Does using a VPN protect against Malware?

written by

Jack Foster

last updated

October 1, 2020

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Sadly no, but VPNs can help to protect some of your internet activity, and the information you share, from prying eyes and data-hungry companies.

A VPN will encrypt data sent from a device when accessing online services and applications. It can hide the IP address associated with the device you are using and mean that any data you are sharing, websites you are exchanging data with or visiting, are not associated with your own device and IP address. A VPN will associate your activity with an IP address it provides instead of your own.

Once you reach a website or application, the data you enter there, like search terms and Facebook posts, is in the hands of the website provider or application itself. As well as using a VPN, there are other steps you can take to protect your data, online privacy, and the security of your devices.

What is Malware?

The term malware, or “malicious software,” refers to programs or codes which attack our data, devices, or can even attack us personally by spying on our activities or delivering ransom demands aka “ransomware”.

Computer viruses, trojans, spyware, ransomware, worms, adware and so on, are all types of malware.

Malware can steal data, delete data, affect how a device functions, remain on a device spying on activity, or even perform other illicit functions like cryptocurrency mining, without your knowledge.

Malware is a growing threat to personal computers, tablets, smartphones, and of course business systems and networks. Here’s an extracted graphic from antivirus experts McAfee Lab’s “McAfee Threats Report: December 2018

McAfee Latest Cybersecurity Threat Statistics

We’re not going to go into the types of malware and how they affect systems in this article. Instead, we’ll concentrate quickly on how to begin to protect your devices and your data against the increasing threat of malware.

How to Protect Against Malware (or Viruses)

Today malware usually gains access to a device via the internet or as an email attachment, it can be hiding on hacked websites, in-game demos or music files, even in perfectly credible-seeming software downloads and browser add-ons. Malwarebytes says:

“Malware attacks would not work without the most important ingredient: you. That is, a gullible version of you, willing to open up an email attachment you don’t recognize, or to click and install something from an untrustworthy source. And don’t take this as “click-shaming,” because even very experienced people have been tricked into installing malware.”

Seriously, even the most internet savvy out there have been affected by malware so learning how to protect against it is something everyone should read up on from time to time.

Use Antivirus Software

Dedicated antivirus software is a must for anyone who spends a lot of time online, has data they need to keep secure on their device, and generally anyone who wants to prevent malware or a virus attacking and destroying their systems.

It’s not just about using antivirus software, that software needs to be kept up to date and regular full scans need to be conducted on every device covered. Antivirus specialists work constantly to adapt their software to new threats and vulnerabilities. New types of malware designed to avoid these systems are let loose on the internet daily.

Antivirus software will scan any downloads or attachments to make sure they do not contain malware. It will also search your system to ensure malware is not hiding within your files.

Maintain Your System

Keeping other systems and software completely up to date, as well as antivirus software, is vital. Like antivirus developers, software developers constantly discover and patch vulnerabilities. Even large companies have discovered malware on their systems that has been inadvertently passed onto their customers. Google play store applications have also been found to be hiding malware.

Software and application creators are responsible for keeping their software up to date. Take advantage of their work and ensure any software that you run is completely up to date.

Major malware attacks have been found targeting system vulnerabilities in outdated software versions still being used when they are literally years old. Think about how quickly technology today is progressing!

Set Up a Firewall on Your Device

If you are using a PC or a laptop you should find your operating system already has a firewall in action. In Windows 10 this is Windows Defender Firewall and should be automatically set up to filter threats when you connect to a network or the internet. Be very careful when changing these settings as it’s this type of protection that you will also need if you connect to public WiFi networks.

It’s also possible to set up a firewall on your mobile and tablet devices. Comprehensive or multi-device antivirus programs may offer this. There is also plenty of firewall software available to choose from on the web if you find your device or antivirus program does not have its own. Just be careful where you are downloading this software from!

Firewalls should stop outside software from gaining access to your own personal network or device and notify you if a program tries to break through.

Read:11 Things to Consider When Connecting to Free WiFi

Do Not Click Suspicious Links or Download Suspicious Files

Malware is often distributed via emails with links or attachments. If you don’t recognize the sender, the URL of a link, or are simply not expecting someone to send you a file or link don’t click or download. Security experts Kaspersky say:

“Be wary of emails that ask you to provide passwords. Or emails that seem to be from friends, but have only a message such as “check out this cool website!” followed by a link.
Personal vigilance is the first layer of protection against malware.”

Email phishing scams containing bad links and malware also appear like emails from your bank or even your tax authority in order to fool you into providing your information unwittingly or lead you on to malware containing websites or downloads.

Don’t open them or click on them and if you are not sure if they are real, contact the company directly you believe might be trying to reach you and ask them. Often banks and other organizations appreciate phishing scams being reported.

Don’t forget VPNs are also an important way to protect your data and online privacy.

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