As the influence of the digital world rises in our everyday lives, cybersecurity becomes even more critical. Unfortunately, there are too many frightening ways that our devices, data, and identities can be hacked, attacked, and compromised. The stakes have never been higher.

Fortunately, plenty of cybersecurity tools are available to combat these threats and defend our private information. However, the sheer number of resources often proves overwhelming, and it’s easy to lose track of what tools perform what security functions.

That’s why we are looking at two popular and effective means of cybersecurity: firewalls and antivirus software. This article explores the differences between antivirus and firewall security measures. We will define the terms, explain the advantages and limitations of each, and even provide a handy antivirus vs. firewall comparison chart.

Let’s begin with a couple of definitions and move onto the differences between antivirus and firewall software.

What Is a Firewall?

A firewall is either software, hardware, or a combination of both that offers security and protection to a computer or computer network. Firewalls operate under the principle of filtering out unauthorized traffic and allowing access to only legitimate users. A hardware firewall is like a router, but with the specific purpose of cybersecurity.

For this security measure to be fully effective, all traffic and data packets must pass through the firewall, whether inbound or outbound.

What Is Antivirus?

Antivirus software is a popular cybersecurity measure used to scan, detect, and block any suspicious or unknown files and software from getting into the network’s system, especially malware and harmful viruses. In addition, antiviruses prevent additional attacks on the system by deleting or isolating corrupt files and monitoring Internet traffic.

The Functions of an Antivirus Program

A quality antivirus application performs the following three functions:

  • Detection: The antivirus looks for viruses and malware
  • Identification: The application quantifies the threat
  • Removal: The antivirus isolates the danger from the system and deletes it

Advantages of Antivirus Software

A good antivirus program brings a lot of positives to the table, such as:

  • Protects against virus infection and transmission
  • Defends against Trojans, malware, and spyware
  • Blocks spam and other unwanted advertisements
  • Protects against hacking and data theft
  • Protects against threats from external peripherals that can be removed
  • Protects data
  • Protects passwords and prevents leakage
  • Ensures more excellent protection by identifying and restricting suspicious websites
  • It can sometimes even spot hitherto undefined new viruses by their signature and activities before they can cause harm, even if the program can’t specifically identify the threat. The app will attempt to isolate the unknown attacker anyway.
  • It's comparatively cost-efficient and, in the long run, saves money and resources that would be needed otherwise to mitigate virus damage.

Four Generations of Antivirus Software

First Generation

Simple scanners involve a record of program length. This generation can identify a virus only if it has a virus signature. These scanners are signature specific, so if any kind of virus attacks the system, this antivirus fails.

Second Generation 

Heuristic scanners that conduct integrity checking with checksums. This generation of antivirus identifies code blocks linked to virus attacks.

Third Generation

Activity traps, which employ memory resident, detect infected actions. This generation consists of memory-resident antivirus software that detects and halts the working virus patterns.

Fourth Generation

Full-featured protection, a suite of antivirus techniques, and access control capability. This generation is known as behavior-blocking software, which offers features like scanning and monitoring. This antivirus works alongside the operating system and detects activities that match virus-like patterns. Any uncertainty is identified. This generation emphasizes attack prevention rather than virus detection.

Limitations of Antivirus Software

However, no antivirus is 100 percent infallible. Any antivirus program, no matter how great it is, no matter how reputable and established the manufacturer is, has a possibility of getting breached. Here are some specific limitations:

  • You cannot run antivirus software on read-only files
  • Antivirus software only supports the Common Interface File System (CIFS) protocol, not the Network File System (NFS) file protocol
  • Some antivirus programs won’t spot new viruses or malware releases unless the program has been recently updated
  • It is nearly impossible to grant antivirus protection to files that are being read and written simultaneously

Additionally, remember that hackers and virus developers are engaged in a continuous race against cybersecurity experts to stay ahead of each other. With new viruses being developed and unleashed on the Internet daily, antivirus companies have a daunting and never-ending task of tracking, identifying, and developing solutions to foil them. So, any computer-installed antivirus software must be constantly updated to ensure the system's safety against new threats.

A List of Antivirus Software

Here's a sampling of the more popular, effective antivirus solution:

  • Norton
  • Bitdefender
  • McAfee
  • TotalAV
  • Intego
  • Avira Prime
  • Kaspersky Internet Security
  • Panda Dome
  • Trend Micro
  • Malwarebytes
  • MacKeeper

Moving on to the Advantages of a Firewall

Firewalls offer computer servers and systems a versatile collection of advantages, including:

  • Deters hackers and remote unauthorized access
  • Safeguards information
  • Provides top priority to privacy and security
  • Defends systems against Trojans
  • Network-based firewalls through routers can potentially protect many systems. However, a firewall based on an operating system only protects individual computers.
  • Does not interfere with any of the system functions

Types of Firewalls

There are three types of firewalls:

  • Application level: This level is dedicated to specialized software and applies security measures to restrict undesirable traffic over the network.
  • Network layer: This firewall has a packet filter that monitors incoming and outgoing traffic. It provides security by allowing or rejecting these packages based on predefined filter rules.
  • Circuit-level: This firewall type permits specific packets to pass through the network and completely blocks others. It also safeguards networks by hiding IP addresses over the Internet.

Functions of a Firewall

Firewalls perform many critical functions, including:

  • Functions as an application-level gateway also called an application proxy
  • Performs deep packet inspection and filtering
  • Available in stateless and stateful, with the latter being dynamic
  • Performs system management functions

Limitations of a Firewall

Unfortunately, firewalls aren’t perfect and can only do so much. Here’s a summary of firewall limitations:

  • Firewalls cannot prevent internal attacks
  • Firewalls cannot identify or prevent authorized attacks
  • Some software firewalls can adversely affect system performance because they occupy RAM resources and can consume processing power
  • Firewalls can’t defend a system if a virus enters via a download, flash drive, or spam link

A List of Available Firewalls

Here is a collection of the more popular and reliable enterprise firewalls:

  • Checkpoint
  • Forcepoint
  • Fortinet
  • Juniper
  • Palo Alto Networks
  • Sophos
  • Watchguard

The Differences Between Antivirus and Firewalls

Here is an antivirus vs. firewall comparison chart to lay out the differences and for quick reference:



This is a security network

This is a software application

Implemented by both software and hardware

Implemented by software only

Handles only external threats

Addresses both internal and external dangers

Operates by filtering and monitoring

Works by scanning and isolating infected files and viruses in software

Hackers can attempt to bypass firewalls via routing attacks or spoofing

There are no counterattacks possible once the malware is removed

Protects the system from many kinds of threats

Protects the system only from malware and viruses

Monitors incoming packets for threats, prevents unauthorized access

It searches, monitors, identifies, stops, and deletes any malware/virus danger to the computer system

Programming is more complex than antivirus

Programming is comparatively more straightforward than firewalls


With the above chart in mind, it's clear that both cybersecurity measures are valuable assets in fighting cybercrime. Still, we can't precisely compare them because they tackle different system and data security facets. There's no "Which is better?" debate here. Consequently, smart cybersecurity experts will protect their valuable systems and data with a combination of a firewall and an antivirus software suite. This arrangement covers most of the security vulnerabilities that today's companies suffer.

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Are You Interested in Learning More About Cyber Security?

According to July 2022 statistics, the total damage done by cyberattacks is expected to hit $6 trillion, and as of that month, cybercrimes had already inflicted $2 trillion so far. A ransomware attack happens every 14 seconds, and a cyberattack every 39 seconds. So, it's unsurprising that cybersecurity professionals have a huge demand.

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