Endpoint security and antivirus software are related but distinct cybersecurity technologies. While both are aimed at protecting devices from malware and cyber threats, they work in different ways.
What is endpoint security?
Endpoint security refers to a centralized approach to protecting all endpoints on a network, including laptops, desktops, servers, mobile devices, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The endpoint security platform installs software agents on each device to monitor activity, detect threats, and prevent infections. It provides visibility and control across every endpoint from a single console.
Key capabilities of endpoint security platforms include:
- Antivirus/antimalware scanning to detect and remove malware
- Firewall controls to prevent unauthorized network access
- Endpoint detection and response (EDR) to continuously monitor activity
- Application control to whitelist/blacklist apps
- Device control to restrict use of removable media
- Web filtering to control access to websites
- Data loss prevention (DLP) to detect unauthorized data exfiltration
In addition to real-time protection, endpoint security provides post-infection analysis, like root cause analysis, to study threats and strengthen defenses against future attacks.
What is antivirus software?
Antivirus software is designed specifically to detect, block, and remove malware like viruses, Trojans, spyware, and ransomware. It uses signature-based detection to scan files and processes on a device looking for patterns that match known malware. Many antivirus programs also utilize heuristics and machine learning to identify new and emerging threats based on behavior.
Key capabilities of antivirus software include:
- Real-time scanning of files, processes, memory, boot sectors, etc.
- Malware detection using signatures, heuristics, and machine learning
- Quarantining infected files
- Blocking access to malicious websites
- Removing malware and undoing modifications to the system
- Updating virus definitions database
Antivirus products are focused specifically on malware protection for individual devices. They do not provide visibility or control across multiple endpoints like a centralized endpoint security platform.
Is endpoint security an antivirus?
Endpoint security platforms typically include antivirus capabilities as part of their suite of protections. However, endpoint security solutions provide a broader set of safeguards than standalone antivirus software.
So in summary:
- Antivirus is specifically focused on detecting and removing malware
- Endpoint security includes antivirus capabilities but also provides additional protections across networks and devices
- Endpoint security is a full suite solution while antivirus is a single component
Antivirus alone is no longer sufficient for robust enterprise security. Endpoint security platforms are necessary to defend modern networks and devices against sophisticated cyber attacks. The centralized control and added capabilities like EDR, firewalls, and DLP make endpoint security solutions much more comprehensive than typical antivirus software.
Key differences between endpoint security and antivirus
|Endpoint Security||Antivirus Software|
|Centralized agent deploys to all endpoints||Individual software installed on each device|
|Prevents file-based and file-less attacks||Focuses on file-based malware|
|Real-time monitoring and visibility across endpoints||Scans devices individually|
|Can restrict device usage with controls||No control capabilities|
|Post-breach analysis and remediation||No post-breach capabilities|
|AI-enabled threat detection||Signature-based threat detection|
|Flexible, scalable platform||Intended for individual devices|
This comparison shows that while antivirus software is a component of endpoint security, endpoint security solutions provide a much broader set of advanced capabilities to defend against modern cyber threats.
Should you have both endpoint security and antivirus?
For superior protection, organizations should deploy a robust endpoint security platform that includes antivirus capabilities. Relying on antivirus software alone is insufficient for enterprise security:
- Antivirus cannot prevent sophisticated, file-less attacks that endpoint security is designed to stop
- Antivirus lacks centralized visibility and control across connected devices
- Endpoint security AI/machine learning offers better detection than signature-based antivirus
- Antivirus lacks capabilities like EDR, firewalls, DLP that endpoint security provides
The integrated protections in a unified endpoint security platform surpass what individual antivirus products can offer. However, there are some cases where antivirus still provides value:
- Adding an extra layer of malware protection for high-risk endpoints
- Protecting devices not covered by endpoint security like IoT
- Catching malware missed by endpoint security
- Removing infections from devices to complement endpoint security
Antivirus may serve as a supplementary form of protection in some scenarios. But overall, endpoint security platforms with built-in antivirus capabilities are far superior to antivirus alone.
Endpoint security vs. antivirus: Key benefits
Here are some of the top benefits that a complete endpoint security platform provides compared to standalone antivirus software:
- Broader protection – endpoint security prevents a wider range of attacks like file-less and script-based threats that evade antivirus
- Unified view – single pane-of-glass console provides visibility across all endpoints rather than individual devices
- AI and machine learning – conducts behavioral analysis to detect emerging zero-day threats that signature-based antivirus misses
- Post-breach capabilities – EDR provides continuous monitoring and response to attacks that get past initial defenses
- Control and hardening – restrict endpoint functionality and access to minimize pathways for infection
- Network security – on-endpoint firewall and web filtering further reduce attack surface
- Risk analysis – produces reports to identify vulnerabilities and improvements to strengthen security posture
- Simplified management – deploy, manage, and update endpoint security from a centralized admin console
Endpoint security platforms essentially combine the malware detection of antivirus with a complete suite of advanced protections to defend endpoints, users, applications, and data.
