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EDR vs. EPP: What's the difference?

Endpoint detection and response tools and endpoint protection platforms offer similar security features. Which is better for your organization: EDR, EPP or both?

Enterprise endpoints require numerous protections, from antimalware and encryption to intrusion detection and data loss prevention. Many endpoint security tools offer these features, making it confusing for buyers to understand where they overlap and which products to invest in.

Two often confused products are endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools and endpoint protection platforms (EPPs). The aim of both is to protect endpoint devices from security breaches and cyberattacks; they just do it a bit differently.

Let's examine EDR vs. EPP and compare them to help organizations understand whether to adopt one over the other, or both.

Endpoint security challenges

Endpoints -- from laptops, mobile devices and printers to servers, routers and IoT devices -- connect users and systems with business data and applications. However, they are a significant enterprise weak point, facing cybersecurity threats, such as phishing, ransomware, DDoS and botnet attacks, as well as the following security and management challenges:

  • Remote device management.
  • Device monitoring.
  • User access and authorization.
  • Device visibility.

Antivirus and antimalware remain popular endpoint security products for many organizations and can help solve these challenges to some extent. But these tools often fall short against sophisticated threats and attacks, leading security teams to turn to more advanced endpoint security options, such as EDR and EPP tools.

What is EDR?

Endpoint detection and response tools provide proactive cybersecurity protection. They offer continuous security monitoring of local and remote devices connected to the network and cloud services. If it discovers a potential threat, an EDR tool analyzes it and either sends an alert to the security team or performs an automated response based on predetermined rules.

The focus of EDR tools is to enable security teams to quickly detect and remediate threats that bypass firewall protections. EDR tools offer real-time visibility into endpoint behavior, enabling security teams to also monitor for insider threats.

Security teams can deploy EDR tools as on-device agents or SaaS. Most EDR systems use AI and machine learning to dig into the attributes of a suspected attack or suspicious behavior. The AI component provides a signature analysis and examines behavioral patterns and other characteristics more thoroughly than antivirus can. The machine learning component gathers data from response activities and consolidates it into the EDR tool's knowledge base.

In addition to its analytical capabilities, EDR software can isolate suspicious code by placing it into a sandbox, where security researchers can more safely examine it. Security teams can also use data and logs collected by an EDR tool to perform forensics analysis following an attack, as well as to monitor for compliance and user access policy violations.

The complexity of EDR tools makes them more hands-on from a management perspective. Keeping internal rules and AI/machine learning capabilities up to date can be a full-time job, so security operations center (SOC) teams should manage them.

What is an EPP?

Where EDR tools offer proactive security capabilities, endpoint protection platforms provide preventative security measures to keep enterprise endpoints safe from certain cyberattacks, such as file-based malware attacks and zero days.

These cloud-based endpoint security tools monitor for known suspicious code signatures on endpoints and flag them for analysis and action. EPPs are preventive tools with the aim to reduce endpoint security breaches. They offer the following features:

EPPs don't require a lot of active monitoring by security teams, instead only requiring intervention after the discovery of suspicious behavior. Security teams then address the issue. EPPs' main limitation is that they only monitor and examine; they do not proactively respond.

That said, some EPPs offer more in-depth prevention and remediation features, such as threat hunting, threat intelligence and vulnerability management.

EDR, EPP or both?

Some organizations might opt to use an EDR tool over an EPP or vice versa, but note that they are complementary technologies. Many vendors now include an EDR tool as a core part of their EPP or as an optional upgrade.

EPPs focus on preventing cyberattacks using common detection techniques and passive endpoint protection features, while EDR tools provide endpoint visibility and incident response. An EPP prevents known attacks, and an EDR tool remediates attacks that bypass prevention capabilities, especially unknown and sophisticated attacks.

EDR tools provide a powerful perimeter of protection around each endpoint. Security teams should align them with EPP software in a multilayered strategy to achieve stronger endpoint security. SOC analysts can monitor data traffic at each endpoint via an EPP and respond to alerts from its event analysis with an EDR tool.

Paul Kirvan is an independent consultant, IT auditor, technical writer, editor and educator. He has more than 25 years of experience in business continuity, disaster recovery, security, enterprise risk management, telecom and IT auditing.

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