What is Endpoint Security? 

Endpoint security is the process of securing in real time any device that accesses a corporate network. Any single device, if left unprotected, could be considered a vulnerable link in the chain that has the potential to affect the entire network, which is why endpoint security is so critical to an overall cybersecurity program.

According to Gartner, endpoint protection platforms (EPPs) provide the facility to deploy agents or sensors to secure managed endpoints, including desktops, laptops, servers, and mobile devices.

What is an Endpoint? 

An endpoint is a device or server that connects to a network. In addition to those mentioned above – desktop PCs, laptop PCs, servers, mobile devices – endpoints can include phones, internet of things (IoT) devices like kitchen appliances or thermostats, cameras, and really anything that can connect to a network and engage in data sharing and transfer.

We don’t often think of all of these devices – especially those we use in our personal lives – as potentially not secure, but somebody somewhere has the job of protecting that device in conjunction with the rest of the network it’s accessing. Complicating matters is the use of devices in work life that can bleed into personal life.

For example, if you have work apps like Slack or Google Workspace on your personal phone, your corporate administrators may require you to install certain identity and access management (IAM) apps like Okta or Duo to protect those specific work-based applications connecting to your corporate network.

What is an Endpoint Protection Platform (EPP)? 

An EPP is a platform that facilitates deployment of monitoring agents to combat malware and other types of attacks on every endpoint across an organization's network. EPPs are generally very good at doing what they say: protecting an endpoint. However, further-reaching solutions would be required to be able to take a more macro stance in terms of whole-network protection.

What is Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)? 

EDR solutions provide visibility and insight to close security gaps by identifying and reporting on real-time risk, testing defenses, and – most importantly – detecting endpoint compromise. An EDR solution should be able to proactively identify and prioritize weak points across a network and its users.

EPP vs. EDR 

The fundamental difference between EPP and EDR platforms and solutions is prevention versus detection of an intrusion or attack. An EPP leverages agents to help prevent malicious file execution on endpoints with technology like next generation antivirus (NGAV). 

Modern EDR solutions will usually incorporate extended detection and response (XDR) capabilities to go beyond simple detection and response (D&R) to impart single-pane-of-glass coverage fueled by both endpoint telemetry and broader data collection from beyond the perimeter. This can vastly improve an organization's ability to detect incidents earlier in the attack chain as well as shut down attacks before any – or very little – damage is done.

How Does Endpoint Security Work? 

Endpoint security works by an EPP platform continuously monitoring suspicious activity and alerting network administrators to a possible breach. A sensor or agent installed on an endpoint can securely stream data from that endpoint to a centralized EPP so that network traffic analysis can take place and – if necessary – mitigating actions can be taken. Let's take a look at the various types of attacks endpoint data can reveal, thereby determining an appropriate response:

  • Malware installation: There are differences in the way that malware is installed versus normal software. 
  • Malware persistence: There are only a finite number of ways that malware can persist on a system. 
  • Attacker issues commands: Attackers tend to interface with a target system using an operating-system terminal. 
  • Attacker steals credentials: Prior to lateral movement, an attacker will need credentials. 
  • Attacker downloads additional tools: Attackers typically bring a toolkit with them. 
  • Attacker moves laterally to another asset: Attackers tend to jump to other assets on a network in hopes of gleaning more general data en route to their ultimate target asset. 

Securing network systems against future attacks means internally posing post-breach questions during an investigation period. 

  • How did the attacker get in? 
  • What tools did the attacker use? 
  • Where did the attacker move to? 
  • What credentials were used? 
  • What data did the attacker have access to? 
  • What data was stolen? 
  • Is the attacker still in the environment? 
  • What specific remediation steps can you take? 
  • What can you do to prevent these kinds of attacks from happening in the future? 

Monitoring, D&R actions, and investigations all take place from a central location or dashboard within an EPP. If a breach did occur of a type listed above, security personnel can execute tasks like blocking malware, vulnerability detection, remotely disabling assets and/or endpoints to contain any fallout, and much more.

Key Components to Look for in an Endpoint Security Solution 

Each business and its accompanying security organization has different needs, but the big commonality lies in the technology we all depend on to do our jobs. Therefore, let's take a look at some components no endpoint security solution should be without. 

Endpoint Visibility 

The number and types of devices accessing company data and applications has grown exponentially over the past decade. This is due in large part to the pandemic, but also a general adoption of technology that has allowed companies to hire talent from outside of the immediate geographic area they call home. In this environment, it’s an understatement to say endpoint visibility is critical.

Digital forensics and incident response (DFIR) tools can be critical in helping security teams quickly collect and view digital forensic evidence from across endpoints as well as proactively monitor them for suspicious activity. 

Scope Broadening 

With the aforementioned decentralization of the workforce, it's generally accepted that endpoint agents are no longer optional. Security programs must be able to reach into any endpoint at any time to be effective against threats. Endpoint agents should have EDR capabilities recording key system events, real-time investigative data acquisition, NGAV applications that can terminate threats based on behaviors, active threat prevention, and on-demand mitigation and remediation capabilities.

People must also broaden their capabilities. In this sense, that means end-user education should be a key part of a security program’s investment strategy. The dollar cost of end-user security education is tiny in comparison to the cost of technology, headcount, and breach-associated costs. Security awareness training can be specifically tailored to an organization based on the types of threats prevalent in its industry.

Next Generation Antivirus (NGAV)

NGAV goes beyond traditional antivirus to widen the view on an organization’s endpoints. An NGAV solution detects malware and fileless attacks to prevent attacker tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and malicious behavior used either with purpose or unwittingly by someone who is, in fact, properly credentialed.

NGAV blocks malicious code hiding within processes from executing before that code is even recognized. By leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and other capabilities, NGAV can learn from past behaviors of the endpoints on which it is installed. It can then more efficiently block diverse attacks across the entire endpoint ecosystem.

Why is Endpoint Security Important? 

Endpoint security is important because it helps to pinpoint and reduce risk across an organization. Real-time detection of threats, remote and virtual-infrastructure monitoring, and rapid agent deployment are just a few benefits endpoint security can bring about.

Endpoint security strategy is also changing, going – as discussed above – beyond the endpoint to become a key part of a larger XDR program. This is important if security organizations wish to become more proactive, detecting signals of a potential impending attack and shutting it down before any damage is done.

Every employee interacts with multiple endpoints every day, including personal devices used for work purposes, hopping on and off the corporate network. A robust monitoring and D&R program helps keep that ecosystem of assets shielded from ever-more-sophisticated breaches, lateral movements, and data theft.

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