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Does a VPN Protect You From Viruses? (New for 2024)

A virtual private network (VPN) is an important part of your digital security setup — but it can’t completely protect you from viruses and malware.

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      Can Your Device Get a Virus Even If You’re Using a VPN?

      A virtual private network (VPN) can do wonders for your privacy, but it can't completely defend you from the ever-increasing number of viruses — at least, not without help. 

      According to the latest cyber threat reports [*]: 

      There were 5.5 billion malware attacks worldwide in 2022 alone. 

      To stay safe against this kind of risk level, you need more than a VPN — you need a plan, and an entire cybersecurity solution. 

      In this guide, we’ll explore what a VPN does and doesn’t do, how to protect yourself from viruses, and the steps to take if you think your device has been compromised by cybercriminals.

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      How Does a VPN Protect You? Can It Stop Viruses and Malware?

      A VPN can protect you from some viruses and malware infections, but it won't stop them all. Even the best VPNs will fall short of your expectations if antivirus protection is what you're looking for (and some VPN scams can even put your device more at risk of viruses and malware).

      To understand how VPNs can (and can’t) protect you from viruses, you first need to know what they do. 

      A VPN service creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and your destination. By encrypting your personal data and rerouting your internet traffic through a remote VPN server, a VPN connection hides your information and online activity from all prying eyes — including hackers or even your internet service provider (ISP).

      While the changing online landscape has made some VPN features less important than they once were, VPNs still serve as powerful privacy tools. 

      VPNs work best to prevent cybercriminals from exploiting your private information, such as your passwords, financial data, and browsing history — especially when you’re using public Wi-Fi networks or Wi-Fi hotspots. 

      While not its primary function, a VPN does provide some online security from computer viruses in the following ways: 

      • Prevents scammers from accessing your personal data. A VPN encrypts any data you transmit to websites. So, even if hackers have accessed your network and are spying on you, they won’t be able to infiltrate your accounts or insert malware-laden links into your messages.
      • Slows down or stops malware infections. Cybercriminals use malware that communicates over open ports. Good VPNs use more secure ports and block the riskier ones to make this process more difficult and less effective for hackers. 
      • Prevents malicious ads from spreading malware. Many VPN providers now include ad blockers in their services. This ensures that users don't click on ads embedded with malicious files. 
      • Blocks Man-in-the-Middle attacks. Secure VPN internet connections utilize a tunnel that prevents Man-in-the-Middle attackers from intercepting and altering your communications. 

      💡 Related: Can a VPN Protect You Against Hackers?

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      8 Ways You Can Still Get Viruses While Using a VPN

      VPNs mask your IP address and your data while it's in transit, but they can't protect you from every online threat. Regardless if you're using VPNs on iPhones, Androids, or any other devices, you still need to practice good internet hygiene to stay safe online. 

      Here are some of the situations in which a VPN won’t protect you against viruses and hacking: 

      1. Malicious links in phishing messages. Hackers use links in fake emails, fraudulent texts, and websites to trick you into downloading viruses or revealing sensitive information. A VPN can’t protect you if you click on one of these dangerous links. 
      2. Malware and other viruses. VPNs have no internal security features to fight against malware. If your device gets infected, your VPN can't detect or remove the virus. 
      3. Social engineering attacks. Scammers manipulate unsuspecting victims and lure them into making irrational moves. VPNs can't save you from bad decisions, such as clicking on malicious links, installing viruses, or authorizing infected plugins.
      4. Fake websites. Cybercriminals create malicious websites that appear safe but will install malware onto your device or steal your information. Your ISP and many premium VPN servers block some known malicious and phishing sites — but not all. VPNs without Domain Name System (DNS) filtering might override your ISP's DNS filtering and expose you to malware. 
      5. Hackers stealing encryption keys. If cybercriminals get their hands on your VPN service’s encryption keys, they could decrypt your traffic and data. Hackers might also use cryptographic attacks to break encryption ciphers.
      6. Protocol vulnerabilities. If your VPN uses weaker protocols, hackers can exploit their vulnerabilities and gain access to the tunnel and intercept your data. 
      7. Infected ads. Many cybercriminals use malware-infected ads to infiltrate user devices. Free VPNs that bombard you with ads may actually expose you to these attacks. 
      8. DNS leaks. An improperly configured VPN could leak your DNS queries and expose your browsing history and IP address. Without DNS leak protection, VPNs may leave you vulnerable to malware and other attacks. 
      🛡 Aura’s VPN offers military-grade encryption to protect your data from hackers. Learn more about how Aura keeps you safe online

      Antivirus vs. VPN: How They Both Keep You Safe

      Every VPN has its pros and cons, but no service is directly comparable to a dedicated antivirus program (or an all-in-one digital security solution). 

