Difference Between Firewall and Antivirus Software

Last Updated: September 19, 2021



While both are designed to keep safe against cyber threats, however, they aren’t necessarily the same. To better understand the purpose of each of these cybersecurity solutions, including how they differ, keep reading.
Difference Between Firewall and Antivirus Software
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The English language can be confusing at times. Some words are said the same yet spelt differently and carry a different meaning.

While other words are completely different yet the two terms are used interchangeably. Terms get skewed and people generalize, even though the two things aren’t the same at all. 

This is often the case when people talk about a firewall and an antivirus. A lot of people don’t know the real differences between these two, so the two terms tend to get blended.

However, there are some fundamental differences between the two that are useful for any computer user to know.

What Is Firewall Software? 


A firewall is a piece of software that’s designed to act as a barrier between your network and the World Wide Web.

It monitors all of your inbound and outbound traffic and its main role is to protect your computer from any potential external threats.

You decide what traffic is to be approved and which is to be rejected and the firewall takes action to make sure that happens. 

Every packet that attempts to enter a network with a firewall installed is inspected thoroughly to ascertain whether it is to be approved or rejected.

For auditing and review purposes, a log of these successes and failures is maintained.  

There are three main types of firewall:

  • Network layer firewall – this type of firewall has a packet filter that monitors both incoming and outgoing packets. It then uses the predefined filter rules to decide which to allow through and which to discard.   
  • Circuit level firewall – with this type of firewall, you essentially get double the protection. It keeps your device’s IP address hidden from the Internet while routing your traffic according to your set parameters. 
  • Application level firewall – this type of firewall tends to be installed within single applications. It’s specialized software which works in a similar way to the other two types of firewall, by ensuring only approved traffic can pass through the network. 

Firewalls also perform (on a very basic level) functions such as Network Address Translation (NAT) and Virtual Private Network (VPN).

NAT works by hiding the client or server address from the internet. VPN works in a similar manner by extending a private network across a public network by way of an encrypted tunnel.

This ensures that any data packets coming in or going out are protected from prying eyes.  

What Is Antivirus Software? 


Antivirus software is a kind of software that’s there to protect your computer against both malware and cybercriminals.

Malware is the collective name for any kind of software that’s been designed to intentionally cause damage to a particular client, computer, server, or network. 

There are various different malware types that antivirus software can provide protection for, including the following:

  • Adware
  • Ransomware
  • Spam
  • Spyware
  • Trojans
  • Viruses
  • Worms

The way antivirus works is by inspecting data items such as files, applications, software, and web pages to search for any sign of threat.

It runs automatically in the background of your computer, providing you with real-time protection against virus attacks.

Any potential threats or viruses that are found are either quarantined or deleted altogether.  

Just be careful when looking for anti-virus software as these programs vary quite a lot in terms of the level of protection you’ll receive.

There are three main aspects of protection to be seen from anti-virus software. To ensure you get maximum protection you should make sure you get all of them.

The three protection types are:

  • System monitoring – this layer of protection involves an active inspection to help determine any abnormal activity. If any unusual data requests are detected a notification is normally sent to the user alerting them of the situation. The user can then decide as to whether or not to allow the operation.
  • Implementing malware signatures – another crucial layer of any decent anti-virus software. When malware is detected, the anti-virus software captures its digital footprint. By capturing and recording these malware signatures, antivirus providers can create a log that can be used in the future to identify and neutralize these known threats immediately. 
  • Machine learning – the final layer of protection you would expect to see in an antivirus software program. This is the most complex layer of them all, but also one of the strongest. It relies on AI to establish a standard for accepted operations. The more  the program is used, the easier it is for the AI to determine what’s normal and what’s not. 

Key Differences Between Firewall and Antivirus Software 


While both firewall and antivirus software are there to protect your data against unwanted threats from malware or hackers, they do have some key differences, some of which we’ll take a look at here:

  • Point of Implementation – a firewall can be implemented at either hardware or software level, or both. Antivirus, on the other hand, applies to just software.  
  • Threat Protection – firewalls deal exclusively with external threats that are identified based on certain rules. Protection against both internal and external threats is provided with antivirus.
  • Counter Attacks – with antivirus protection, no counter attacks are possible once the malware has been removed. But with a firewall, you could still be subjected to possible counter attacks such as IP Spoofing or routing attacks.  
  • Operation Strategy – a firewall works by scanning of files, data and webpages to detect any potential threats before quarantining or removing them. Antivirus similarly filters and monitors the same data, but instead approves or rejects traffic based on set rule allowances.   
  • Threat Detection – while firewalls check incoming packets for any threats, antivirus scans malicious software for the threat.
  • Threat Protection – antivirus software only provides protection against viruses, whereas firewalls save the system from all types of potential threats. 

So, Which Is Better?

To be honest, there is no set answer to that question. Both have their own merits and neither should be thought of as more important than the other.

The trick is to use both together to build a comprehensive security strategy. That way you get the best of both worlds.

Neither a firewall or an antivirus software program is robust enough to stand up against all the potential threats found lurking on the internet.

But, using them together allows any drawbacks from one to be compensated by the other, and vice versa, giving you a much higher level of protection.

While firewall software does have some immense capabilities, it’s lacking when it comes to protection against malware.

And because it’s rule-based, it can be tricked by a threat if it complies with these set parameters. 

On the flip side, antivirus provides impressive protection internally, but needs priority access to any files that are being scanned.

So no document can ever be scanned while open. Also, there’s no way to examine files that are read-only.


We hope you enjoyed the above article and now have a much better understanding about what protection both firewall and antivirus software can provide you with. 

There are a lot of different providers out there for both, and it’s definitely worth doing a little research before making your final choice.

Some companies offer both in one package which may be a better option as it is just one payment and one single place to go should you need any ongoing support.  

Written by Jason

Hi! I’m the editor at EarthWeb. I have a deep interest in technology and business. I also enjoy testing products out. Contact me to be featured!

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