Types of endpoint security solutions
There are a few primary categories of endpoint security solutions:
- Traditional antivirus replacement – Includes antivirus capabilities along with added endpoint protections
- EDR (endpoint detection and response) – Focuses on continuous monitoring and incident response
- Managed detection and response (MDR) – Provides fully managed threat monitoring, detection, and response services
- Cloud-delivered – Endpoint agent connects to a cloud service for lightweight management
- AI-driven – Uses artificial intelligence and machine learning as the primary means of threat detection
However, most enterprise endpoint security platforms exhibit traits across these categories. For example, leading solutions leverage AI and EDR while also providing antivirus replacement via a cloud-managed architecture.
Leading endpoint security vendors
Some of the top endpoint security vendors include:
- Symantec (Broadcom)
- Microsoft Defender
- VMware Carbon Black
- Trend Micro
- Palo Alto Networks Cortex
- McAfee (TPG)
- Blackberry Cylance
Choosing the right endpoint security solution depends on your organization’s specific needs and infrastructure. Key evaluation criteria include detection accuracy, prevention capabilities, ease of management, and integration with existing security stacks. Be sure to properly test solutions and compare costs during your selection process.
Endpoint security architecture
A typical endpoint security architecture consists of the following components:
- Central server or cloud console – Manages security policies, configurations, and dashboards
- Database – Stores threat intelligence, detected endpoints, and activity logs
- Lightweight endpoint agent – Installed on each device to secure it
- Web portal – Allows access to management console from web browser
Additional optional elements include on-premises concentrators to aggregate traffic from endpoints and hardware appliances for on-network detection and caching.
The endpoint agents connect to the central server to receive security updates like new malware signatures and software patches. Agents report detected threats, policy violations, and telemetry back to the server. Communication is encrypted end-to-end to prevent tampering or interception.
Administrators access the web-based management console to configure security policies and features enforced by the agents across endpoints. Dashboards provide visibility into security alerts, endpoint compliance, threats detected, vulnerabilities, and other activity.
A cloud-based architecture offers flexible, scalable deployment without needing to maintain locally hosted servers. However, some organizations opt for on-premises implementations to retain control of data within their environment.
Implementing endpoint security
Key steps for implementing an endpoint security solution include:
- Evaluate vendors – Compare solutions against your requirements and test options in your infrastructure
- Select platform – Choose the right endpoint security product based on evaluation
- Procure licenses – Obtain necessary licenses from the vendor for your endpoints
- Install server/SaaS – Set up on-premises management server or cloud instance
- Configure policies and settings – Tailor configurations to your specific needs
- Deploy agents – Install lightweight endpoint agents on all devices
- Onboard devices – Bring endpoints under management of security platform
- Monitor and tune – Fine-tune policies and respond to threats detected
Be sure to integrate the endpoint security solution with existing security stacks, like SIEMs and firewalls. Provide ample training for staff on utilizing the management console and responding to alerts.
Endpoint security best practices
Follow these best practices to get the most value from endpoint security:
- Enable all protection modules like firewalls and DLP for layered security
- Set policies to match your acceptable use cases and risk tolerance
- Make exceptions and exclusions only where essential to avoid gaps
- Ensure agents are installed on every endpoint, including mobile and IoT
- Regularly patch endpoints and update antivirus signatures
- Monitor endpoints for compliance with baseline security configs
- Review logs and alerts daily and respond per your incident response plan
- Provide ongoing user training on endpoint security topics like phishing
- Conduct periodic penetration testing and security audits to identify gaps
- Integrate with existing security tools via APIs for unified visibility
Endpoint security should also be supported by strong network security, access controls, and other IT safeguards as part of a defense-in-depth strategy.
Endpoint security challenges
Deploying endpoint security comes with some potential challenges including:
- Performance impact – Endpoint agents and scanning can use CPU and memory resources
- Compatibility issues – Conflicts with other software or legacy systems
- Coverage gaps – Not all devices properly enrolled or protected
- False positives – Legitimate files flagged as malicious
- Skill requirements – Staff need training to use solution effectively
- Ongoing management – Time and effort required for monitoring and maintenance
However, when implemented properly using security best practices, the benefits of endpoint security far outweigh these potential drawbacks.
The future of endpoint security
Endpoint security continues advancing to address new threats like:
- Increasing use of encryption by attackers to evade detection
- Rise in file-less and malware-less attacks that leave no signature
- Growth of IoT expanding the number of vulnerable endpoints
- Sophisticated nation-state sponsored attacks
Some emerging capabilities in next-gen endpoint security platforms include:
- Automated threat responses like isolating compromised endpoints
- Tight integration with MITRE ATT&CK framework for better detection
- XDR (extended detection and response) for broader visibility
- Deception technology like honeypots to misdirect attackers
- Greater use of threat intelligence for proactive defense
As long as cybercriminals seek to infiltrate corporate infrastructure, endpoint security will remain a critical sphere of IT security now and in the future.
Endpoint security solutions encompass antivirus capabilities as a component but also provide significantly more protection. With advanced AI, behavior monitoring, post-breach detection, and other unique benefits, endpoint security platforms are vastly superior to standalone antivirus software.
Robust endpoint security is essential for defending modern networks and devices against sophisticated cyber threats. Organizations should adopt strong unified endpoint security supplemented with antivirus in some use cases, instead of relying on antivirus alone.
Carefully evaluating different solutions and configuring policies appropriately allows endpoint security to significantly enhance enterprise security postures while providing centralized visibility and control not possible with antivirus products.