Cyber attacks are on the rise. That much is inescapable. As tech teams find newer, more sophisticated means by which to protect their organizations’ data, cybercriminals find newer, more sophisticated means by which to steal that data – and so the wheel turns. People often associate “cyber threat” with the bold headlines that scream news of nation-state-sponsored attacks that are indeed terrifying, but often seem isolated from the world in which most of us operate. But the reality is that most threats are much smaller, and much closer to home. They involve an email with an enticing attachment, or a link to reset our login details. And unfortunately, these “ordinary” attacks can cause irreparable damage to an organization’s infrastructure, finances and reputation, if that organization isn’t equipped to prevent them from taking hold.
Endpoint security (or endpoint protection) and antivirus software are two types of solution that protect businesses against these types of attack by actively scanning for malicious content and remediating the threat before it can spread.
The good news is that there’s an abundance of these solutions on the market, so there is bound to be one that fits exactly the specification that you need it to. On the other hand, because so many different solutions exist, it can be a challenge to work out exactly which one your business needs. This is made even more difficult by the fact that many people confuse the terms “antivirus software” and “endpoint security” and, although they do share some similarities, they’re two different types of protection. Before you can choose which solution to invest in, you need to be comfortable in the differences between the options available – including those whose names are often used interchangeably.
So what is the difference between endpoint security and antivirus software, and which type of solution does your organization need?
What Is Endpoint Security?
Endpoint security solutions are designed to protect your entire network against any malicious attacks by leveraging powerful firewalls, anti-malware and device management tools. They cover all of the endpoints connected to your network, including servers, desktops, mobile devices and IoT (Internet of Things) devices.
Admins manage endpoint security solutions centrally, which means that they can detect and respond to incidents across the entire network from any location, at any time. They can also roll out new software, patches and updates across all devices automatically, which ensures that all endpoints connected to the network are kept secure, without having to rely on employees to accept and administer updates to their own machines.
Because these solutions are managed centrally, it’s also easy for admins to remotely identify and monitor new devices, as well as remove devices should an employee’s contract come to an end.
Endpoint Security Use Case
Endpoint security is largely designed for business use, rather than individuals who are looking to secure their personal computers. Any organization that needs to monitor a number of endpoints remotely should consider investing in an endpoint security solution, and particularly those with a large BYOD device fleet or that allow their employees to connect to their corporate network from home.
This is because personal mobile devices and home internet connections tend to be much less secure than corporate devices used on-site. The reason for this is that most of us simply don’t take the same precautions with our personal devices as with our work ones. Across the world, for example, only one in four people use a VPN and, of those, only 15% use them to access the internet from a mobile device.
But what does that mean for your business? Well, think of each endpoint connected to your network as a little door. Bad actors can use those doors to gain access to corporate data stored on your network, and some doors are easier to open than others – those without any protection, and which are connected to a public Wi-Fi network, for example. Endpoint security solutions lock and bar these doors to help stop hackers from accessing your data through them.
Key Features Of Endpoint Security
So we’ve discussed what endpoint security is and why your organization might need it. If you do need to monitor and provide protection for a number of devices connected to your network, and if it’s important that you can do this remotely (which, really, is something that almost all of us need at the moment), then the next question to ask is, “How do I know which solution to invest in?”
Of course, every business has different security needs, so you need to make sure that whichever solution you choose has the capabilities to meet your specific use case. However, here are some of the most important features that any strong endpoint security solution should include:
- Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR): Any endpoint security solution worth its salt should allow you to scan your network for new devices connecting to it, and scan each of those devices for any existing vulnerabilities. It should then report these vulnerabilities to you, so that you can action them before a hacker can exploit them.
- Anti-malware and antivirus software: These tools are crucial to detecting and mitigating those “everyday” threats we discussed at the start of this article. This could include firewalls, data loss prevention (DLP) and web filtering technology.
- Management and reporting: You already know that the solution should alert you to any vulnerabilities across your network, but it should also be able to generate reports into your overall network health, so that you can improve your security over time. You should be able to access these reports from a centralized admin dashboard.
- Machine learning and AI: Today, most endpoint security solutions are hosted in the cloud. This means that they can utilize crowdsourced and artificial intelligence, as well as automated analytics, to ensure that your network is protected against the newest emerging threats, as well as those already known and listed in its database.
- Automated incident response: The best endpoint security solutions allow you to configure and automate step by step workflows to investigate and respond to incidents. By utilizing features such as blacklisting and sandboxing, your solution will take care of certain malware threats itself, freeing up your security team’s time and resources for those incidents that can’t be remediated so easily.
- Remote management: The new norm of remote work that we were introduced to last year isn’t going to end anytime soon. In fact, many organizations around the world have committed to a digital-first way of working post-pandemic, with only 12% of employees saying they would want to return to their offices full-time, and 72% preferring a hybrid mix of home and office working.
