Much ink has been spilled about VPNs and antiviruses. Yet people still continue asking questions about the usefulness of these software programs, unsure whether they need to install them on their electronic devices. And not only do they still doubt the helpfulness of VPNs and antiviruses but they also feel confused between them. People still consider VPNs and antiviruses interchangeable. They think that if they get one of them, the second becomes redundant. This article aims to underline differences between VPNs and antiviruses, dwelling in greater detail on the types of viruses that affect our computers and beget the need to get them protected. It also answers the question of how paid and free VPNs differ from each other but does not discuss mobile security as opposed to desktop and laptop security, because antiviruses for iPhones or Androids these days resemble antivirus solutions applied to desktops and laptops.  

VPNs and Antiviruses were invented to serve our different needs. A Virtual Private Network was created in 1996 by Microsoft’s Gurdeep Singh-Pall to give people a secure internet connection. The initial method was called Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), but now other kinds of VPNs have appeared, which are more secure than the PPTP. The latter was invented for dial-ups and is now considered least reliable.

In brief, the functioning of the VPN can be explained as follows. The VPN allows users to access the internet safely by routing their connection through a server and hiding their online presence. When users start their VPN software from their VPN service, it encrypts their data. What makes this encryption successful is the VPN’s ability to move faster than users’ Internet Service Providers (ISP). Outrun by the VPN, the Internet Service Providers lose the ability to identify users’ real location. Encrypted information then goes to the VPN and, through it, to users’ intended online destination: a certain blocked website, bank, Vimeo, Torrent, or Netflix. Confused by the VPN, these intended destinations start thinking that users’ data comes from the VPN and its location rather than from users’ computers and their location. To understand the process better, think of the VPN server as a proxy that connects to the internet on your behalf.

Because VPNs have mushroomed, users can choose now not only among the best VPNs on offer but also between their free and paid versions, each of which has its own merits and demerits. The major reason why people prefer paid VPNs is because they think that they provide higher speed and better bandwidth. Free VPNs are slower, since, attracted by a freebie, more people flock to them. Not charging for their services, providers of free VPNs cannot afford expensive bandwidth, which is indeed costly. For example, in America, people pay a blended average across all the transit providers of $10/Mbps. That is, with this benchmark, for every 1,000Mbps (1 Gbps), they pay on average $10,000 a month. Such high price is not easy on the pocket book of providers of free services. When people use paid VPNs, they also receive better customer service, for which providers giving VPNs away for free simply cannot pay.

But there is a strong argument in defense of free VPNs. Only they preserve users’ total anonymity. When providers of paid VPNs process payment transactions, they ask for users’ personal details: their full name, address, and credit card details. Collecting users’ personal data, however, runs counter to the very idea of the Virtual Private Network. After all, VPNs are designed to camouflage users’ identity and retain their anonymity. By not charging for VPNs, their providers help keep users’ identity hidden. Those users for whom it is crucial to surf the internet undetected give preference to the VPN’s free version.

While VPNs protect our identity on the web, antiviruses guard our computers against viruses living on the internet. This is their major difference from each other. Unlike VPNs, antiviruses were created to protect our computers from digital dangers rampant on the internet and existing in a variety of shapes and sizes. Our computers can be infected by such malicious software as adware that destroys our browser. There is spyware that obtains covert information from us. And there is also a host of viruses lurking in the internet and waiting to enter our computers to damage our files and various devices.

The most famous among viruses are the following. There are Trojans, programs passing themselves off as useful app but, like the Trojan Horse, hiding destructive weapons inside themselves. Another well-known type of virus is worms. In nature, some worms are known for regenerating lost parts of themselves. Ribbon worms, for example, boast an amazing ability to regrowth brains and entire heads. Like their natural namesakes, viruses called warms infect devices by self-replicating. They can harm the network by consuming bandwidth and corrupt files stored on your electronic device. Worms can also slow down the processing of your computer. In the worst cases, the virus can destroy your hardware. There are also viruses contained in external storage devices, called Boot Sector Viruses. The damage Boot Sector Viruses can cause to your computer is of various gravity. They can erase your files, slow down the working of your PC, or even bring death to your hardware.

Antivirus software is designed to detect such viruses in your computer and destroy them. It runs as a background process, scanning your PC or mobile device to detect and restrict the spread of malware. Some of antivirus software programs have a real-time threat detection and can monitor your computer and system files to find out whether there are possible risks to them.

VPNs cannot protect your devices against malware and are, therefore, not interchangeable with antivirus software programs. Conversely, antivirus shields your computer against viruses but can do nothing to protect your identity while you are surfing the internet. Hence, it cannot be used instead of the VPN. It is for you to decide, then, against what dangers you want to be protected. But because your computer and your personal information equally deserve security, it is advisable to install both kinds of software. Joined together, the VPN and antivirus software will preserve your online anonymity and will prevent or remove malware infections on your individual computing devices. 

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