What is Endpoint Protection? Definition & Benefits Explained
Endpoint security is the practice of protecting endpoints — including laptops, desktops, servers, mobile devices, and Internet of Things (IoT) systems — against cyber threats. Endpoint security solutions such as antivirus and endpoint protection platforms (EPPs) enable companies to manage the risk of malware and similar threats. An endpoint security solution can prevent, detect, contain, and remediate a malware infection. These capabilities are especially important in the age of hybrid and remote work as cybercriminals increasingly target devices located outside of the traditional corporate network perimeter.
Table of Contents
Definition of Endpoints
In the simplest of terms, an endpoint is a computing device. Endpoints, which commonly include desktops, laptops, mobile devices, servers, and printers, make up the majority of an organization’s cyber attack surface. Security incidents involving these devices can result in data theft or loss, and service outages, to name just a few of the potential impacts.
Key Components of Endpoint Security
An endpoint security program consists of various solutions, and some of the most commonly used include the following:
- Threat Intelligence: Threat intelligence provides information about the latest security threats that companies face, including best practices for detecting and remediating these threats. Access to threat intelligence is vital to the success of an endpoint security program as it helps endpoint security solutions to stay ahead of evolving threats or more accurately identify active infections on corporate devices.
- Antivirus/Antimalware: Antivirus and antimalware solutions are widely used endpoint security solutions. They leverage threat intelligence to identify, block, contain, and remediate known malware on the protected system.
- Endpoint Protection Platforms (EPPs): Endpoint protection platforms (EPPs) offer more robust protection against modern, evolving threats to endpoint security. They have the ability to identify file-based malware, detect anomalous or malicious activities on a compromised device, and support the investigation and remediation of potential threats. Also, EPP solutions enable more central monitoring and management, and can integrate with other solutions in an organization’s security stack.
- Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR): Endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions complement EPP by helping to address the threats that slip past EPP solutions’ defenses. EDR solutions are designed to support incident responders as they investigate a potential security incident and take action to remediate it.
- Data Loss Prevention (DLP): Endpoints contain a wealth of potentially sensitive and valuable information that could be exposed either via an intentional threat or through employee negligence. Data loss prevention (DLP) solutions can provide visibility into data flows and help to block attempted exfiltration of sensitive information.
- Network-Level Defenses: Endpoint security solutions installed on a device can be complemented by network-level defenses. Network-level solutions can provide protection against threats at scale, and their wider visibility provides useful context that can help with the identification of various threats.
Some examples of network-level defenses that complement endpoint security solutions include:
- Firewall: A firewall (host-based or network-based) restricts the types of traffic that can enter or leave the protected region. By blocking most inbound traffic, firewalls reduce the potential threats that can reach a device.
- Intrusion Detection/Prevention System (IDPS): Like a firewall, an IDPS can be installed on an individual device or at the network level. It inspects network traffic for malicious content and either generates an alert or blocks the malicious content, depending on its configuration.
Fundamentals of Endpoint Security
Endpoint security is focused on protecting the endpoint against a wide range of potential threats. An effective endpoint security program implements security across all of an organization’s endpoints, which requires certain capabilities.
Centralized Monitoring and Management
Corporate endpoints are increasingly distributed with more employees working outside of the office. This means the security of branch locations and distributed sites are often managed from a headquarters location.
Centralized monitoring and management are essential to securing an organization’s endpoints at scale. With centralized visibility, security analysts can effectively secure endpoints at any location and have the context required to identify and remediate threats that are targeting multiple systems within the organization.
On-Prem and Off-Prem Coverage
Remote and hybrid work arrangements have an impact on how endpoint security can be managed. In the past, management servers were hosted on-prem where most or all endpoints were directly connected.
Today, employees may be working and accessing corporate resources from anywhere in the world. This makes it logical to manage endpoint security solutions in the cloud where they can apply consistent security to corporate devices regardless of location.
Network Access Management
Remote endpoints pose a serious risk to the organization. An infected endpoint can carry malware past perimeter-based defenses once connected to the corporate network.
An endpoint security program should incorporate defenses to ensure the organization’s IT infrastructure is protected against an infected or malicious endpoint. This includes the use of zero-trust network access (ZTNA) solutions to manage access to corporate resources and prevent non-compliant or infected endpoints from connecting to the corporate network.
Benefits of Endpoint Protection
Protecting the endpoint is vital to protecting the business. When deployed properly, endpoint protection offers businesses the following benefits:
Endpoint security solutions commonly offer centralized management of enterprise devices. This provides greater visibility into an organization’s IT assets and can help identify and prevent potential threats.
Malware Prevention and Containment
Endpoint security solutions are designed to prevent, contain, or remediate malware infections and other endpoint security threats. More advanced endpoint security solutions, such as EPP and EDR, have the potential to manage the threats posed by modern malware that include evasion techniques designed to defeat traditional antivirus and antimalware solutions.
