What is security software?

Security software references IT security management, which is a broad discipline with lots of moving parts. There are hundreds of available tools and cybersecurity companies that address different functions of IT security—from antivirus software to encryption to data backup—and vendors often use inconsistent terminology. All of these factors can make it difficult for a buyer to understand the market and choose the best security solutions for their business. This guide will help new and veteran buyers navigate the purchasing process by identifying the best security software vendors through an analysis of common trends, feature sets, and case studies.

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Major categories of cybersecurity software

Cybersecurity software is a broad umbrella that covers a variety of different tools and platforms. Here are several of the main categories you should consider to protect your business, from endpoint protection to internet security suites.

Antivirus Software

Antivirus software, sometimes referred to as virus protection software, is a cybersecurity tool that users install onto computers, tablets, and smartphones to block malicious software, including ransomware. Traditional antivirus software scans incoming files for known malware signatures, but modern antivirus protection tools can address both known and unknown threats. Antivirus protection should allow users to automate and schedule scans, so they don’t have to remember to initiate them. Additionally, malware detection scans should run in the background to avoid interrupting user activity. While there is free antivirus software, it’s typically only licensed for home use. Often, free antivirus software isn’t updated as regularly as paid tools and may not include the same number of features. Businesses will need to pay for the best antivirus software. Also read: Why Free Antivirus Software Won’t Cut it for Your Business

Best Antivirus Software

Endpoint Security Software

Endpoint protection software protects a TCP/IP network by monitoring activity and gating access requests from devices (endpoints) on the network. An endpoint could include an employee laptop, smartphone, an office printer, or specialized hardware such as barcode readers and POS terminals. Endpoint protection platforms (EPPs) ensure that each endpoint meets certain criteria before it is granted access to the network. This process almost always entails antivirus protection, ransomware protection, and identity monitoring — and often extends to real-time activity monitoring, including web filters. EPPs may also include webcam protection to prevent spying or internet security to protect against browser-based attacks. Administrators manage endpoint software from a central server component that monitors client components. The goal is to ensure that all endpoints are in sound condition before they exchange information. Some software also includes vulnerability assessment features that seek out endpoint weaknesses and deliver patches to fix them.

Top Endpoint Security Platforms

Data Loss Prevention Software

Data loss prevention (DLP) software is designed to detect and prevent data breaches in order to preserve the integrity of the information that is in use, at rest, or in transit. DLP platforms can monitor network egress points, endpoints, storage databases, networks, and drives to prevent intentional or accidental data leakage. Backups are often a key component of DLP tools, but there are also standalone backup services that provide less sophisticated DLP capabilities. Encryption and access control are important features for most products in this category since they pertain directly to data security.

Top Data Loss Prevention Software

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Software

Security information and event management (SIEM) software aggregates data from an organization’s network to identify and respond to threats. It requires a lot of hands-on monitoring from security experts, meaning it’s not the best choice for small businesses to run in-house. Instead, many managed services providers offer SIEM tools as part of their service offerings. SIEM typically includes artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to identify anomalies faster and prevent threats from causing as much damage. It can also communicate with other security software on the network, like firewalls, telling those platforms to block whatever is causing the anomaly. Additionally, threat intelligence and detection are key components of SIEM software because it has to be able to identify indicators of attack quickly. It gathers data from all of the endpoints, operating systems, and applications on a network to identify potential threats and create an action plan for IT.

Top SIEM Tools

Mobile Device Management Software

Mobile device management (MDM) software — sometimes referred to as enterprise mobility management — is the enterprise security answer to “bring your own device” (BYOD). MDM extends data control and visibility to work-use smartphones and tablets and gives employees secure access to corporate content and applications. Administrators can use MDM to enforce passcode and encryption policies, block unknown devices, distribute native malware protection and web filters, and remotely lock or erase data from smartphones or tablets in the event of loss or theft. Some platforms also support containerization techniques, which partition an encrypted area as a contained environment for corporate use. Some MDMs are sold as standalone tools, while others are included in IT management suites.

Top MDM Tools

What are some common features of security tools?

Before you consider specific software, it’s good to have a working knowledge of what features are available. Along with an internal needs assessment, this step can help you shape your business goals and decide which products are the most relevant. Here are some common functional areas of business-grade security tools:

Malware & Ransomware Protection

The phrase antivirus is often used interchangeably with antimalware, but this is a bit of a misnomer. A virus is only one type of malware, among others like spyware, adware, nagware, trojans, scareware, ransomware, and worms. Malware protection identifies these threats and prevents them from causing harm to an endpoint or network. In some cases, malware protection may also extend to advanced persistent threats (APTs) when combined with a security information and event management (SEIM) tool.

