When considering what type of cybersecurity protection your business needs, it’s easy to become lost in a sea of terms, similar-looking security software suites, and various security options/features.
Your security plan will depend on the size of your business and the scope of your network. You are likely familiar with two competing terms that we are going to discuss and compare: Endpoint Protection vs Antivirus.
Endpoint protection and antivirus are related, and although the differences are becoming slightly blurred with the latest Nextgen Antivirus (NGAV) suites, they still are not the same. This article discusses the main characteristics of each.
- What Is Antivirus (AV)?
- What Is Endpoint Security (EPP)?
- Endpoint Protection vs Antivirus
- Further Technology Articles
What Is Antivirus (AV)?
Antivirus (AV) software is installed on devices such as desktops, laptops, smartphones, and servers. It runs in the background and routinely scans device files, directories and emails for a virus payload spread by malware.
Traditional antivirus software uses a virus signature and definitions database to see if there are executable malicious codes within it. If a match is found, the antivirus software quarantines or blocks the infected files.
New viruses are emerging on a daily basis, so antivirus software vendors continuously update their databases in an effort to thwart day zero attacks.
Your IT security team installs antivirus on the devices directly, where it operates in the background so that it doesn’t interrupt business processes. Additionally, it can perform real-time scans on website interactions, emails, and file downloads.
Despite its powerful capabilities, antivirus software comes with some downsides. For instance, most traditional antivirus solutions rely on signature-based detection and prevention that fail to defend against modern signature-less or file-less threats.
But wait, there is a new antivirus kid on the block, namely Nextgen Antivirus (NGAV). NGAV has all of the functionality of traditional AV, with extra security features such as malware and ransomware protection.
What Is Endpoint Security (EPP)?
Endpoints (desktops, laptops, tablets, mobile devices, etc.) are often the entry point through which a hacker gains access to a network, making endpoint breaches a prime concern for IT teams.
Endpoint Protection (EPP) is an integrated security solution that detects and blocks endpoint device-level threats. Endpoint protection is an essential security element for endpoints, including computers, laptops, smartphones, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
EPP suites often combine antivirus ability with personal firewalls, anti-malware, Virtual Private Network (VPN) data encryption, and Data Loss Prevention (DLP). This technology can also gather logging & alerting information from endpoints for an enhanced view of the current security situation in real-time.
Combining these technologies is more effective than using separate security products that don’t communicate with each another. EPP can also be significant for endpoint devices that usually lack security, such as smartphones, BYOD and IoT devices.
Endpoint Protection vs Antivirus
Let’s now compare Endpoint Protection vs Antivirus and discuss which of the eight key security elements any sophisticated IT security platform should include.
1. Malware, Ransomware and Antivirus Protection
Malware infection is the leading cause of security breaches, often leading to a ransomware attack, data theft, or data destruction that can cost companies millions in lost revenue.
A well-executed ransomware attack will result in lost or compromised data, halted business processes, and damage to company reputation.
An EPP solution provides malware protection to defend against ransomware, which includes rolling back changes made by malicious software if needed and placing the endpoint back in its pre-infection state.
Another advanced threat protection feature of EPP is cloud sandbox integration, which analyses suspicious files downloaded from endpoints. This capability gathers emerging malicious signatures in real-time. Endpoint protection can also provide USB device control to stop malware and ransomware from entering the network.
Traditional antivirus software does not defend against malware (a software program that can deliver the virus payload), ransomware and spyware. As mentioned earlier, the lines are blurring between EPP and antivirus due to Nextgen Antivirus (NGAV) suites that include additional security features such as malware and ransomware protection.
Finally, although devices must also have antivirus ability, it is worth mentioning that many EPP solutions also provide full antivirus features built-in, saving the need for both EPP and antivirus software suites.
2. Insider Threat Prevention
Most security breaches are caused by negligence or human error, such as an employee or contractor within an organisation who accidentally (or deliberately) causes a security breach.
In these instances, an extension of EPP called Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) monitors user activity. Furthermore, it employs techniques like behavioural analysis to spot suspicious or threatening behaviours.
EDR does this in real-time so that security teams can respond immediately to any potential threats before they get out of hand.
This capability far exceeds the scope of a standard antivirus suite that is usually limited to a single device and is scanning for a virus payload. It does not address user activity or behaviours.
3. AI Threat Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence (AI) within endpoint security is a powerful technology that detects threats in real-time and employs machine learning with AI to protect endpoints.
AI threat intelligence solutions combine information from sources like open-source security databases and social media, then send it to partnered endpoint security tools. This reporting enables those tools to identify and monitor emerging (or day-zero) malware and phishing attacks.
