What’s the Difference Between Antivirus and Endpoint Security?

What's the Difference Between Antivirus and Endpoint Security?

What’s the difference between antivirus and endpoint security? Why should your enterprise case? How should it affect your enterprise cybersecurity solution decisions? 

Indeed, the difference between antivirus and endpoint security looks almost indistinguishable from a distance. In fact, antivirus serves as the progenitor of almost all cybersecurity, confusing matters even more. However, the two prove wildly different on closer examination. In fact, knowing and understanding the difference between antivirus and endpoint security could strengthen your enterprise cybersecurity. 

To fully understand the difference between antivirus and endpoint security, we break down the terms. 

Antivirus Software: The Cybersecurity Progenitor

In the business world, antivirus possesses a quality which other cybersecurity solutions struggle to achieve: recognition. Partially, this stems from longevity; antivirus solutions first came to prominence over twenty years ago. Therefore they remain top-of-mind for my IT decision-makers even today. 

Yet what exactly does antivirus software do? At its core, antivirus prevents malware. Of course, “malware” serves as a catch-all term for malicious programs trying to penetrate your digital perimeter. Viruses fall under the malware umbrella, as do spyware, keyloggers, worms, and bots.  

Obviously, these cyberattacks pose a significant risk to your enterprise. Antivirus thus works to identify and block malware from penetrating and dwelling on users’ device. Your IT security team can install antivirus on the machine directly, allowing it to operate in the background without interrupting business processes. Additionally, it can perform real-time scans on emails, websites, and downloads.    

However, antivirus software can come with some serious downsides. First and foremost, most legacy antivirus solutions rely on signature-based detection and prevention. This doesn’t fit with increasingly signature-less threats or outright fileless threats which became increasingly common. Further, antivirus operates optimally in environments with unencrypted data flows and basic threats. 

Endpoint Security, The Successor 

Endpoint security serves as the true successor to legacy antivirus for enterprise cybersecurity. In fact, it actually goes so far as to make antivirus a capability in its overall platform. 

Let’s start at the beginning. Any device used by an end-user to connect to a corporate IT network qualifies as an endpoint. Thy can include PCs and workstations as well as mobile devices and IoT devices. 

Endpoint security aims to protect the IT infrastructure at large by protecting the endpoints as gateways to it. As such, it does protect against malware and other external threats. However, it also does so much more than that.  

First, it offers your IT security team a central management portal, which helps them keep track of all endpoints and maintain visibility. It also allows them to monitor problem areas and suspicious data traffic movement. Additionally, through centralized management, you can also protect the endpoints of remote workforces. Antivirus can’t provide that. 

Second, endpoint security can also restrict what devices can or cannot connect to your endpoints. Thus you could bar a USB carrying a malicious malware payload from installing on certain USB ports without permission. Antivirus doesn’t offer such capabilities. 

Finally, endpoint security offers a plethora of capabilities antivirus cannot provide. Here are some of those capabilities in detail. 

The Difference Between Antivirus and Endpoint Security in Capabilities

The full capabilities of endpoint security could take an entire article to elucidate in detail. Critically, these capabilities also include antivirus, as most solutions offer some form of malware prevention and detection. Often they also offer better threat intelligence to keep your team abreast of evolving threats. Some of the other important capabilities include the following: 

Data Loss Prevention

Endpoint security doesn’t just focus on endpoints; it also protects the data stored on them. Data Loss Prevention monitors data on your corporate endpoints, can block any unwarranted traffic, and notify your IT security team of anomalies. You should have a clear idea of where sensitive data moves in and out of your network. 

Sandboxing

Perhaps the most significant difference between antivirus and endpoint security is the latter can evaluate ambiguous programs; these don’t fall neatly into either malware or innocent programs, and as such antivirus almost never recognizes them or prevents them. 

Endpoint security sandboxing creates an isolated and secure digital environment which perfectly replicates your typical end-user operating system. Much like a normal OS, the sandbox can run codes and executable files. At the same time, its isolation and replicated nature prevent any changes to your true databases or servers.

This allows for program testing in a legitimate-seeming environment. Usually, the program reveals its true intentions without damaging your actual workflows. Then it becomes a question of remediation. 

Next-Generation Firewalls

Firewalls monitor digital traffic coming into and leaving the network, tracking and blocking suspicious domains. Next-generation firewalls can actually examine the messages of possible malware and discover them in real-time. They also supplement Data Loss Prevention capabilities.   

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)

According to Gartner, endpoint security and enterprise cybersecurity must deploy and utilize EDR for effective security. EDR monitors your endpoints and databases for malicious activity internally and alerts your security team if it detects anomalies; in other words, it functions like a SIEM threat detection capability (although it works best with integration with SIEM).

With EDR, the difference between antivirus and endpoint security becomes apparent. Antivirus can only block against threats, while endpoint security can find threats dwelling on devices. Since hackers can eventually break through any digital perimeter with enough time and resources, you should consider the latter heavily.  

The Difference Between Antivirus and Endpoint Security Matters 

Your enterprise can’t keep neglecting its cybersecurity. You also can’t keep choosing the familiarity of antivirus software over the capabilities of endpoint security. Yes, it appears the latter should be your choice for cybersecurity every time. Antivirus just can’t keep up with modern digital threats as they evolve and grow more malicious. 

You need to make the right choice today before hackers come knocking. Given the prevalence of cybersecurity breaches, you may never get another chance again. 

You can get started by checking out our 2019 Endpoint Security Buyer’s Guide. We cover the top providers in the market and their key capabilities. We also provide a Bottom Line analysis for each one.

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Ben Canner

Editor, Cybersecurity at Solutions Review
Ben Canner is an enterprise technology writer and analyst covering Identity Management, SIEM, Endpoint Protection, and Cybersecurity writ large. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from Clark University in Worcester, MA. He previously worked as a corporate blogger and ghost writer. You can reach him via Twitter and LinkedIn.
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