Data Encryption

Data encryption uses complex algorithms to render data indecipherable to unauthorized parties. The “scrambled” version of the data is referred to as ciphertext and requires a unique decryption key to translate. Encryption can be applied to specific files, storage media, or across an entire network.

Identity and Access Control

Network access controls let administrators limit which employees have access to specific systems, files, etc., based on their login credentials and permission level. Role-based access control is often an important part of compliance for a number of different industry regulations, such as HIPAA or PCI-DSS. Approximately 88% of all data breaches are caused by human error, so identity and access control can help curb a large volume of threats.

Data Backup

In the event of a catastrophic event (like fire, flood, or electrical storm), irrevocable system failure, or a large-scale breach, data backup can be the difference between recovery and implosion. Businesses sometimes practice their own internal backup procedures, but most third-party services are hosted in the cloud — referred to as “backup-as-a-service,” or BaaS. This service is especially valuable to smaller businesses that may not have the in-house IT resources to perform regular backups.

Behavioral Analysis

As bad actors get better at impersonating benign traffic, security software has to rely on behavioral analytics to determine friend from foe. For example, if an employee only ever accesses company data from their laptop between 9 AM and 5 PM Monday through Friday, but suddenly, they log in from a smartphone at 2 AM on a Saturday, security tools should block that behavior and flag it so IT can investigate. Behavioral analysis helps security software find breaches that other tools may see as legitimate uses.

Security software market trends

Across all industries, digital growth and globalization are raising the stakes for data security. According to a recent study by IBM, the average cost of an enterprise data breach is now $4.24 million. With the potential damage so severe, many companies are taking proactive steps to protect their information and seek out risks before they actualize. There are a number of recent trends that make it a challenge to control and monitor the flow of information, and by extension, the security of networks, data, and endpoints.

Cloud Environments

As businesses allow employees to work remotely, adopt cloud-based applications, and rely on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) for their core business models, there is a growing need for cloud security services. Cloud security management can reduce capital expenditures and administrative demands and free up company bandwidth, but many experts are still unsure of its ability to protect the whole network. Cloud and internet security tools are now a key part of today’s IT environment.

Mobile Endpoints

Smartphones and tablets are now a common part of the workplace. Many see both personal and professional use, which creates a gray area for company security. IT leaders are often unsure of whether they should manage mobile activity, or if this constitutes an invasion of privacy. Companies must temper this concern with the very real threat of device compromise. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of known malware variants has risen by 62%, exceeding 28 million during the first half of 2020.

Larger Threat Surfaces

The proliferation of digital mediums (cloud, mobile, and third-party portals) and the expansion of infrastructure to remote employees and global networks creates new vulnerabilities. Cybercriminals are doubling down on their attempts to exploit these new attack surfaces, and they’re succeeding. Mimecast research showed that 61% of organizations experienced at least a partial disruption of business due to malware in 2021.

Third-Party Threats & Vulnerabilities

Even if their internal network is secure, many companies have limited visibility into the security of partner networks like vendors, suppliers, or service providers. When the two environments overlap, it often creates a backdoor for intrusion or data breaches. For example, the infamous 2020 SolarWinds breach affected thousands of organizations globally. This type of vulnerability compromises the integrity of the entire supply chain. Security platform providers help businesses overcome many of these challenges by monitoring data and network entities, blocking intrusions, and strengthening infrastructure against anticipated attacks.  

Types of cybersecurity tools

The software market offers a broad spectrum of products, with labeling and feature sets that differ from vendor to vendor. This makes it difficult to compare security tools, but also means you’re more likely to find a product that aligns with your needs. In a general sense, there are two main classes of security software:
  1. Best-of-breed: Offers discrete functionality for specific tasks within IT security, such as firewall protection or antivirus; less expensive, but limited in scope
  2. Integrated/product suite: Offers broad functionality for a range of functions; often intended to serve as an all-in-one solution for enterprise security needs, covering hardware, applications, web activity, data, and networks
Software pricing is usually calculated by the number of “nodes” (devices that communicate on the network) and whether the platform is on-premise (upfront license) or hosted off-site (typically an annual or semi-annual subscription). Security software ranges from singular antivirus tools all the way up to full SIEM suites that connect all parts of a network. Businesses need to choose security software based on their available IT resources to ensure they can make the best use of the tools they choose. They should also make sure the tools they choose have responsive customer support in the event of an issue. If businesses don’t have in-house IT teams to monitor a platform, they need to purchase security tools that don’t require monitoring, like antivirus software, and consider outsourcing to managed services providers for those that do.