Antivirus vs. EDR: What’s the Difference?

Cybersecurity | September 7, 2021

EDR and antivirus are not created equal.  

There’s a lot of specifics to know when it comes to selecting cybersecurity services. From firewalls to phishing tests, there are a vast variety of protective tools you can use to keep your data safe. For the minimally techy among us, knowing the difference between each of these tools – and fully understanding how to properly apply them – can weigh heavy on the efficacy of your cybersecurity program.  

Both antivirus and Endpoint Detection & Response (EDR) are solutions used by cybersecurity experts to detect (and hopefully curtail) cyber threats. Both solutions can be a potentially valuable addition to your security protocol.  

But that doesn’t mean the two can be used interchangeably.  

Let’s dive a bit deeper: 


Antivirus protections are basic software that act as a first line of defense against active threats. This software regularly scans your machine’s operating and file systems for malware and, if found, removes the malware from your device.  

Typically, antivirus software detects trojans, ransomware, and more using something known as signature matching, wherein the software runs an analysis to compare suspect files or processes on your device to known malware binaries. If a match is found, the software labels the file a threat removes the file from the system and alerts the user. Some more advanced antivirus programs also use a method called heuristics to predict the potential threat by analyzing previous behavior, but this isn’t particularly common.

Often regarded as a baseline security measure, antivirus software doesn’t prevent malware from accessing your machine, but rather acts once the malware is already present – and only if the software already knows the malware itself.   


Endpoint Detection & Response, however, relies primarily on behavioral analysis to predict malware in your system. EDR collects data from various endpoints (AKA any entry point to your network, like laptops or phones) to provide increased visibility into the origin, spread, and nature of an attack.  

By tracking activity at endpoints – of which there are many – EDR provides your cybersecurity team with significantly more information about how the malware functions, giving you a better chance at curtailing its effects. In relying on behavior rather than signature, EDR takes a more proactive role in monitoring your systems in real-time. This way, even threats that are currently unknown to antivirus software may be flagged for suspicious behavior with EDR.  

Using this model, EDR programs can address threats as soon as malware enters the system via one endpoint, stopping hackers before significant damage has been done. 


While there is clearly some overlap between antivirus and EDR solutions, the main differences include: 

  • EDR is behavior-based, so it recognizes even unknown threats. Antivirus is largely signature-based, so it only recognizes malware that is known to the system. 
  • Data collection and analysis happens in real-time with EDR, providing your team with a more comprehensive understanding of system health. Many antivirus software schedule screenings instead.  
  • EDR has advanced forensic capabilities compared to antivirus.  
  • EDR employs automated responses – like endpoint isolation – to protect the whole of the system before an attack grows out of control.  


So, Which is Better?

Truth time! The fact of the matter is that in order to protect your organization’s sensitive information from bad actors, you likely need both antivirus and EDR programs as part of your protocol. In fact, many EDR solutions come with a traditional antivirus component baked in as an extra security measure.  Oftentimes, combining the two under one solution – such as a Managed Detection & Response solution – is best. 

When it comes to securing your technology, proactive approaches like EDR are always preferred – but fail-safes like antivirus software shouldn’t be overlooked. At EMPIST, we recommend taking a comprehensive approach to your security. Our team of experts can help synthesize the right security tools and features into a plan that works for your business. 

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