersecurity combo, take advantage of these NordVPN discounts and Malwarebytes deals before they expire.

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