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What is the difference between traditional antivirus and EDR?

The multiplicity of devices and the need to access network resources from anywhere has blurred the traditional security perimeter and extended it beyond the office, making endpoint security an essential pillar of a company's cybersecurity strategy. Both antivirus (AV) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions are designed to secure devices. However, these solutions provide very different levels of protection.  

6 main differences between AV and EDR 

Traditional antivirus software is installed directly on a device or server to protect it from malicious programs. An EDR system, on the other hand, is software that detects and halts cyberthreats while providing visibility and control over devices on a network.

While there is a slight overlap between the functions of the two solutions, they differ in the following ways:  

  • Security approach: AV systems are reactive, so this tool only acts when there is a threat. In contrast, EDR solutions are proactive, so they can detect and stop threats that have somehow gained access to devices and also block access, as AVs do. 
  • Scope of protection: traditional antivirus is a decentralized security system with limited scope and is simpler than detection and response solutions whereas EDR provides centralized security and continuously monitors threats at all endpoints of the network, delivering more comprehensive and holistic protection. 
  • Detection method: AV systems are based on static threat signatures and patterns, so they only recognize known threats. EDR, which is behavior-based, monitors and detects known or unknown threats in real time by identifying anomalous behavior at network endpoints.  
  • Automation and visibility: EDR constantly collects and analyzes data. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, EDR converts that data into actionable intelligence and provides full visibility into devices within a corporate network. This means data patterns can be isolated quickly thereby providing security teams with fast and accurate assessments of any anomalous behavior indicating a potential threat. This cuts down detection time and diminishes the need to rely on highly skilled security personnel, who are expensive to hire and in short supply. 

The AV system, in contrast, relies on the antivirus developers adding viruses or variants to the malware list every time a new one is identified. Otherwise, this any new malware will remain undetectable. 

  • Response method: the AV takes action when a threat has entered the system, before it starts to perform malicious actions, usually by preventing its execution, deleting the file and any traces it may have left on the way,  all in an automated way. EDR responds in an automated way with actions such as blocking execution and isolating endpoints to prevent malware from spreading, giving the analyst time to investigate the potential threat, its impact and how to recover from it.
  • Response time: the response time of AVs is immediate and automated, but their detection capability is limited to known threats. EDR systems are capable of detecting sophisticated and unknown threats that otherwise would go under the radar. Detection and response time depends on the automated detection, visibility and containment and remediation that EDR systems provide. Some solutions delegate responsibility to analysts, for example, when classifying files that are executed and have performed suspicious actions. Ideally, an EDR solution should detect, investigate and take automated action as early as possible to reduce response time, but it should also have a tendency towards zero false positives. 

What is the best option? 

Traditional antivirus signature- and pattern-based detection can be ineffective in identifying and protecting against advanced malware and new variants. Today, malware writers use techniques such as fileless malware to evade detection by traditional antivirus solutions.  

Effective detection in these cases requires more information and context. The security functions integrated into an EDR solution pinpoint attack and compromise behaviors and indicators successfully, and by automating response capabilities, security analysts can delegate response to the system or act more quickly, providing efficiency gains in dealing with potential security incidents.  

However, antivirus software may be the right solution for a company with a small budget, without a security manager to configure and monitor the automated actions for the protection selected. EDR is the better fit if the endpoint security solution can be monitored from a broader standpoint, protecting a larger number of devices exposed to advanced threats, such as remote workers. 

If you opt for an AV solution make sure that this solution is advanced or next generation, covering a greater number of advanced threats, including those using malwareless techniques.  

Using an endpoint detection and response solution such as WatchGuard EPDR ensures protection against known and unknown threats by automating prevention, detection, containment and response. WatchGuard is a security vendor unified under a single cloud platform, meaning that all security solutions are controlled from a single pane of glass. More than a stand-alone security product, it’s a value-added solution within a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that reduces infrastructure costs and simplifies the administration of cybersecurity teams while maintaining a high level of protection. 

If you are interested in learning more about EDR and endpoint security, please visit the following links:  

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