Endpoint detection response – also known as EDR – is one of the newer concepts in cybersecurity. Like antivirus, EDR is a type of cybersecurity solution that resides on individual endpoints to provide continuous monitoring and mitigation for malicious cyber threats. Once an alert is flagged, designated security experts look at the details to determine the criticality.
Cyber threats are constantly evolving. With that in mind, the best cybersecurity defenses involve a multi-layered, defense in depth approach. Let’s go over what EDR is more in depth, benefits and challenges in implementing it into an organization, and where the technology is headed into the future.
But before we get into that, let’s go over how EDR differs from antivirus and antimalware software.
How is EDR different from antivirus?
EDR and antivirus are similar but have some key and critical differences.
The first is the way each solution approaches security. Antivirus is reactive and only provides action when it detects a threat. Conversely, EDR is proactive. It actively hunts to detect and stop threats that have made their way into the system.
Most antivirus programs are decentralized and have a limited scope for determining threats. EDR is centralized and is always monitoring threats on endpoints to provide much more comprehensive coverage.
They also differ in their detection methodologies. Antivirus operates on known threat signatures, so they only recognize established threats. EDR is behavior based, and it monitors known and unknown threats in real time by identifying suspicious or anomalous behaviors at the endpoint level.
EDR is automated, always hunting for actionable items. It provides full visibility into all devices an agent is installed on. Through this automation data patterns can be isolated and incident response can be performed quickly. This cuts down on threat dwell time once network infiltration is made and somewhat lightens the burden on in house security teams.
Antivirus systems need the application developers to include known viruses and variants to the overall list to maintain ongoing protection standards. If they aren’t as diligent about this as possible, new malware can’t be detected by the AV software.
Response time is another key differentiator between AV and EDR. Antivirus is automated and acts immediately, but they only pick up on known threats. EDR seeks out advanced, unknown threats that
would otherwise exist below the radar of AV.
Components of EDR
EDR solutions integrate with threat intelligence feeds to provide detailed information on emerging threats and known bad actors. By utilizing these methodologies they can detect and respond to new, emerging, and existing threats.
There are three primary functions of EDR:
- Data Collection – Information is gathered from endpoint devices that include process executions, user logins, processes and details about installed and running software, and names of files being accessed.
- Recording – All data is logged in real time.
- Detection – This is the analysis stage. The EDR solution determines if logged activities fall within the normal range if any anomalies exist in the network.
All three of these functions are constantly being performed to provide “always on” visibility and application response. As threats are detected, the EDR software responds automatically and sends alerts to security teams tasked with monitoring them.
How EDR Solutions Work
EDR provides real-time visibility into how endpoints and servers behave. Unlike anti-virus applications that operate on known threat signatures, EDR solutions analyze behavior. They use multiple methods to perform real-time visibility and proactive detection and response.
Once the solution is properly installed it uses advanced algorithms that examine the behaviors of system users. As it assesses the “normal” user behavior it will flag an alert if something seems out of the ordinary.
After the program assesses the behavior data the algorithm searches for an attack path and reconstructs things to identify the entry point. Once this is determined, data points are broken down into smaller categories so security analysts can review them as fast as possible.
Each solution has their own way of doing things, but for the most part every EDR platform has the ability to suspend, kill, and isolate processes.
Benefits of EDR
EDR solutions provide a number of unique benefits. Let’s go over some of the most important and the ways they provide a critical layer of cyber security for organizations.
End-to-end visibility is what EDR solutions do best. By constantly monitoring all devices the solution is installed on they can stop threats, assess previous threats to help with incident response, and create awareness for ongoing attacks.
Other layers of network protection like firewalls and antivirus operate via signature-based detection. These are necessary, but they aren’t effective against unknown and emerging threats. This is where endpoint detection response comes in.
By using behavior analysis through artificial intelligence and machine learning the risk of data being compromised is greatly reduced.
EDR provides a “first on scene” type of fast incident response. Depending on how it’s tuned it can isolate compromised – or potentially compromised – devices from the network
This rapid response is an important step toward making sure any security events don’t spread or get worse.
They’re also a key tool when it comes to cyber forensics. Data collection, report generation, and analysis all help cyber security teams to narrow down problems as they arise.
Challenges and Downsides of EDR
As efficient and critical as EDR solutions are, like every other line of defense they do have their challenges and downsides.
EDR solutions are noisy. They create a lot of alerts, and that’s by design. To an extent, most of them can be tuned to filter certain things out. But most organizations need to dedicate personnel resources to monitor the alerts for that needle in the haystack alert that could balloon into a critical issue.
Most companies that offer an EDR solution also provide SOC resources to monitor the alerts for their customers, but often this adds to the cost of using the solution.
False positives and false negatives also occur. These can lead to unnecessary incident investigations that eat up organizational resources. False positive alerts are a mislabeled positive threat indication in the system, but when they’re investigated there is no supporting evidence.
False negatives are a bigger issue. This is because they are potentially damaging indicators that are categorized as secure. And they can cause a world of hurt if they’re overlooked.
Regardless if an alert is a false positive or negative, both can cause lost revenue, resources, and organization reputation. Though both of these false alerts to happen, the best EDR solutions have a high success rate of flagging true positives and negatives so security teams get active, actionable alerts.
This is the least concerning element when it comes to EDR solutions, but still worth mentioning. Generally, EDR solutions are meant to run silently, behind the scenes on the machines they’re installed on.
The user shouldn’t notice any loading or resource-hogging effects, and a lot of companies install EDR solutions on their fleet of systems without users even knowing they’re there.
Is EDR the Right Choice for Your Organization?
Antivirus applications certainly have their place in every organization’s cyber security stack. But alone there are security gaps when it comes to advanced and evolving threats.
EDR solutions are the next layer of security for endpoints. They help narrow down indicators of compromise and attack more effectively. If an organization should implement an EDR solution isn’t the question – it’s how.
The biggest issue is fielding the multitude of alerts that EDR solutions create. If your organization doesn’t have an in-house security team, many of the companies that offer EDR solutions have a SOC or security analysts that can review the alerts on behalf of your organization and only make you aware of those that are actionable.
Cybersecurity threats are more sophisticated than ever, and they are constantly evolving. To defend and combat them it’s critical to secure all endpoints with antivirus/antimalware and endpoint detection response applications.
The question isn’t is EDR or antivirus better. Both solutions perform different functions and work together to provide two critical protection layers at the endpoint level. Knowing you have technological bulwark in place goes a long way toward establishing a reliable defense in depth cybersecurity posture for your organization – and peace of mind.