When computers were slowly introduced into the workspace, the go-to way to protect your files and network were firewalls and antivirus/anti-malware software. Now that the backbone of the modern workplace is our computer network, the risks and threats have grown more advanced, and so has security.
When it comes to business cybersecurity, most services recommend endpoint protection while anti-malware is now more marketed to personal devices. Anti-malware and endpoint protection are necessary tools to block unsolicited, malicious parties, but the majority of data breaches and ransomware cases are caused by human error, according to a study by Verizon.
What is an endpoint?
An endpoint is any device or peripheral that connects users to a network as well as to the greater internet. Computers are endpoints, such as desktops, laptops and servers. Our mobile devices are endpoints. Even certain internet of things (IoT) devices can be considered endpoints. These need protection because they can be infiltrated by malicious parties to access the network and go after data or hold it hostage.
The number of endpoints in businesses has expanded exponentially and thus the number of opportunities for cyberattackers to get into our networks has also expanded. [Read related: Best Internet Security & Antivirus Software]
What's wrong with just anti-malware?
Antivirus has been a staple cybersecurity measure for homes and businesses since people first became aware of computer viruses. Since then, the number of threats besides viruses has risen and can be fit under the umbrella term malware, which includes worms, trojans, spyware, and ransomware. The problem with anti-malware is that it typically can only detect known threats. These programs read digital signatures and match them to a cybersecurity database to check if it's a known malicious program or connection. However, hackers are quick to adjust their codes to go undetected by anti-malware. According to Verizon, only 99 percent of malware is only seen once before it's modified. Therefore, a suite of different programs and methods are required to combat malicious parties at the endpoint level.
Endpoint protection or endpoint security products aren't just fancier names for antivirus. Companies with these offerings are usually referring to a comprehensive, standardized suite of security programs for all of your network's endpoints.
One of the main tenants is a standardized approach to security for all endpoints. Not one endpoint should be a weak point, meaning that your remote laptop should have the same level of protection as your work mobile phone and your office desktop.
Another key difference is that a comprehensive endpoint solution isn't centralized in one location of your network. It's evenly distributed among your endpoints, forming a fortified perimeter around your network, rather than a single, central stronghold. Each endpoint is a reinforced gatehouse, complete with its own arsenal to deal with attackers. These tools can include:
Anti-malware – Nearly every endpoint protection suite comes with an anti-malware program to sniff out incoming data that's already a known threat. New files that appear are scanned and either accepted or rejected. If it's flagged as suspicious, it's quarantined and later deleted.
Firewall – This is the first line of defense against incoming connections to your endpoints. The firewall checks the connections to your network before allowing them to pass, and like anti-malware, checks the signature for any known threats. It automatically blocks troublesome IP addresses from connecting to each endpoint.
Endpoint detection and response (EDR) – Anti-malware and firewalls can only protect your endpoints from known threats, and malware makers are quick to refresh their methods once they're found out and will send out brand new threats. EDR is the method at which your endpoint protection solution sets out to investigate and respond to suspected malicious activity. Through automated monitoring, analysis, and reporting, these advanced programs will detect abnormal activity within your network and flag it as a possible threat.
Different companies' EDR solutions work differently, with the best utilizing machine learning or AI to determine if something is wrong or out of the ordinary with certain connections and files. If something is flagged as suspicious, it automatically alerts your network admin to further investigate the activity and determine how to respond. The downside, however, is that if a threat is already in the system, sometimes it can be too late to do anything before the damage is done. The faster it can act, the better, so if an endpoint is suspected to be compromised, the system can quarantine the device.
Encryption tools – To prevent hackers from infiltrating your network with ill-gotten login information from intercepted corporate emails and file transfers, many endpoint protection solutions include tools for encrypting outgoing data. Only the intended recipient of the data can decrypt it.
Admin controls – While endpoint protection is dispersed across many devices, there's still a central admin point to manage the entire network and its settings. Most services give you the choice to manage your network through a cloud-based SaaS interface, allowing authorized users to access it from any endpoint or it can be hosted on on-premises servers. From here, you or your security specialist can view flagged activity, set rules and policies, enroll new endpoints, and push out updates.
Much like how antivirus eventually evolved into anti-malware as the must-have protection software, endpoint protection is the standard for companies with many devices. While lots of endpoints can mean more productivity and efficiency in the workplace, it also opens your network to more threats.
Even if one endpoint is infiltrated, it could mean game over for your data, leaving you susceptible to ransomware that can be impossible to get rid of without paying the ransom or wiping out your system. If you only need one or two devices protected, then a less drastic security system is recommended.