Can VPN Protect You From Viruses?

5 min

A lot was already written on how Virtual Private Networks increase your privacy and safety online. It does protect us from several dangers. There is this one online threat everyone has heard of, but very few understand the methods of fighting it off: computer viruses. What can VPN do about them, if anything at all? Read on to learn all about it!

VPN can effectively protect your data from malicious interception. It encloses all the transfers from a given device in an impenetrable tunnel. If well-implemented, it cannot be breached by any brute-force attack. This protection concerns a specific type of hack based on monitoring and intercepting network traffic. There are far more potential threats out there in the online world. And the viruses are probably the most widely known.

Viruses, malware and VPN

Malicious software (malware) is a general term for any piece of a program created with a clear intention to harm. It has a history almost as long as information technology itself. For a computer geek, it’s a fascinating story about an arms race between cybercriminals and cybersecurity. For an ordinary person, it’s a problem better dealt with by someone with expertise. It’s complicated enough just to explain the various types of malware. Inventing means of fighting them off is a task for professionals.

Viruses are a type of malware. Like the biological ones, they have the ability to replicate. Most often, they need a host program, which they modify by ‘injecting’ a piece of code. The analogy to infection with a disease is clear, hence the name ‘virus.’ Most of them are not whole executable programs but pieces of programming code. That’s another similarity to real viruses – not actually living cells but simpler structures capable of replication.

People hear about VPNs and their security enhancements and might jump to a conclusion that they can protect from viruses. Consequently, it would be enough to subscribe to a trustworthy VPN service to feel immune to any online danger lurking on the Internet. This course of thinking sounds logical and very promising. Unfortunately, it’s wrong. Viruses aren’t the only type of malicious software. And malware is just one kind of many potential dangers you can encounter online. The protection offered by VPNs doesn’t equal complete safety.

Whether as whole programs or fragments of them, malware works on a given device to harm it or its user. Meanwhile, VPN’s task lies in another dimension: the network. A VPN application you install on your laptop can be seen as an ending point of a bigger VPN architecture. The conclusion is unambiguous: areas of interest of VPN and malware are most often separate.

Does VPN protect against malware?

Unfortunately, this short question has no simple answer. Cybersecurity is as broad a branch of information technology as are cyber dangers. And this article concerns just one type of the latter: malware. So let’s break this down into several more specific questions. Firstly: does a VPN get rid of viruses already present on a computer? Here the response is quick: no, it doesn’t. This is a typical task of antivirus software, although it doesn’t necessarily equal simple file deletion. This could harm the programs and the operating system itself, so it’s not always the best option. Other possibilities are fixing infected files and moving them to quarantine. VPN has nothing to do with those file operations. Its jobs concern network data transfer, not modifying executable files. You could as well expect to remove viruses with a calculator. Likewise, finding malware by scanning files on the hard drive or monitoring the operating system are also standard responsibilities of the antivirus. Moving on: does VPN block viruses from harming the system? Alas, it’s the same situation. If a virus or a worm has already infiltrated your device, then preventing any damage it might inflict is not VPN’s field.

If VPN can’t remove existing malware threats, search for them or block their malicious actions, then can it do anything at all to improve your safety regarding viruses? Yes, but not directly. This brings along a third question: does VPN prevent viruses?

Does a VPN protect you from viruses?

As physicians are used to saying, prevention is the best medicine. If you think of it, this proverb applies to almost every computer system you can think of. It’s a logical consequence of lesser costs. Repairing damage inflicted by safety breaches, data thefts, and malware infections is typically far more expensive than preventing it. This applies to solutions ranging from safety-critical medical devices to low-end home laptops. It’s far better to stop a virus from replicating than search the whole file system for what might have been infected. Having it not even enter a device is better still. And avoiding any opportunity of getting close to a potential infection is optimal. Obviously, the only flawless method is out of the question. To be 100% sure no malware could ever harm you, you’d have to shut down your computer forever.

Luckily, there are less drastic solutions. The foremost is to avoid places with a high risk of an infection or a hacking attack. Not even the best security software in existence can guarantee safety if you irresponsibly expose yourself. That includes:

  • visiting shady Internet websites;
  • opening attachments to spam emails;
  • using poorly protected networks.

Additional tools from chosen cybersecurity suites can help to make you safer while browsing. Vendors continually analyze thousands of web pages to make blacklists of the ones regarded as unsafe. If you accidentally access such a site, it might get blocked with a warning displayed. Browsers like Google Chrome have similar features and discourage users from entering deceptive sites or pages containing malware. Naturally, those systems can also be wrong, so they allow entering whatever you wish at your own risk. Regarding spam, every respectable mailing service or program has an intelligent algorithm filtering it out. Nevertheless, it’s never perfect. You should check the spam folder from time to time to search for legitimate messages and also not blindly trust anything that has passed through the filter.

The VPN malware protection

Last but not least, let’s see how VPNs stop viruses and other possible threats. As already pointed out, VPN works with networks, not malware. But the Internet is, after all, the source of the majority of malware. An important aspect of cybersecurity is the local networks to which you directly connect. Not all of them are trustworthy and connecting to the really wrong ones is basically asking for malware. The general good practice is to avoid public Wi-Fi. Some public networks are open to anyone, some are password-protected. However, if a password is written on a wall at a café, then such Wi-Fi is almost as bad as the unprotected one. Anyone could easily connect to those networks, including hackers. They could snoop on your data traffic, as it is normally sent in plain form – unencrypted. The HTTPS protocol applied in the majority of web pages adds security to everyday surfing, but it rarely covers 100% of your traffic.

This is how a VPN prevents malware not only from attacking you but also even from reaching you. It constructs an impenetrable virtual tunnel reaching from the VPN app on your device to the VPN provider server. This architecture supervises all the connections your device makes, so all of them get safeguarded. A potential attacker lurking in the local network cannot make use of any data he intercepts from you. He can’t modify it to sneak a worm into your system, he can’t target you with deceptive phishing messages, and he can’t look into anything you type, download, watch or listen to. But this applies only directly within the local network. Your usual Web surfing typically reaches far beyond it, simply because you can read content from all over the world. It’s the freedom of the Internet! However, VPN jurisdiction spans only from the app on your device to your provider’s server. It won’t prevent tampering with your data or any other hacking attempts based out in the online world.

As you see, cybersecurity is a broad field of science. There is no one ‘magical’ remedy for all the possible threats. This is why the programs that were used to be called ‘antivirus’ have evolved over the years. Many are nowadays rightfully called ‘security suites,’ as they’ve incorporated a range of cybersecurity functionalities. Some products also include a VPN. So, in conclusion, if you wish to have both antivirus and VPN features covered within one application, look for large vendors who support such multipurpose software. If you wish for simplicity in user experience, aim for a separate, dedicated VPN app. Protect yourself thoroughly and browse safely!

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