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What is Endpoint Security? Benefits, Types, and Best Practices

Endpoint security involves finding, blocking, and fixing attacks on any endpoint anywhere

Explainer

In today’s digital world, organizations face a constant threat of cyberattacks from malicious actors who seek to exploit their valuable data and resources. Organizations need to secure not only their network perimeter but also their endpoints, which are devices that connect to the network and can access the organization’s data and systems. Examples of endpoint devices include laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets, servers, and even Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

[Read also: What are endpoint devices?]

Endpoint security is a necessary component of an organization’s overall cybersecurity strategy, as these devices are often the entry point for attackers who want to compromise the network and cause damage or disruption.

In this post, we’ll discuss the benefits and challenges of endpoint security, the essential components needed for a successful strategy, and common types of endpoint security solutions. We’ll also provide insights on what to look for when choosing an endpoint security solution for your organization.

Endpoint security definition

Endpoint security is the process of detecting, stopping, and remediating attacks against every type of endpoint at any location — whether on-premises, hybrid, or in cloud environments.

Why is endpoint security important?

Effective endpoint security helps organizations protect corporate data, minimize the risk of successful cyberattacks, and maintain service availability. Let’s dive deeper into some of the main benefits of endpoint security:

  • Preventing data loss: When endpoint security tools improve efforts to secure devices, organizations can gain confidence that critical business data, such as sensitive information and intellectual property on endpoints, is safe from accidental sensitive data leaks, corruption through malware, or encryption from ransomware.
  • Strengthening cyber defense: By providing teams with the insights needed to fortify endpoint security, identify threats affecting endpoints, and respond to those threats quickly, organizations can minimize the risk of cyberattacks and the damage they cause.
  • Ensuring business continuity: Another significant benefit of endpoint security is that it protects endpoints from attacks that could disrupt users and business operations. When endpoint security efforts are working, employees can use endpoints without worrying about interruptions from cyberattacks, data loss from ransomware, and other types of threats.

[Read also: What is Digital Employee Experience (DEX)?]

The role endpoints play in today’s threat landscape

Security threats are increasing in number, cost, and sophistication. According to a report from Apple, in just the first nine months of 2023, the number of successful data breaches had already increased by about 20% compared to all of 2022.

Even a single endpoint compromise can give bad actors the initial access they need to enter and move across a network, an attack technique called lateral movement.

Once attackers are inside the network, they often look for opportunities to exfiltrate important data and leak valuable information that may result in regulatory fines, loss of competitive advantage, and lasting damage to an organization’s reputation.

Unfortunately, protecting every endpoint is becoming increasingly challenging. A common pain point organizations face when managing endpoints is their ability to maintain visibility into the growing number of endpoints they need to protect. In a recent report by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored by Adaptiva, organizations with an average of 135,000 endpoints were surveyed and reported that a startling 48% of their endpoints were either undiscovered or outdated, which means each organization has 64,800 unmanaged and potentially vulnerable endpoints – a critical but entirely preventable risk.

The adoption of cloud computing has also led to the proliferation and distribution of endpoint locations, including virtual endpoints (software programs running as distinct endpoints while also running on a shared hardware device) and remote endpoints. At the same time, there’s been an explosion in the number of connected IoT devices, which is expected to total 55.7 billion by 2025, according to IDC.

Together, these endpoint trends will require security teams to discover and secure a sprawling number of endpoints.

With the attack surface becoming so vast, the number of potential vulnerabilities across all types of endpoints is becoming highly complex and more challenging to manage. Organizations must take endpoint security more seriously than ever before. However, they need better visibility, laser-focused insight, and split-second responsiveness from their endpoint security solution to do this.

Key features of endpoint security

An endpoint security strategy must include at least five components: discovery, management, monitoring, remediation, and automation.

Below, we’ll review why these specific features are needed and why discovering endpoints is the crucial first step when establishing a successful endpoint security strategy.

  1. Discovery: You might have seen the well-known quote, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” on a motivational poster at some point in your career, but what about the saying, “You can’t protect what you can’t see”? To effectively protect endpoints, you first need to know they exist. That is why every endpoint security strategy must start with identifying all your endpoints. However, that’s often easier said than done.
     
    Many endpoint security platforms today are too narrowly focused on only finding specific types of conventional endpoints or use suboptimal discovery methods to gain visibility into endpoints located across large enterprise networks. As a result, these discovery efforts often miss about 20% of connected devices, as determined by Tanium research. Unfortunately, overlooking 20% of endpoints means cybercriminals gain 20% more opportunities to enter an environment.
  2. Management: Once you know about all your endpoints, you can perform ongoing endpoint management efforts more efficiently. Endpoint management is crucial to supporting proactive security measures. Tasks like patching vulnerabilities, keeping endpoints up-to-date, effectively deploying new software, and ensuring endpoints are configured according to best practices can help organizations prevent hackers from ever gaining a foothold in their environments.
     
