VPN vs Firewall: What’s The Difference And Why You Need Both

VPN vs Firewall

When protecting your network, understanding the tools at your disposal is crucial for protecting sensitive data and maintaining a secure network environment. Virtual private networks (VPNs) and firewalls are the most fundamental security technologies.

Both play critical roles in safeguarding digital assets yet serve distinct purposes and function differently. As cyber threats become more sophisticated, businesses and individuals must know how to effectively utilize VPNs and firewalls to build a robust security strategy.

A VPN creates a secure, encrypted tunnel for data transmission over the internet, ensuring that information remains confidential and inaccessible to unauthorized users. On the other hand, a firewall acts as a barrier between your internal network and external threats, monitoring and controlling incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules.

While both VPNs and firewalls are essential for network security, they address different aspects of cybersecurity. 

This article explores the functionalities of business VPNs and firewalls, highlights key differences, and provides guidance on integrating these technologies to enhance your overall security posture.

Quick Takeaways

  • Network: A network is a set of interconnected computers, devices, or systems that share resources and information through communication channels.
  • Virtual Private Network: A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a secure and encrypted network connection established over the internet, allowing users to access private networks and share data remotely.
  • Firewall: A firewall is a network security device or software that monitors and controls incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules. It acts as a barrier between a trusted internal network and untrusted external networks, blocking malicious traffic while allowing legitimate communications to pass through.
  • Data: Data refers to the digital information transmitted over the internet, encompassing various types of content such as text, images, videos, and files. It is exchanged between devices connected to the internet service provider, including computers, smartphones, tablets, and servers.

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a technology that creates a secure, encrypted connection over a less secure network, typically the internet. 

VPN connections create a secure tunnel that allows remote users to access private networks safely, ensuring that data transmitted between the user and the network remains confidential and protected from interception. Businesses widely use VPNs to enable secure remote access for employees, protecting sensitive company data from cyber threats.

What is a Firewall?

A firewall is a network security device or software that monitors and controls incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predefined security rules. As a barrier between trusted internal networks and untrusted external networks, firewalls are designed to block malicious traffic while allowing legitimate communications to pass through. 

Firewalls can be hardware-based, software-based, or a combination of both and are a critical component of any comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.

Some different types of firewalls include:

  • Packet-Filtering Firewalls
  • Stateful Inspection Firewalls
  • Software Firewalls
  • Hardware Firewalls

Firewalls operate by inspecting data packets and determining whether they should be allowed or denied access to the network based on established rules. 

These rules can be set to block certain types of traffic, restrict access to specific IP addresses, or prevent the execution of malicious scripts. By filtering network traffic, Firewalls help protect against various cyber threats, including malware, unauthorized access, and denial-of-service attacks.

VPN vs. Firewall: 5 Key Differences

One of the primary distinctions between VPNs and Firewalls is their core functions: VPNs focus on securing data transmission and providing remote access, while Firewalls concentrate on monitoring and controlling network traffic to prevent unauthorized access. VPNs create a secure tunnel for data to travel through, making them ideal for protecting data in transit and ensuring privacy.

Conversely, Firewalls act as gatekeepers, scrutinizing incoming and outgoing traffic to detect and block potential threats.

  1. Core Functions
    • VPNs: Secure data transmission and provide remote access.
    • Firewalls: Monitor and control network traffic to prevent unauthorized access.
  2. Network Placement
    • VPNs: Typically operate at the network layer, encrypting data at the source and decrypting it at the destination.
    • Firewalls: These can function at various layers, including the network, transport, and application layers, offering multi-layered traffic filtering and threat prevention.
  3. Threat Protection
    • VPNs: Primarily protect against data interception and eavesdropping, ensuring confidentiality during transmission.
    • Firewalls: Protect against intrusions, malware, and other malicious activities by blocking unauthorized access and harmful traffic.
  4. Data Handling
    • VPNs: Encrypt data to create a secure tunnel for it to travel through, focusing on data privacy and integrity.
    • Firewalls: Inspect data packets to determine whether they should be allowed or denied access based on established security rules.
  5. Use Cases
    • VPNs: Ideal for remote access, securing communications over public networks, and ensuring privacy.
    • Firewalls: Essential for creating barriers between internal networks and external threats and for implementing security policies to control traffic flow.