      VPNs provide privacy while antivirus software prevents, detects, and removes viruses. Together, however, VPNs and antivirus software provide complementary real-time protection and internet security. 

      This table outlines the uses, pros, and cons of each.

      VPN
      Antivirus
      What it does
      Hides and secures your browsing history and any transmitted data from spying eyes (hackers, ISPs, government agencies, etc.)
      Scans and protects your device, emails, and messages against malicious software (malware, ransomware, spyware, trojans, etc.)
      How it works
      Creates an encrypted connection between your device and a remote server. Your traffic, data, and IP address remain private while connected.
      Monitors the signatures and behaviors of programs to detect and thwart viruses. When it identifies malicious code, it quarantines and removes it safely.
      Benefits
      • Improves privacy and anonymity
      • Encrypts data
      • Bypasses torrent blocks and geoblocks
      • Sidesteps bandwidth throttling
      • Secures remote access connections
      • Blocks malicious sites
      • Detects and removes viruses
      • Scans files and email attachments
      • Updates and improves itself
      • Analyzes suspicious program behaviors
      Downsides
      • May reduce internet speeds
      • May have questionable log-keeping policies
      • May limit device numbers or types
      • Limited security features
      • May have high costs
      • May impact device performance
      • May encourage user complacency
      • May overlook new viruses
      • May flag non-issues
      • May pester users with notifications
      • May feature high costs
      Who it’s for
      • Users seeking online privacy
      • Remote workers
      • Travelers
      • Gamers
      • Streamers
      • General users
      • Remote workers
      • Businesses
      • Public organizations
      • Gamers
      • Streamers

      The bottom line: Both a VPN and antivirus play important roles in your overall digital security — but they can’t shield you against all scammers and online threats. 

      Modern all-in-one providers like Aura protect you against hackers and scammers from all angles — with a military-grade VPN, powerful antivirus, a password manager, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered scam protection, identity theft protection, fraud alerts, and more. Try Aura free for 14 days and get comprehensive protection against fraudsters.

      💡 Related: Do You Actually Need Antivirus Software? [Answered]

      How To Tell If Your Device Has Been Infected With Malware

      Malware can wreak havoc on your devices or operate undetected in the background. In either situation, you want to rid yourself of malware as soon as you can. The quicker you can detect it, the better chance you have of minimizing damage and escaping unscathed. 

      While antivirus software is your best bet for viruses, malware does come with signals that could tip you off. Here are some of the biggest malware warning signs:

      • Slow or hot device. Viruses and malware could cause your devices to act strangely — usually by slowing down or getting extremely hot while performing basic actions. This indicates something is eating up your resources in the background.
      • Your passwords don’t work. Malware can change your passwords or steal them and send them to the initiator. Along with changed passwords, you might also encounter password change requests out of nowhere. 
      • New apps on your phone or computer. If your device is infected, you may notice new apps appearing without authorization. This can be caused by hacked devices, drive-by downloads on malicious websites, and trojan apps.  
      • Higher than usual data usage. Different types of malware leech your bandwidth by secretly running resource-heavy ads, hijacking your browser traffic, or downloading and uploading files. This can consume your data and bog down your system. 
      • Odd network activity. Malware can cause your network to act up. You may notice more freezing, crashing, or lagging than normal. This can be caused by silent data transfers, traffic congestion, and large numbers of DNS requests. 
      • Strange pop-ups and notifications. Adware is a type of malware that causes a significant number of pop-ups to appear. If you see an abnormal amount of pop-ups, even when you're not on the internet, malware is likely the culprit. 
      • Unrecognized messages in your “sent” folders. Along with accessing your personal information, scammers may want access to your email and social media accounts to access your contacts and send spam. Malware may help fraudsters steal your login credentials, change your email rules, and spoof your identity. 
      • Unauthorized changes. Malware can make many different changes to your devices and systems. It can modify files, change your browser, alter your security settings, and tinker with your network. 
      ⚡️ Think you’ve been hacked? Act fast! If scammers infect your device with malware or break into your accounts, they could empty your bank accounts or steal your identity. Try Aura free for 14 days and get advanced protection against cybercrime.

