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Antivirus vs VPN – Which Protects You Online Better in 2023?

It’s no secret that the web can be a dangerous place. Threats ranging from spies and viruses to hackers and scammers lurk behind every virtual corner, endangering everyone from large corporations to innocent café customers.

As we all search for ways to stay safe online, antivirus software and virtual private networks (VPNs) have emerged as the most popular tools to protect yourself and your devices.

But how do antivirus clients and VPNs actually work? What do they protect you from? How do they fight internet dangers, and how are they different from each other?

Most importantly, which one should you use to safeguard your data, your online activity, and your privacy?

We’ll answer all of these questions and more in this important update to our guides to internet freedom, security, and anonymity.

What Threats Do You Face Online?

Digital dangers are everywhere, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

For starters, there is malware (malicious software). This term is used for any form of harmful software, including adware that can hijack your browser, spyware, and viruses. The most common virus types currently are:

  • Trojans – Programs that look like useful apps but have viruses hidden within them.
  • Worms – Destructive programs that infect numerous devices by self-replicating.
  • Boot Sector Viruses – Viruses contained in external storage devices like CD-ROMs; once very common, these viruses are rarer in the cloud storage age.

Once a virus infects your device, it can erase files, slow processing down to a crawl, or even destroy your hardware beyond repair.

But malware is only one of the perils you face on the internet. Whether you’re browsing, streaming, or downloading, other hazards you’ll encounter on the web include:

  • DNS attacks, where hackers exploit vulnerabilities in the Domain Name System to access your server. The most common type is a DoS (Denial-of-Service) attack, which temporarily or permanently disconnects your device from the web.
  • Surveillance and data harvesting by cybercriminals, governments, and ISPs.
  • Hacking and identity theft.
  • Restricted content access due to censorship laws or geoblocks.
  • Penalties for accessing blocked or restricted content.
  • Phishing scams and spam.

That list might be enough to make you close your laptop and never open it again, but here’s the good news: Antivirus software and VPNs can help protect you from virtually every cyber threat that exists today.

Each of these two crucial tools protects you in its own way, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a detailed look at how antivirus apps and VPNs actually work.

How Antivirus Software Protects Your Devices

Every time you open anything on your device – whether it’s an email, a file, a website, or a new app – you introduce new code to the device’s processor. That means you run the risk of malware infections.

That is, unless you have an antivirus wall protecting you.

Antivirus software continuously scans your device for any hints of danger. It compares running programs to known types of malware and assesses your computing activity to make sure there’s nothing out of the ordinary.

If the antivirus finds a suspicious code, it isolates it and removes the threat automatically.

Unfortunately, viruses and other malware get more sophisticated every day, so antivirus solutions have to constantly evolve to stay one step ahead of the threats. It’s therefore critical to keep your antivirus products up to date.

How a VPN Secures Your Internet Traffic and Personal Data

If antivirus software is your device’s armor, then a VPN is your camouflage. After all, criminals and spying agencies can’t harm what they can’t find.

A good VPN allows you to surf the web anonymously by connecting your device to a secure private server and concealing your true IP address. This means you’ll be able to access sites banned by your government, restricted services, and geoblocked TV content with the peace of mind that comes from knowing your identity and data are safe.

VPNs use a process called tunneling to both encapsulate and encrypt your data. The first process hides your data, the second makes it unreadable even to government agents or cybercriminals who discover it.

Quality VPNs use additional high-end security measures to prevent tracking, including automatic kill switches. These are safety valves that cut off your internet connection completely if your VPN server disconnects, which could open the door to tracking.

Does this all mean that a VPN protects you from viruses and other malware? Not necessarily. The best VPNs do offer built-in malware protection, such as CyberGhost, one of our highest-rated VPNs, but the protection is incomplete.

VPN malware protection is a preventive measure, intended to block harmful programs from reaching your device. It won’t be as effective as an antivirus client when it comes to identifying and fighting existing viruses.

Which Is Better: Antivirus or VPN?

The truth is that antivirus software is better at protecting you from some online threats, while VPNs are better at protecting you from others. They are designed to work together, not compete with each other.

Here is a summary of what each of these important tools does best:

Type of Protection Needed Better Tool to Protect You
Preventing tracking of your online activity VPN
Preventing invasion of your devices by viruses, adware, and other malware Antivirus
Safe access to restricted internet content VPN
Anonymity for browsing or torrenting VPN
Removal of existing virus from your devices Antivirus
Identifying dangerous Phishing emails Antivirus
Permanently deleting internet session data VPN

It should be clear by now that you shouldn't choose between antivirus protection and a VPN – you should absolutely have both! The combination of a topnotch antivirus program and a high-quality VPN is the closest you can come to 100% protection from every online threat.

