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Can your antivirus software slow your internet speed?

We will show you cases where antivirus software only slows your browsing speed, and when antivirus actually reduces your overall internet speed.

person on laptop using a VPN
Image: Digital Trends

A concern many users have is whether or not antivirus software can slow their internet speed – the answer is not so black and white, however.

Most antivirus software should not slow your internet speed, technically speaking. There may be certain situations where antivirus software uses background data, such as when updating its database or software, but this should not be very noticeable.

Specific functions of antivirus can slow the browsing experience, however. This may feel like splitting hairs, but it’s an important distinction to make. In most situations, antivirus is not actually slowing your internet speed – it is slowing how fast pages are displayed to you, due to real-time scanning of pages, links, and scripts as they load. This can also highly dependent on the antivirus software – some companies perform better than others.

You can check Antivirus Rankings to consider which antivirus software performs better in different areas.

In this article, we will show you cases where antivirus software only slows your browsing speed (with no effect on your actual internet speed), and when antivirus actually reduces your overall internet speed.

How does antivirus software affect browsing speed?

Imagine it like a broadcasting delay – a live news channel will typically have a 7-second delay, so the studio can censor out any accidental content that shouldn’t be broadcasted. But you wouldn’t say they’re “slowing” their recording. They’re recording at a normal speed. There’s just a delay in the content being broadcast, to filter out inappropriate stuff. Nearly the same kind of thing is happening with real-time antivirus scanning.

So when you load a webpage or download a file, your antivirus software will immediately begin scanning. It will check the page for any malicious scripts that might try to exploit security holes in your browser. As the antivirus software scans the page, the page loads a little slower – and this leads people to think that antivirus “slows” their internet.

An easy way to know if your antivirus software is only slowing your browser, but not your actual data speed, use with your antivirus software both enabled and disabled and compare the results.

How can antivirus slow internet speed itself?

In some cases, antivirus can actually slow your internet. As we mentioned before, antivirus software can use some of your bandwidth to update its virus definitions and software. This will be a lot more noticeable if you’re on a slower bandwidth. Another way that antivirus may slow your internet speed is through built-in firewall settings or a VPN.

It’s a well-known fact that firewalls slow your internet speed (depending on firewall configuration). Thus, when an antivirus is running its firewall on top of a Windows built-in firewall, it can wreak havoc on your internet speed. This is why it is generally suggested to choose one or the other. Imagine a firewall as a traffic checkpoint – all the traffic (your data) slows down to pass the checkpoint. So imagine having two consecutive checkpoints – traffic nearly comes to a standstill.

As for a VPN, many of the top antivirus software includes an optional VPN you can toggle. When you’re connecting to the internet through a VPN, your data gets routed through the VPN servers. To use another traffic analogy, this is like taking a detour road – if the detour road was longer than the main road. Instead of your data going from point A to point B, it goes from point A to point C to point B. Thus, a VPN can noticeably slow down your internet speed – depending on the VPN server you’re connecting to.

If you live in New York and connect to a VPN in Chicago, the VPN’s effect on your browsing speed will be minimal. If you live in Mainland China and connect to a New York VPN, you could probably boil a pot of coffee while loading videos on Facebook.

Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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