What Is Endpoint Security and Why Is It Important?
Cybercrime, cyberespionage and cyberwarfare attacks often target endpoints. Endpoint security safeguards endpoints from attacks. Endpoint security is a type of cybersecurity solution that protects endpoints from cyberthreats and unauthorized activity. Endpoint security solutions have evolved from traditional antivirus to provide a broad set of defenses to stop known and unknown malware, fileless attacks, exploits and post-intrusion attack techniques. Because threat actors may target endpoints as a pathway into an organization’s network, endpoint security solutions are often able to isolate compromised endpoints to prevent attacks from spreading to multiple endpoints.
As remote and mobile workers become more commonplace, the number of exposed endpoints grows, increasing the “protect surface” from a contained corporate campus to endpoints scattered around the globe. Organizations must ensure all endpoints that store or access corporate data, including employee-owned devices, are protected against cyberattacks.
“Endpoint security” is often used interchangeably with “endpoint protection” as well as “endpoint protection platform” (EPP), a term coined by Gartner. These software products are installed on endpoint devices and secure them against cyberattacks.
Increasingly, endpoint security has become a component of extended detection and response (XDR) solutions that span data sources to deliver enterprise-wide threat prevention, detection and response.
What Is an Endpoint?
An endpoint is a computing device that is connected to a local or wide area network. Examples of endpoints include desktop PCs, laptops, mobile devices, servers and even IoT (Internet of Things) devices.
Adversaries have set their sights on endpoints either as the ultimate targets of an attack, such as for ransomware or cryptocurrency mining threats, or as the entry point for an advanced, multistage attack. With organizational workforces becoming more mobile and users connecting to internal resources from off-premises endpoints all over the world, endpoints are increasingly susceptible to cyberattacks.
How Endpoint Protection Works
Today’s modern endpoint protection solutions help to secure endpoints by analyzing files before and after they execute to look for signs of suspicious activity or indicators of potential threats. This analysis is typically done via a single agent from the cloud to allow for speed and scalability with little if any impact on end-user device performance.
Administrators monitor and control endpoints through a centralized management console that can remotely connect to devices whether they are connected to the internet or not.
Modern Endpoint Protection vs. Traditional Antivirus
Traditional endpoint security, such as signature-based antivirus, has failed to keep up with fast-evolving threats, leaving companies vulnerable to attacks. Adversaries today have developed an arsenal of attacks that can evade signatures and bypass outdated antivirus defenses. Attackers can even avoid the use of malware altogether by using apps already installed on endpoints to carry out attacks, even if the apps have been disabled.
Stopping endpoint attacks requires more than simply blocking known malware. You need a solution that can automatically block known and zero-day attacks, without slowing down your endpoints.
Endpoint Security Components
When evaluating an endpoint security solution, look for the following essential features:
- Rock-solid endpoint threat prevention: The strongest endpoint security products combine multiple security engines to stop every stage of an endpoint attack, from initial reconnaissance and exploitation to installation and malware behavior. Evaluate whether endpoint security products can:
- Block exploits by technique, rather than by exploit signature.
- Block malware files using threat intelligence.
- Analyze files with an AI-powered local analysis engine.
- Analyze files with a cloud-based malware prevention service.
- Block malicious file behavior.
- Disrupt ransomware with a dedicated anti-ransomware module.
- Robust, out-of-the-box detection: While ideal solutions offer a comprehensive set of machine learning and analytics techniques to detect stealthy cyberthreats, noted above, capabilities and ease of use vary dramatically. Check out independent tests such as the MITRE ATT&CK Evaluation to assess the breadth and accuracy of detection coverage.
- Broad visibility for accelerated investigation and response: Siloed security tools generate endless alerts with limited context. To reduce response times, choose security tools that provide a complete picture of incidents with rich investigative details. They should simplify investigations by automatically revealing the root cause, sequence of events and threat intelligence details of alerts from any source. Additionally, flexible response options such as script execution, direct access to endpoints, host restore, and “search and destroy” let you quickly eliminate threats and recover from attacks.
- Cloud-delivered security: With more and more employees working remotely, you need a solution that lets you easily support all of them. Cloud-based management and deployment not only streamlines operations and eliminates burdensome on-premises servers, it also quickly scales to handle more users and more data.
- A single lightweight agent: Instead of installing bulky agents that continually scan your endpoints for attack signatures, opt for one agent for endpoint threat prevention as well as detection and response.
- Capabilities to reduce your attack surface: You should look for tools that can prevent data loss and unauthorized access with features such as host firewall, device control and disk encryption. Look for endpoint security solutions that offer granular control over USB access and firewall policies. Also, check out vulnerability assessment, host inventory, and rogue device discovery capabilities when selecting an endpoint security solution.
With ironclad protection, you can stop the most evasive attacks, such as the SolarWinds supply-chain attack and Apache Log4j vulnerabilities. Review third-party tests like the AV-Comparatives Endpoint Protection and Response (EPR) Test to validate security efficacy.
Endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions enable security teams to find and eliminate endpoint threats. EDR tools typically provide detection, investigation, threat hunting and response capabilities. EDR has become a critical component of any endpoint security solution because there’s simply no better way to detect an intrusion than by monitoring the target environment being attacked, and no better way to triage and investigate than using the telemetry collected by an EDR platform.
EDR solutions analyze events from laptops, desktop PCs, mobile devices, servers and even IoT and cloud workloads to identify suspicious activity. They generate alerts to help security operations analysts uncover, investigate and remediate issues. EDR tools also collect telemetry data on suspicious activity and may enrich that data with other contextual information from correlated events. Through these functions, EDR is instrumental in shortening response times for incident response teams and, ideally, eliminating threats before damage is done.
Why Detection and Response?
The best endpoint security tools can stop over 99% of all attacks automatically, but they can’t block every attack. The most sophisticated and potentially most damaging attacks require detection and response. These attacks, such as insider threats or advanced persistent threats, often require analysis and manual verification from a security analyst. So, while these attacks constitute a small percentage of all attacks that occur, they can be extremely destructive.
Oftentimes, the only way to identify these attacks is by analyzing activity over time and across data sources with machine learning. By combining rich data and analytics, you can detect the tactics and techniques used by advanced adversaries. You can also hunt for threats and get the visibility needed to investigate and respond to incidents.
Our Approach to Endpoint Security
You need a security solution that can automatically block known and zero-day attacks as well as provide the visibility your analysts require for detection and response. Cortex XDR from Palo Alto Networks gives you all of that and more.
Cortex XDR® is the industry’s first extended detection and response platform that integrates network, endpoint, cloud and third-party data to stop sophisticated attacks. Cortex XDR has been designed from the ground up to protect your whole organization holistically while simplifying operations. It delivers best-in-class endpoint security to stop exploits, malware, ransomware and fileless attacks. The Cortex XDR agent offers a complete prevention stack, starting with the broadest set of exploit protection modules available to block the exploits that lead to malware infections, as well as behavioral threat protection and AI-driven local analysis.
Cortex XDR leverages behavioral analytics to identify unknown and highly evasive threats targeting your network. Machine learning and AI models uncover threats from any source, including managed and unmanaged devices.
Cortex XDR helps you accelerate investigations by providing a complete picture of each incident. It stitches different types of data together and reveals the root cause and timeline of alerts, allowing your analysts to easily triage alerts. Tight integration with enforcement points lets you contain cyberthreats across your entire infrastructure.
With Cortex XDR, you can use your existing security infrastructure as sensors and enforcement points, eliminating the need to deploy new software or hardware. You can avoid provisioning cumbersome log servers on-premises by storing all your data in a scalable and secure cloud-based data lake.