As your vpnMentors, we can confidently give some insights into which VPNs have the highest security standards in the business. In addition to ExpressVPN, we also recommend CyberGhostVPN which is super easy to use, and IPVanish for its great security.

All three of these providers offer military-grade encryption, a reliable kill switch, and your choice of tunneling protocols, including OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, IKEv2, and PPTP.

The Best VPN and Antivirus Combination Packages

Some of the top antivirus companies bundle premium VPN services with their cybersecurity packages. Is it worth combining your antivirus with a VPN like this? It's a definite yes!

This combination affords you the best protection, and you don’t have to compromise on any features. Our experts have tested the VPN and virus protection software bundles from leading antivirus developers. Here are our top picks:

1. Norton Secure VPN + Norton Security

You can now bundle Norton's antivirus suite with its premium VPN service, Norton Secure. If you’ve purchased the Norton Security Deluxe Plan, you’ll be happy to note that its VPN is already included.

Secure VPN offers bank-level encryption and tracker blocking. It operates high-speed servers in 73 global locations. There are also apps for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.

Want to learn more? You can read some informative Norton Secure reviews from its customers here.

Get Started with Norton Secure VPN

2. Webroot WiFi Security + Internet Security Complete 

Webroot’s WiFi Security and antivirus software make a powerful combination that can protect up to 5 of your devices at once.

Its antivirus software is lightning-fast. It takes only 20 seconds to scan your device - its cloud-based software allows it to run up to 60 times faster than the average antivirus program.

It provides real-time protection against phishing attempts, webcam hacking, and identity theft.

Webroot’s VPN is also super-speedy. It’s easy to install, and perfect for beginners. It keeps a strict no-logs policy, and offers automatic protection every time you connect to the internet. As a bonus, its web filter will protect you from malicious and risky websites.

It offers apps for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS. Sounds interesting? You can learn more by reading real customer reviews.

Get Started with Webroot WiFi Security

3. Avast Ultimate

Avast’s Ultimate internet security package protects your device with four of its most popular programs: SecureLine VPN, premium antivirus software, CleanUp Premium, and Passwords Premium.

SecureLine VPN uses military-level security to anonymize your online presence, while Avast’s premium antivirus software fights off malware and spyware.

SecureLine also offers DNS leak protection, and operates servers in 34 countries.

As a bonus in this package, CleanUp Premium will keep your device running fast and efficiently. Passwords Premium allows you to manage all of your accounts securely. It will also autofill your login details and sync them across your devices.

SecureLine’s customer reviews speak volumes: it really is one of the top packages on the market.

Get Started with Avast SecureLine VPN

4. Avira Prime

Avira’s Prime package includes everything you need to protect your device, including a stellar antivirus program and its popular Phantom VPN Pro product. Similar to SecureLine, you’ll also get Speedup Pro and Password Manager Pro thrown in.

Phantom VPN Pro protects your data with high-end security features, like 256-bit encryption, a built-in kill switch, DNS leak prevention, and anti-ransomware tools. It will also connect automatically, so you don’t need to worry about being unprotected online.

Its apps are easy-to-use, and it operates servers in 37 countries. You can see what customers have to say about Phantom VPN Pro by reading its reviews.

Get Started with Avira Phantom VPN


If internet security is on your mind – and it should be on all our minds these days – antivirus software and VPNs are two of the best available protective measures, and they can and should be used together.

In fact, using one without the other leaves you vulnerable to a number of potential threats. Neither is better than the other, but antivirus + VPN adds up to the best online protection you can get.

For more information on how VPNs work and why everyone should use one, check out our complete beginner’s guide. And keep checking our blog posts for updates on the latest internet dangers and the best technology to protect yourself.

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Privacy Alert!

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VPNs can help you hide this information from websites so that you are protected at all times. We recommend ExpressVPN — the #1 VPN out of over 350 providers we've tested. It has military-grade encryption and privacy features that will ensure your digital security, plus — it's currently offering 49% off.

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About the Author

Kate is a freelance journalist, her writing focuses mostly on gaming & tech, arts and culture. She is obsessed with sci-fi and hopes to visit Mars someday.

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