    Effective endpoint management helps organizations reduce their attack surface and strengthen security by preventing hackers from exploiting known vulnerabilities and outdated software on endpoints.
  3. Monitoring: After all the endpoints are discovered and managed, they must also be monitored for performance, suspicious activity, violations of security policies, and other opportunities to optimize and avoid risks. When vulnerabilities or compliance issues are found, organizations need a way to locate the affected endpoints immediately. The ability to quickly analyze endpoint data for potential security risks can also aid in threat hunting and cyberattack investigations.
     
    Ideally, endpoint monitoring should be done in real time. Otherwise, organizations will find themselves working with outdated information about the security status of endpoints. Knowing that a Windows laptop was free from ransomware a week ago offers no assurance that it’s still free from ransomware today. Continuous, real-time endpoint monitoring solves this problem.
  4. Remediation: When threats do occur, organizations need to be able to quickly take endpoints offline to prevent malware and other active processes that could allow attackers to gain unauthorized access to additional endpoints. It is vital to reduce the impact of an attack by quickly isolating potential threats, removing infected files, and kicking out attackers from your environment.
     
    Improving remediation efforts helps security teams stop the transmission of malware, lower the chance of data breaches, and resume normal operations as soon as possible.
  5. Automation: While automation may not be a conventional feature of endpoint security, it is becoming a key component of a modern and proactive approach to protecting endpoints from cyberattacks. Automation can assist with many tasks, such as allowing teams to scan the network for new devices, apply consistent security policies, detect and respond to threats in real time, and remediate incidents without manual intervention. Automation also reduces the human error and resource constraints that often compromise traditional endpoint security methods.
     
    Using automation in endpoint security enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of your endpoint discovery, management, monitoring, and remediation efforts.
  6. Types of endpoint security solutions

    Security and IT teams today can choose from various types of endpoint security systems, from those designed for specific use cases like detecting known types of malware on a single endpoint to those built to detect suspicious activity and automatically remediate cyber breaches.

    The following solutions represent a linear evolution in our understanding of what modern endpoint security technologies must offer to combat the latest cyberattack threats successfully. Over time, each tool type has progressed to solve critical gaps left unaddressed by the preceding method.

    By leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) cybersecurity techniques, the latest platforms for endpoint security are designed to improve upon the capabilities of all previous point-product security tools used to detect and remediate endpoint issues. These next-generation endpoint security solutions allow organizations to both proactively strengthen their security posture and resolve emerging threats in real time using intelligent automation capabilities.

    Let’s discuss the pros and cons of each type of endpoint security software to help you better understand which solution can best address your business needs.

    Antivirus software

    Antivirus software can scan storage media or RAM to detect and stop malware when it is downloaded or installed on an endpoint. It can also quarantine malware, isolating dangerous files in a special disk storage area (a “sandbox”) that prevents them from executing.

    However, security professionals have known for years that antivirus software is often ineffective when used as the first line or only method of cyber defense. Since antivirus software is designed to recognize malware files by their signatures (unique patterns in their software), users must continually update signature files to stay protected from the latest threats discovered by researchers. This means antivirus software typically won’t recognize an attack if it hasn’t already been discovered, such as zero-day attacks that take advantage of previously unknown vulnerabilities in software.

    You may still see antivirus software used as a security solution to catch malware on individual endpoints. However, this local install can hinder coordinated response efforts across endpoints, allowing threat actors to use them to enter a connected network.

    Endpoint protection platform (EPP)

    An endpoint protection platform can improve antivirus software capabilities by providing centralized monitoring, control, and management of antivirus activity at scale. Using an EPP, teams can monitor the status of antivirus software on a large number of endpoints, start and stop antivirus activity on specific endpoints, and generate reports on endpoint security status.

    Some EPP products offer capabilities beyond antivirus protection, such as using machine learning to detect anomalies and using block lists to stop traffic coming in from IP addresses and network domains known to be dangerous. Many EPP products are also cloud-based, which offers a convenient, scalable way for the IT security team to monitor endpoints everywhere, including user devices and remote devices employees use that connect to company networks.

    EPP solutions are limited, though, in that they collect data primarily from endpoints and can fail to account for or integrate with other types of solutions that could improve the ability to identify, address, and remediate an attack more effectively, such as insights from Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM) tools and other integral security components.

    [Read also: Are cybersecurity analytics missing from your security strategy?]

    Endpoint detection and response (EDR)

    Endpoint detection and response platforms provide all the capabilities of EPP platforms along with additional features for responding quickly and automatically to threats. EDR platforms can also detect a broader range of threats than most EPP platforms.

    Realizing that antivirus software can recognize malware patterns in files, threat actors have developed attacks that “live off the land.” This attack type mimics files and processes already installed on an endpoint to blend into the environment while attacking. Since these fileless attacks do not require malware or executables, they often evade detection by security platforms that rely on traditional signature- and heuristic-based detection methods. EDR solutions solve this by analyzing endpoint behavior – such as suspicious or anomalous activities – and don’t rely on predefined rules or patterns to identify known malware or malicious behavior.

