What is Endpoint Security?

5 min. read

Endpoint security protects a network by securing the endpoints, or entry points, of end-user devices such as desktops, laptops, and mobile devices from being exploited by malicious actors and campaigns. It involves using security software, hardware, and other processes to monitor and manage these devices to detect, analyze, and respond to cybersecurity threats.

This type of security is crucial because each device with a remote connecting to the network creates a potential entry point for security threats.

The three main types of endpoint security are:

  • Antivirus Software detects, prevents, and removes malware.
  • Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) monitors and collects data to identify advanced threats.
  • MDM/endpoint management solutions manage, monitor, and secure employees' mobile devices.

These types of endpoint security are often used in conjunction, forming a layered defense strategy against a wide range of cyber threats.

The term 'endpoint security' is often used interchangeably with “endpoint protection” and “endpoint protection platform” (EPP), coined by Gartner. These software products are installed on endpoint devices to secure them against cyberattacks.

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After a Ransomware Attack left Enloe Medical Center’s security operations exposed, Unit 42® and Cortex XDR was adopted to stop sophisticated attacks.


Why Prioritizing Endpoint Security Matters More Than Ever

As companies and organizations increasingly rely on technology to conduct business, they become more vulnerable to cyber threats. Endpoint security has, therefore, become a crucial aspect of protecting organizational assets. It involves securing the various endpoints that connect to a network, such as laptops, desktops, smartphones, and IoT devices.

Endpoint security aims to prevent unauthorized access, data theft, malware infections, and other cyber threats that can compromise the security and integrity of the entire network. With the rise of sophisticated cyber attacks such as cybercrime, cyberespionage, and cyberwarfare, prioritizing endpoint security has never been more critical.

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. By implementing robust endpoint security measures, organizations can protect their sensitive data, reduce the risk of cyber attacks, and ensure business continuity.

Explore key strategies in endpoint security solutions in our comprehensive guide for security professionals: What is an Endpoint Security Solution?


What Is an Endpoint?

An endpoint is a computing device 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 as the ultimate targets of an attack, such as 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 worldwide, endpoints are increasingly susceptible to cyberattacks.

See how attackers execute code and exploit vulnerabilities utilizing endpoints in our article, What is an Endpoint?

Understanding Endpoints and Their Vulnerabilities

Endpoints, any computing device connected to a network, range from desktop PCs and laptops to mobile devices, servers, and IoT (Internet of Things) devices. The increasing mobility of workforces and the prevalence of remote access have heightened the vulnerability of these endpoints to cyberattacks.


Contrasting Modern Endpoint Protection with Traditional Antivirus

The current state of cybersecurity threats has exposed a significant shortcoming in traditional antivirus solutions that rely on signature-based detection. Such solutions cannot keep pace with the rapidly evolving sophistication of modern endpoint attacks. Cybersecurity experts have noted that these attacks often circumvent traditional defenses, making adopting endpoint protection solutions that can detect and respond to known and unknown attacks imperative.

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Endpoint protection solutions are often centrally managed and work by deploying an agent to each endpoint, which then communicates back to a central server. This setup allows consistent policy enforcement, monitoring, and rapid response to threats across all endpoints.

Endpoint protection typically includes several key components:

  • Antivirus and Anti-malware Software: To detect and remove malicious software.
  • Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR): To provide advanced threat detection, investigation, and response capabilities.
  • Firewall: To monitor and control incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules.
  • Email Filtering: To prevent phishing and other email-based attacks.
  • Application Control: To restrict unauthorized applications from executing.
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP): To prevent sensitive data from being leaked or misused.
  • Mobile Device Management (MDM): For managing and securing mobile devices in an organization.

Modern endpoint protection solutions leverage advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect and prevent zero-day attacks. These solutions also provide real-time threat intelligence and analysis to help organizations avoid emerging threats.

Deep dive into modern endpoint protection solutions and learn how to leverage advanced technologies by reading What is Endpoint Protection?


The Evolution of Endpoint Security Solutions

Endpoint security has transcended its traditional antivirus roots, evolving into a multifaceted defense system. Today's solutions are engineered to counteract a wide spectrum of threats, including known and unknown malware, fileless attacks, and sophisticated post-intrusion tactics. The ability of these solutions to isolate compromised endpoints is crucial in preventing the proliferation of attacks within an organization’s network.

Adapting to a Changing Work Environment

The challenge of protecting an ever-expanding array of endpoints has intensified. 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 are now tasked with ensuring the security of all endpoints interacting with corporate data, including those owned by employees, across global locations.

Deep dive into 10 Requirements for Securing Endpoints to effectively protect your systems, users and endpoints.


Integrating Endpoint Security with XDR

In recent years, the scope of endpoint security has expanded to encompass its integration within extended detection and response (XDR) frameworks. XDR solutions are designed to deliver comprehensive threat prevention, detection, and response capabilities across multiple data sources, enabling organizations to adopt a more holistic and proactive approach to security.

By leveraging XDR, enterprises can gain greater visibility into their networks and endpoints, allowing them to identify and respond to cyber threats more quickly and effectively. Additionally, XDR solutions can help organizations streamline their security operations by providing a unified platform for managing and analyzing security data.


How Modern Endpoint Protection Functions

Modern endpoint protection solutions are designed to provide comprehensive security to endpoints. Typically, these solutions use cloud-based agents to analyze files pre- and post-execution for suspicious activity or threat indicators. This analysis helps to ensure that endpoints are protected from all types of security threats.

One key feature of contemporary endpoint protection solutions is their ability to ensure minimal impact on end-user device performance. This is achieved through lightweight agents and efficient scanning algorithms that require minimal system resources.

