Not all Endpoint Security is created equal: EDR vs AV

In today's rapidly evolving threat landscape, cybersecurity has become a top priority for businesses of all sizes. As IT professionals, we are often asked to clarify the distinctions between endpoint security technologies on the market, especially the distinction between Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) and traditional anti-malware agents. This is a topic that continues to garner significant attention from IT and business leaders alike, as they seek to bolster their defence strategies against increasingly sophisticated cyber threats.

With cyberattacks growing in frequency, sophistication, and impact, organizations are realizing the importance of adopting advanced security measures to protect their endpoints effectively. However, there remains some confusion surrounding the roles and capabilities of EDR solutions compared to traditional anti-malware tools, as well as which vendors have the best technology.

In this article, we aim to provide clarity by, firstly, delineating the fundamental differences between EDR and traditional anti-malware technologies. By understanding these distinctions, IT and business leaders can make informed decisions about their technology investments and strategies, ultimately strengthening their overall security posture in an ever-changing digital landscape.

EDR vs AV: What is the difference?

The key difference between traditional Anti-virus or Anti-malware (AV) agents are that they only effective on specific entry points, such as data transferred by email, removable media or website download. They require regular database updates of the current virus signatures to be effective. 

AV software hasn't really evolved much in the past decade or more, except adding on modules that claim to have improve threat intelligence, but  generally make the agent more and more memory hungry. Fundamentally, the agent works the same way it always has and is really only as good as the vendor’s definitions updates. New threats arise daily, and ensuring updates get pushed out in a timely fashion is a best-effort scenario. Often, threats are discovered only after the damage is done.

AV agents are also limited in how they effective can be neutralising a threat, often only able to quarantine or delete malicious software code after it has been activated. Also, the level of privileges required on a computer system by an AV agent to operate, makes it a target of attack itself. 

EDR, on the other hand, is a re-imagining of what a security agent needs to be in the modern age, using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. The agent is less obtrusive operating as a background process to identify suspicious behaviour, monitoring computer tasks and network activity instead of just files. "File-less" malware is now more prevalent runs as script with nothing detect other than what action it is trying to perform!

Through learning of conventional computer usage patterns on a network, EDR can spot unusual behaviour and alert or intervene as necessary.

EDR actually has the ability to detect, neutralise and even reverse damage caused by a threat after it has been activated. It can also initiate response procedures such as alerting IT staff, capturing forensic information of the threat as it unfolds and even shut network connections down on affected endpoints.

In the below table, we provide an overview list of difference between EDR and AV agents:

Recover from ransomware by rolling back devices to their pre-infection state No roll back to a pre-infection state, requiring lengthy data recovery
Use artificial intelligence (AI) to detect and prevent both current and emerging threats, with real-time learning Use signatures to identify previously known threats, meaning capabilities lag cyber-attackers’ latest strategies
Monitor processes before, during, and after execution, to prevent new threats from slipping in Fly blind during execution, creating an entry point for new threats from savvy attackers
Monitor your systems in real-time Rely on daily or weekly file-system scans, increasing missed detection risk
Keep device performance fast with continual monitoring and low memory footprint Can slow down your device with long scans and memory hungry agents

In summary, EDR takes a completely new, holistic approach to computer security monitoring and protection.

"“Antimalware is equivalent to having locks on your doors and windows. EDR is more like employing a full time security guard that patrols the premises, learns what tricks the baddies are up to and gets involved to drive them out, if they do break in.” 



James Gray

James runs ITbuilder's service desk and has over a decade of experience at the sharp end of SME IT services. James has responsibility for ensuring that customer issues are dealt with efficiently and that his team meets its service level agreements.

James' path to service management was via the service desk and professional services, so James is well positioned to advise on all aspects of business IT.

A local boy, James grew up in Hoddesdon and now lives in Hertford. He graduated with a BA from Reading University.

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