Access management solutions such as ZTNA control an endpoints’ access to corporate resources and can block non-compliant and infected systems entirely. This reduces an organization’s exposure to potential threats by limiting the potential damage that can be done by an infected endpoint.
Secure Remote Work
Remote work has become a core part of many organizations’ operations with widespread support for remote or hybrid work arrangements. Endpoint security solutions help to manage the potential security risks of remote devices by continually monitoring and protecting them even when disconnected from the enterprise network. It also prevents infected devices from spreading malware and other threats to other corporate IT assets.
Data Loss Prevention
Endpoints store and process a wide range of sensitive and valuable data, which could be stolen or damaged by malware and other threats. Endpoint security solutions that monitor for ransomware, data exfiltration, and other malicious activity on-device can help to prevent threats to an organization’s data before data theft or loss occurs.
Organizations are required to comply with an evolving range of laws, many of which mandate that an organization manages access to its data and implements certain security controls to protect it. Endpoint security solutions are a vital component of a regulatory compliance strategy because they protect data at-rest, and provide the visibility necessary to generate compliance reports and investigate any potential incidents.
Cybersecurity incidents have a significant negative impact on productivity, both of the security team and workers whose devices and applications are affected. Endpoint security enhances productivity by preventing security incidents and making them faster and easier to remediate.
In addition to a decreased productivity, data breaches and other cyberattacks also carry significant costs to the organization. By preventing these attacks or limiting the impact of attacks, endpoint security solutions can offer significant cost savings to the organization.
Best Practices of Endpoint Protection
An endpoint security program must be carefully designed and implemented to offer maximum benefits. When planning your endpoint security program, consider the following best practices.
Converged Security Architecture
One of the most common security challenges that security teams face is a security architecture composed of point solutions. These solutions are difficult to manage and are prone to visibility and security gaps.
Endpoint security should be an integrated component of an organization’s converged security architecture. Centralizing management and context sharing enables security personnel to more quickly identify and remediate security incidents at scale.
Data Loss Prevention
Endpoints are a common target of attack because they contain valuable data. DLP should be a core component of an endpoint security program, ensuring that an organization knows where their data resides and protects this data against potential threats of theft, and in compliance with applicable regulations.
Endpoints can be attacked in various ways, but one of the most common vectors is the exploitation of unpatched vulnerabilities. Often, users delay applying patches and updates due to the potential productivity impact, leaving their devices vulnerable to attack.
Prompt applications of patches and updates to software and operating systems is essential to endpoint security. ZTNA can be used to enforce patch management by preventing unpatched devices from accessing corporate networks and IT assets.
The modern corporate network is composed of a range of endpoints, including laptops, mobile devices, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Additionally, employees may be permitted to use personally owned devices under a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.
An endpoint security program should support all devices that access corporate data and systems regardless of location and ownership. This means that endpoint security solutions should be designed to support remote workers and user-owned devices.
Machine Learning and AI
Endpoint security threats are rapidly evolving as cybercriminals develop new tools and techniques to bypass an organization’s defenses. This problem is exacerbated by the emergence of generative AI and its ability to streamline and expedite the development of malicious content.
Protecting against evolving threats requires security solutions that can use machine learning and AI. AI-enabled security solutions can more effectively detect novel threats and expedite containment, remediation, and recovery operations.
Zero Trust and Account Security
A zero trust network limits access on a need-to-know basis. Each access request is evaluated individually and approved or denied based on least-privilege access controls. Integrating zero trust enhances endpoint security by controlling access to corporate assets and limiting the potential damage of compromised endpoints. This should also be supported by strong account security controls — such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) — to verify a user’s identity before granting access.
Endpoints are potentially an organization’s most significant security threats. Unsafe browsing habits, clicking on phishing emails, and insecure data sharing are some examples of employees placing the company at risk.
Cyberawareness education is an important part of an endpoint security strategy. Teaching end users what to do and not to do reduces the potential threats that endpoint security solutions must detect, remediate, and recover from.
Defense in Depth
Endpoint security controls should be designed and implemented using the principle of defense in depth. This helps to ensure that the failure of a single control or solution doesn’t place the organization at risk. For example, an organization may implement firewalls and IDPS capabilities at both the network and endpoint levels.
Choosing the Right Endpoint Security Solution
Endpoint security is a vital component of an organization’s cybersecurity program. When selecting endpoint security solutions, it’s important to consider consolidation and defense in depth. In addition to on-device solutions, it is valuable to have network security solutions that can protect the organization at scale.
Cato SASE cloud offers converged cloud-based security for the corporate WAN and endpoints. Additionally, Cato offers managed detection and response (MDR) and threat hunting services to help organizations find and remediate intrusions before they cause harm to the business.