Antivirus vs. Endpoint Detection and Response | What’s the difference?

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The frequency and cost of cyberattacks continue to grow. Fortunately, new and old security technology is rising to meet the challenge as new threats occur. For example, antivirus security programs and endpoint detection and response (EDR) programs both work to protect your system from threats.

But how do they do this? What's the difference between the two, and does it matter which one you use? Essentially, antivirus works to detect and isolate known threats while EDR searches for new threats.

For over 25 years, WEBIT Services has helped hundreds of clients build effective cybersecurity practices for their businesses.

By reading this article, you will learn the goals of antivirus and EDR protection, how they differ, and how they bring you even stronger cybersecurity.

What is antivirus software?

Antivirus software was one of the earliest forms of cybersecurity, created over 20 years ago. It was used in the professional and private sectors.

Antivirus protects your system from malware, an umbrella term for all malicious software. Antivirus systems run scheduled or regular scans of your device, looking for identifiable malware and removing it.

Benefits of antivirus software

Because of its age and relevance, antivirus is considered foundational for cybersecurity.

Antivirus software scans your system to find known malware and suspicious files, then remove them from your system. Antivirus can also detect and warn against dangerous websites.

Newer antivirus that uses machine learning and AI can also detect abnormal file, program, or system behavior, a skill older antivirus systems do not have.

Disadvantages of antivirus software

Antivirus is traditionally limited in detecting brand-new or "zero-day" threats.

Essentially, the antivirus compares the files on a device with a database of known malware files. If a threat has previously been reported, it's in the database, and the antivirus can identify it. However, if it's a brand-new or "zero-day" threat, it's not in the database until someone reports it. Until that happens, the antivirus cannot identify it.

For example, a dangerous person (malware) enters a space with security guards (antivirus). If this person has not committed a crime, the guards won't know to remove them from the area. But, on the other hand, someone reports that this person mugged them. If the victim provides a photo or sketch of the perpetrator, guards would be on the alert to find a person who looks like the provided image.

Antivirus works the same way with malware.

When someone reports a zero-day malware attack, the information is passed to the antivirus; once the antivirus has information on the new malware, it can identify it but not before.

The antivirus will not recognize zero-day threats until an attack and report occur.

What is endpoint detection and response?

Every device connected to your network is known as an "endpoint," so endpoint detection and response (EDR) focuses on finding threats on individual devices and alerting a program or IT security expert.

EDR examines files and their behavior to locate brand-new threats—the opposite of antivirus. EDR looks at a file's behavior, type, and location to determine if it is a threat. If it recognizes suspicious activity, it reports and quarantines the file.

However, it's important to note that EDR does not examine the contents of the data itself—only behavior, type, and location. Therefore, EDR does not breach user privacy. So, for example, EDR will not read a Word document. It does not know what the document is about or the story it tells. But it will notice if the Word document is in an odd file location or acting unlike a Word document.

Benefits of EDR

Where antivirus locates known threats, EDR looks for unknown threats in real time. It examines behavior, collects and analyzes data on threat behavior, and sends threat alerts.

This is invaluable in identifying malware that can stay hidden for months, rooting itself into IT systems until it launches a more significant attack, like ransomware.

While an antivirus is a security guard looking for known criminals, EDR acts more like a security detection dog. It sniffs at odd packages but doesn't open them. If it smells something strange, the detection dog alerts its handler. EDR does much the same.

Disadvantages of EDR

EDR will identify and quarantine suspicious files, but it requires a human to examine the quarantined files and deem them genuine threats. This requires time and resources.

Unlike antivirus, EDR will not delete malware upon detection but instead captures the files it views as threats. This may result in false positives.

Because the EDR relies on human interaction, your team must have the time and skill to examine the alerts thoroughly to ensure actual threats aren't missed amidst any false positives.

Next steps for improving your cybersecurity

Antivirus and EDR can work together to help provide more effective cybersecurity for your system and devices. Antivirus locates and removes known threats while EDR searches for unknown threats and quarantines them for examination. Together, they minimize vulnerabilities and increase your ability to proactively or quickly react toward cyber threats.

Talk to your IT provider or internal IT team to see what kind of antivirus or EDR you use and how well it works for your business. If you are not currently using one or either of these systems, talk to your IT team to see what you should consider adding.

It's essential to examine your needs, expectation, and budget to see what product you should use and whether you should utilize antivirus, EDR, or both.

As threats change, security technology changes alongside it. Antivirus and EDR programs continue to evolve for better protection. As such, you must review your security abilities and needs through regular risk assessments with your IT provider or team.

WEBIT Services is passionate about helping clients reach their cybersecurity goals. We believe education is the first step in building effective cybersecurity practices.

If you're looking for a new IT provider, schedule a 30-minute consultation to see if WEBIT Services might fit your company.

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