    Polymorphic attacks are another advanced threat that outdated security software is often unable to detect. These malware attacks are built to change their signatures every time they replicate or execute. While traditional antivirus software and EPP solutions can miss polymorphic attacks, EDR platforms can usually catch them using heuristic analysis to identify patterns or anomalies, behavior analysis to monitor the effects of files or programs on systems, and machine learning to learn from the data to classify files as malicious based on their features or attributes.

    EDR platforms – living up to the word “response” in their name – also enable security teams to create automatic remediation processes, accelerating the mean time to resolve (MTTR) and limiting the amount of damage attacks can do by minimizing dwell time.

    [Read also: 3 common misconceptions about EDR software]

    Extended detection and response (XDR)

    As cyberattacks become more subtle and sophisticated, collecting information from the broadest range of data sources becomes increasingly important to help accelerate threat detection capabilities. Extended detection and response platforms gather and correlate information not just from endpoints but also from other security tools in your environment, such as SIEM platforms, network security solutions monitoring traffic, identity and access management (IAM) systems, and more, to analyze activity from all these sources to detect anomalies and other indicators of compromise (IoC) that suggest an attack has occurred or is underway.

    XDR platforms also use artificial intelligence techniques, such as machine learning, to prioritize alerts and threats so that security teams can respond quickly to the most urgent issues. Compared to EPP and EDR platforms, XDR platforms provide organizations with a more comprehensive monitoring view across corporate networks to detect and quickly stop advanced threats.

    Lots of lessons have been learned throughout the evolution of EDR. Those lessons are being carried forward in the world of XDR… So as the span of visibility and detection and response increases with XDR-type solutions, I think it should feel like a natural step for most organizations who either are evaluating EDR solutions or have already invested in EDR.

    Dave Gruber, senior endpoint security analyst at ESG Global

    How Tanium’s approach to endpoint security helps organizations stay ahead of evolving threats

    Tanium revolutionized endpoint security by addressing critical visibility and centralized management gaps when we launched the industry’s first and only Converged Endpoint Management (XEM) platform. With XEM, our goal was to solve common endpoint security and management challenges caused by unreliable data, including how existing tools on the market aren’t built to share up-to-date information and how switching between tools to piece together attack behavior takes valuable time you don’t have to spare.

    We understood that organizations need a central management console for collecting, analyzing, and more easily responding to all the available real-time threat information. They also need fast, effective ways to remediate attacks and accelerate responses, prevent data loss, and contain attacks to stop them from spreading.

    We designed our XEM platform to provide real-time visibility and monitoring, automated responses, and improved risk management capabilities with consideration of an employee-focused perspective that organizations can use to provide the best possible security measures and user experience.

    Tanium ups the game, really, for all these approaches. Tanium provides a level of real-time visibility that few could ever offer, the ability to real-time respond in ways that few organizations could. So that immediacy, the speed of access, and response, and investigation – think of it as an accelerant to all of the XDR solutions.

    Dave Gruber, senior endpoint security analyst at ESG Global

    But we aren’t done evolving how endpoint security works. Instead, we’re continuing to innovate, taking advantage of the latest capabilities of artificial intelligence and machine learning in cybersecurity to continuously improve our endpoint management and security offerings with autonomous endpoint management (AEM).

    Autonomous endpoint management is an emerging category that uses AI to provide intelligent automation and decision-making capabilities to further expand endpoint monitoring, management, security, and threat remediation efforts.

    [Read also: What is security automation?]

    AEM at Tanium is powered by composite AI, which leverages multiple AI techniques to get better and faster at helping organizations protect their endpoint devices. Our goal for AEM is for it to learn about your environment across all your endpoints and continuously prioritize your organization’s unique security risks based on asset criticality, peer benchmarks, and tailored recommendations that give you insight into every endpoint, whether managed or unmanaged, with the complete, accurate, and real-time visibility capabilities Tanium is known to provide.

    With AI-powered automation, AEM accelerates threat mitigation and frees teams from having to perform routine tasks so they can work on more strategic activities. Automation, however, should never make security teams feel like they aren’t in control. Our vision for AEM lets you decide what level of autonomy and oversight makes sense for your organization. Then, it applies that level of automation to your greatest advantage.

    Using AEM, security teams get the power of centralized data, extensive endpoint coverage, and smart insights to defend against even the most subtle and elusive of today’s cyber threats.

    Our model for AEM eliminates the information gaps that have constrained earlier generations of endpoint security products to empower businesses of all sizes and government organizations to investigate incidents and automate responses with complete, high-fidelity data in real time.


    You can learn more about the power of AEM at Tanium and see how it can help address your endpoint security needs by scheduling a free, personalized demo.

Tanium Staff

Tanium’s village of experts co-writes as Tanium Staff, sharing their lens on security, IT operations, and other relevant topics across the business and cybersphere.

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