Moreover, administrators can easily monitor and control endpoints through a centralized management console that can remotely connect to devices irrespective of their internet connectivity. This console enables administrators to view the security status of all endpoints in real-time, quickly identify potential security breaches, and take immediate action to mitigate them.

Should you replace your traditional AV with more advanced technologies? Find out by reading Advanced Endpoint Protection Protects You from Dated Antiviruses.

Endpoint protection helps block endpoint attacks like malware, ransomware, exploits and advanced threats.

Resilient features block endpoint attacks like malware, ransomware, exploits and advanced threats.


Endpoint Security Components

When evaluating an endpoint security solution, look for the following essential features:

Rock-Solid Endpoint Threat Prevention

The most robust products combine multiple security engines to stop every stage of an endpoint attack, from initial survey and exploitation to installation and malware behavior. Evaluate whether they can:

  • Block exploits by technique rather than by exploit signature.
  • Block malware files using threat intelligence and AI-powered local analysis.
  • Analyze files with a cloud-based malware prevention service.
  • Block malicious file behavior.
  • Disrupt ransomware with a dedicated anti-ransomware module.

Resilient, Out-of-the-Box Detection

While ideal solutions offer machine learning and analytics techniques to detect stealthy cyberthreats, capabilities and ease of use vary. Assess the breadth and accuracy of detection coverage through independent tests like the MITRE ATT&CK Evaluation.

Broad Visibility for Accelerated Investigation and Response

Choose tools that provide a complete picture of incidents with rich investigative details to reduce response times. They should simplify investigations by automatically revealing the root cause, sequence of events, and threat intelligence details from any source. Flexible response options like script execution, direct endpoint access, host restore, and "search and destroy" let you quickly eliminate threats and recover.

Cloud-Delivered Security

With more remote employees, you need a solution that supports all of them easily. Cloud-based management and deployment streamline operations, eliminate on-premises servers, and quickly scale to handle more users and data.

  • A single lightweight agent: Instead of bulky agents that continually scan for attack signatures, opt for one agent for endpoint threat prevention, detection, and response.
  • Capabilities to reduce your attack surface: Look for tools to prevent data loss and unauthorized access with features like host firewall, device control, and disk encryption. Also, look for granular control over USB access, firewall policies, vulnerability assessment, host inventory, and rogue device discovery capabilities.

Discover 5 ways Endpoint Security and Network Security Should Work Together to avoid the wrong endpoint security solution.


EDR Solutions

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.

Explore how Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR); discover how it monitors endpoint devices by reading, What is Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)?


Why Comprehensive Detection and Response Matter

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 or advanced persistent threats, often require analysis and manual verification from a security analyst.

While these attacks constitute a small percentage, they can be highly destructive. Often, 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.

Learn how to measure your endpoint security effectiveness by reading 3 Ways to Measure Endpoint Security Effectiveness.


Cortex XDR: A Leading Solution in Endpoint Security

Cortex XDR® from Palo Alto Networks exemplifies an advanced endpoint security solution. It integrates network, endpoint, cloud, and third-party data to thwart sophisticated attacks and simplify operations. The platform’s behavioral analytics, AI-driven threat detection, and comprehensive incident overview position it as a formidable tool in modern cybersecurity.

Cortex XDR® is the industry’s first extended detection and response platform, integrating network, endpoint, cloud, and third-party data to stop sophisticated attacks. It 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 to block the exploits that lead to malware infections, 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 data types together and reveals the root cause and timeline of alerts, allowing your analysts to triage alerts quickly. Tight integration with enforcement points lets you contain cyber threats 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.


What is Endpoint Security FAQs

Endpoint security is a cybersecurity approach focused on protecting devices such as computers, mobile phones, and tablets that connect to your network from threats and malicious activities. It involves using security software, policies, and practices to prevent, detect, and respond to attacks that target these devices. Endpoint security solutions can include antivirus software, firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and more advanced tools like Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) or Mobile Threat Defense (MTD) solutions.
Endpoint security is crucial because endpoints are often the first point of attack for cybercriminals looking to breach a network. With the increasing number of devices connected to corporate networks and the rise of remote work, the attack surface has expanded significantly. Endpoints can easily become entry points for malware, ransomware, and other malicious activities if not properly secured. By securing these devices, organizations can protect their data, maintain customer trust, and comply with regulatory requirements.
Endpoint security works by deploying security software on the endpoint itself or through a centralized management platform that communicates with the endpoint. This software monitors the device for suspicious activities, scans for malware, and enforces security policies set by the organization. Advanced endpoint security solutions use signature-based, behavioral, and heuristic analysis techniques to detect and block threats. They can also include capabilities like sandboxing, where potential threats are isolated and analyzed in a safe environment, and encryption to protect data even if an endpoint is compromised.
While antivirus is a critical component of endpoint security, focusing mainly on detecting and removing malware, endpoint security encompasses a broader range of protection measures. Endpoint security solutions not only include antivirus capabilities but also provide additional layers of security such as firewall protection, intrusion prevention systems (IPS), data loss prevention (DLP), and advanced threat protection features like EDR. This comprehensive approach addresses a wider array of threats and provides more robust protection for endpoints.
To implement effective endpoint security, organizations should start by assessing their current security posture and identifying potential vulnerabilities. This involves inventorying all devices that access the network and categorizing them based on risk. Next, they should adopt a layered security strategy that includes deploying endpoint security solutions, regularly updating and patching software, and educating employees about cybersecurity best practices. It's also essential to continuously monitor and analyze endpoint activities for signs of compromise and to have an incident response plan to address any security breaches quickly. Choosing the right endpoint security solution that fits an organization's needs and compliance requirements is key to effective implementation.