- Third-party integrations: Last, but not least, your solution needs to integrate easily with your existing security tools. No matter how powerful a product may be, there’s no point in investing in it if you can’t deploy it, and if it isn’t compatible with your infrastructure!
What Is Antivirus Software?
Antivirus software is a type of endpoint security that focuses on securing individual endpoints, rather than the entire network, by detecting and blocking malicious files. These solutions run in the background on each device you install them on, scanning files, applications and programs and comparing the code of each of these entities with information stored in the software’s database of known malware. If the code in any of your files matches a piece of malicious code in the database, that file is branded as malware and removed permanently or quarantined. Quarantined files can’t harm your systems, but allow the software vendor to analyze the threat and update the solution so that it’s better equipped to defend against similar malicious activity in the future.
Like endpoint security solutions, most modern antivirus software is cloud-hosted, so that vendors can use machine learning to automate analytics for improved detection rates. This also gives you the benefit of intelligence that’s crowdsourced from across the entire network of devices that the vendor is protecting; if a threat is detected on one device, all others are made aware of it. This helps to mitigate unknown and zero-day exploits as well as known threats.
Antivirus Software Use Case
Implementing a strong antivirus software is a really effective way to mitigate viruses, malware and phishing attacks. Antivirus solutions also provide protection against spyware, with which hackers can secretly monitor all of a user’s computer activity.
As well as providing protection against file-based malware strains, antivirus software filters information coming from the internet. This protects your endpoints against web-based threats, including spam sites, pop-up ads and malicious pages. The web protection feature is particularly useful in the education industry, as admins can usually configure a blacklist of potentially dangerous (or merely distracting) websites to protect their users, who are younger and often more vulnerable to exploits.
Because antivirus software solutions protect the individual devices connected to your network, they’re best suited to smaller organizations that don’t have a complex network architecture in place, and don’t have too many devices to protect. As the number of devices increases, it becomes more of a task to deploy the software across them and regularly administer updates.
Key Features Of Antivirus Software
If you’re looking to protect a smaller number of devices and can commit to installing your solution onto each of them individually, then antivirus software can be a really powerful form of defense for your network. Here are the top features to look for when you’re choosing an antivirus software for your business:
- Easy deployment and management: Because you have to install it on each individual endpoint, a strong antivirus software solution should be quick and easy to be deploy, and easy for the user to manage once it’s installed. If, for example, rolling out an update is too complicated or takes too much time, the user may not bother to do it, and the endpoint will remain vulnerable to exploits.
- Compatibility with different devices: The best antivirus software is compatible with laptops and mobile devices as well as desktops. This is particularly useful for organizations with employees who work remotely, or those whose employees may sign in to corporate apps (such as their email account or messaging apps) on their own personal devices. Even if the user only uses their phone for Teams, that phone is connected to your corporate network and could therefore provide an “in” for hackers if it isn’t properly secured. Which brings me on to…
- Remote monitoring and management: If employees are using their devices off-site, you need to be able to monitor the software from afar and check that they’re updating it as needed.
- Automated updates and patching: Your software needs to automatically update itself and roll out third-party patches – you can’t rely on your employees to keep their software up to date, and not all solutions allow you to actually make the updates yourself remotely, so this feature is really crucial.
- Real-time and manual scanning: Strong antivirus software solutions allow you to configure automatic scans to take pace at scheduled times when they’ll be least disruptive to your users. However, you should also be able to carry out a manual scan whenever you need to.
- Web filtering: Web-based threats can be just as harmful as file-based ones, and can cause real damage to your system if they’re allowed to infiltrate it. A powerful web filter will stop your employees from accessing harmful websites, eliminating this threat.
- Anti-phishing: 90% of organizations are targeted by phishing attacks and, although we’re getting better at not clicking on the links thanks to the increasing popularity of powerful awareness training solutions, phishing is still one of the biggest threats that organizations around the world are currently facing. For this reason, it’s important that your solution includes anti-phishing protection, such as URL scanning and attachment sandboxing.
- Efficiency: Finally, you need to make sure that the solution you choose is lightweight. Antivirus software should help your system to run faster, because it removes the malware and viruses that often cause your machine to become sluggish in their trail of corruption. However, some antivirus software solutions are bulky and can cause your systems to slow down when they run scans. If you can’t find a lightweight solution, you need to make sure that you can configure scans to take place at a time when employees aren’t using their devices.
The purpose of this article was never to answer the question of whether you need one of these solutions (the answer to that, of course, is a resounding yes), but which type you should invest in. Choosing whether to invest in an endpoint security solution or antivirus software depends on how big your network is, how many of your employees work remotely and whether you need to be able to monitor device activity remotely and centrally.
Hopefully, I’ve given you some insight into which of these categories you fit into, and you’re now feeling able to take the next step in your journey to protecting your endpoints: choosing the solution itself.
To help you with this, we’ve put together guides to the top antivirus software for small businesses and the top endpoint security solutions. Don’t let an “ordinary” attack put an end to your extraordinary business.