EPP solutions use AI to quickly identify zero-day threats because the data collection and communications that inform security providers of emerging threats are performed in real-time and shared immediately.
Although some of the latest Nextgen Antivirus NGAV suites use AI, traditional antivirus software does not, so threat identification is localised to the device on which it is installed. Many antivirus applications are signature-based, making them less effective at detecting zero-day threats if the signature database is not updated in real-time.
4. Content Web Filtering
Endpoint protection often has a content web filtering feature to enforce web filtering rules, even to encrypted websites using HTTPS. It can also monitor user browser activities and enforces an organisation’s web security and acceptable usage policy.
IT administrators can centrally synchronise all endpoint web filtering profiles, maintain consistent policy enforcement, set bespoke policies, fine-tune block and allow lists, and import web filtering policies.
Of course, all these EPP characteristics are beyond the capabilities of an antivirus application, which is installed on a single device only. An administrator may be able to remote in for updates and monitoring, but usually only one device at a time.
5. VPN & ZTNA Functionality
With a VPN, a user can establish a secure encrypted tunnel between their endpoint device and a trusted centralised VPN controller. Once the tunnel is established, all data sent via the tunnel is encrypted.
Using a secure VPN is highly recommended for remote users who may be connecting to a public WiFi that can become part of an Evil Twin attack. Multifactor authentication (also known as 2FA or MFA) can provide an additional security layer.
It is worth mentioning that some antivirus software suites do offer a basic VPN feature, but as of writing, we have not come across any that offer the ZTNA feature (discussed next) that is available with many EPP solutions.
Many EPP suites also offer both ZTNA and VPN security features. When the Zero Trust Agent (ZTNA) feature is combined with a secure VPN, clients receive a powerful remote access solution based on an initial deny-all ‘trust no-one’ access policy for added security.
ZTNA supports ZTNA tunnels, Single Sign-On (SSO), and device posture checks to the Operating System (OS) access proxy. It works together with the OS to provide granular access to remote and local applications.
6. Single Pane of Glass Centralised Device Management
Traditional antivirus software consists of siloed endpoints, whereby individual user devices do not communicate with each another, only accessing a centralised security database for a signature update.
Thus, IT teams spend time identifying and correcting security gaps. Because an EPP security solution includes endpoints, it also features a central console so administrators can manage those endpoints from a central location.
This end-to-end visibility into all endpoints is known as a “single pane of glass.”
EPP, on the other hand, has end-to-end visibility into all endpoints so administrators can manage those endpoints from a single, central security management platform (also known as a “single pane of glass.”)
7. Central Security Alerting, Logging and Reporting
Alerting is the process of real-time alert messages arriving, usually via Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) traps from devices managed by a central management solution.
EPP solutions usually allow devices to send security alerts via SNMP to a centralised security management system so IT administrators can react quickly to single-device attacks.
Logging is the collection of entries contained in device logs that an admin can view as System Logging Protocol (Syslog) messages. These are valuable during security breach investigations, which require historical logs and are a significant benefit of EPP.
Antivirus applications alone tend not to provide the centralised real-time alerting and logging capability of EPP.
8. Vulnerability Detection
Vulnerability detection is a security feature used by EPP that monitors endpoints, identifies risks, and strengthens endpoints to reduce the attack surface. It does this by identifying vulnerable endpoints and then prioritising unpatched software and OS (operating system) vulnerabilities.
An outdated OS is susceptible to cyberattack, so vulnerability detection detects out-of-date operating systems along with other needed software updates.
Security patches are an additional vulnerability that affects endpoint devices. Cybercriminal gangs receive the same patch notifications as IT admins, and hackers know they have time to exploit the vulnerability before the patch is applied.
EPP identifies security patches and notifies administrators, who can deploy the patches quickly and shorten the window of opportunity for cybercriminals.
An endpoint protection application scans the network for threats and looks for reported issues or anomalous behaviours throughout the entire network. It discovers new endpoints and detects potential vulnerabilities.
Nextgen Antivirus solutions can provide limited vulnerability detection by monitoring just the actual device it’s installed on to check for an out-of-date version of the antivirus software itself but is far less feature-rich than the vulnerability detection provided by EPP.
This article highlighted the main differences between endpoint security and antivirus software. Now that the lines are blurring between EPP and modern antivirus suites due to the additional security features becoming available with Nextgen Antivirus (NGAV) software, this is now a two-horse race.
Endpoint Protection (EPP) is the preferred security platform for businesses with medium/large networks and a growing remote workforce. Nextgen Antivirus (NGAV) software is appropriate for small businesses and single consumers who don’t require the centralised management security features of EPP.
If you would like to discuss your network security requirements in more detail with one of our cyber security professionals, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.