      Do You Think Your Device Has a Virus? Here’s What To Do

      • Isolate your device. Cut off the internet access and remove the infected device from your network to stop the issue from spreading. 
      • Run an antivirus scan. If you have antivirus software, update it and scan your device. If the malware interferes with the scan, run an offline scan. 
      • Back up your important information. Before attempting to remove the virus, perform a backup. Viruses can damage files, and you might make a mistake during the removal. Beware that viruses could infect your backup files. Always run an antivirus scan on your backups to avoid re-infecting your device.
      • Restore to a healthy backup (if possible). If you have a healthy backup, you can overwrite your system and return it to a clean state. You may still need to deal with your system vulnerabilities that caused the infection in the first place. 
      • Delete temporary and suspicious files and applications. Malware often uses temporary files and folders because they are accessible and can evade detection by antivirus software. When deleting suspicious files and applications, start with the temporaries. Use safe mode if you encounter challenges removing files or applications. 
      • Update or reinstall your software and operating system. By updating your system, you may overwrite viruses or unauthorized changes and make them ineffective. You could also benefit from patched vulnerabilities and enhanced security.
      • Change account passwords. After completing the above steps, change and strengthen all of your passwords to reduce the chances of reinfection. 

      💡 Related: How To Tell If Your Computer Has a Virus (and What To Do)

      How To Stay Safe Online (and Avoid Viruses) 

      Viruses are everywhere. While advances in browser security have improved privacy for online users, even the safest and more secure channels are being challenged. 

      A VPN can't protect you by itself, but it can complement a solid digital security setup and good cyber hygiene

      With that in mind, here are some of the best ways that you can stay safe online: 

      • Use unique passwords and a password manager. A secure password manager stores all of your credentials in one place, so you can use complex passwords for each account without worrying about forgetting them. Aura’s password manager gives you access to your passwords with a single click and can even warn you if they’ve been compromised in a data breach. 
      • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on all accounts. 2FA adds an extra hurdle for hackers because it requires two methods of identification, such as a password and a one-time-use code sent to a registered mobile device. 
      • Regularly update your apps and operating system. Apps and operating systems provide updates to improve security and patch vulnerabilities. Check regularly for updates to your Windows, Chrome OS, MacOS, or iOS devices. 
      • Learn the warning signs of a phishing scam. You can avoid most phishing scams by knowing about and spotting their traps. Still, new phishing scams pop up all the time, so it's important to stay updated on what's out there. 
      • Use a Dark Web scanner to warn you if your data has been compromised. Dark Web scanners monitor the most common places where stolen information goes. You can even search for your information for free, using Aura's leaked password scanner
      • Use only secure websites. Check to make sure that the websites you visit — especially those on which you share information — have updated and official security certificates, an HTTPS url, and a padlock icon.  
      • Stick to the official stores. Whenever you download an app, software, or game, stay away from unofficial online stores. Apps from these locations may have embedded malware or malicious code that you could inadvertently allow to bypass your firewalls. 
      • Avoid untrustworthy links. Don't click on any links that you don't trust. Instead, go right to the source. You should also get into the habit of scanning email attachments with antivirus software and using a link checker, like Google's Safe Browsing.

      Computer viruses not only threaten your devices — they endanger your online and financial accounts, as well. 

      With Aura’s all-in-one solution, you get a reliable VPN, along with antivirus and robust fraud and identity theft protection. Aura helps manage your passwords and monitor your personal information, while also providing U.S.-based 24/7 support and $1 million in identity theft insurance coverage if something does go wrong. 

      Secure yourself and your family against hackers. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you to increase awareness about digital safety. Aura’s services may not provide the exact features we write about, nor may cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat discussed in our articles. Please review our Terms during enrollment or setup for more information. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime.

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