VPNs primarily protect against data interception and eavesdropping, ensuring that sensitive information remains confidential during transmission. On the other hand, firewalls protect against intrusions, malware, and other malicious activities by blocking unauthorized access and harmful traffic.

Both technologies are complementary, providing different layers of defense in a comprehensive security strategy.

Considerations for Choosing VPN and Firewall Solutions

When selecting VPN and firewall solutions, it’s crucial to consider your organization’s specific needs and requirements. 

Choosing a VPN

For VPNs, factors such as encryption strength, ease of use, compatibility with existing systems, and the ability to support remote access for a growing number of users are essential. High-quality VPN solutions should offer:

  • Robust encryption protocols
  • User-friendly interfaces
  • Scalability to accommodate the organization’s evolving needs

Choosing a Firewall

For firewalls, key considerations include the ability to customize security rules, the performance impact on network speed, and integration with other security tools. Effective firewalls should offer advanced features like: 

  • Intrusion detection and prevention
  • Application-level filtering
  • Real-time monitoring capabilities

They should be capable of adapting to emerging threats and integrating seamlessly with the organization’s overall security infrastructure.

Integrating VPNs and Firewalls 

Integrating VPNs and firewalls creates a layered security approach that enhances overall network protection. VPNs secure data in transit, ensuring that remote access to the network is encrypted and protected from interception. At the same time, firewalls monitor and control network traffic, blocking malicious activities and preventing unauthorized access. 

Together, they provide comprehensive protection for data in transit and data at rest within the network.

To effectively integrate VPNs and firewalls, organizations should ensure that both solutions are compatible and can work seamlessly together. This integration involves configuring the firewall to allow VPN traffic while still applying security rules to monitor and inspect the data. 

Supercharge Your Network Security with Perimeter81

Creating a robust security strategy with Perimeter81 involves strategically deciding between using a VPN and a firewall to safeguard online activities and secure connections. Perimeter81 offers advanced VPN services that encrypt data transmitted over public Wi-Fi networks, ensuring privacy and preventing interception by malicious actors.

Also, firewalls provided by Perimeter81 act as powerful gatekeepers, monitoring and controlling incoming and outgoing network traffic to enforce security policies. They are essential for protecting internal networks from external threats and ensuring compliance with industry regulations. 

By integrating both VPN and firewall solutions from Perimeter81, organizations can establish a comprehensive security framework. Contact us today to explore how Perimeter81’s tailored VPN and firewall solutions can fortify your organization’s security posture.


Do I need a firewall if using a VPN?
Yes, you still need a firewall, even with a VPN. While a VPN encrypts your internet traffic and secures your connection, a firewall is necessary to monitor and control network traffic, block unauthorized access attempts, and protect your internal network from cyber threats.
Can a firewall block a VPN?
Yes, a firewall can block VPN connections by filtering VPN traffic or blocking the ports and protocols used by VPN protocols such as IPSec, L2TP, or OpenVPN. Organizations may block VPNs to enforce security policies or prevent unauthorized access to certain resources.
Should the VPN server be before or after the firewall?
A VPN server should typically be placed behind the firewall. This setup ensures that the firewall can inspect and filter incoming VPN traffic, protecting the internal network from potential threats before they reach the VPN server. It also allows the firewall to enforce security policies and control access to the VPN server.
Why should you not always use a VPN?
While VPNs offer enhanced security and privacy, there are situations where using a VPN may not be necessary or practical. For instance, using a VPN can sometimes slow down internet speeds due to encryption overhead, and certain online activities may not require the additional security provided by a VPN. Some services and websites may also restrict or block access from VPN IP addresses.

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