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Agent-based vs Agentless security: Which Approach is Better

In modern times, the massive shift to the cloud has resulted in a change in how organizations deal with their cloud security. Organizations are now facing confusion regarding which security approach will be effective in deploying cloud security and protecting the resources, network, and application. 

Agent-based and agentless security are two prominent approaches that are considered in the modern cloud security realm. However, security professionals have widely debated regarding which approach to consider, as both agent-based and agentless security have distinct advantages and tradeoffs. 

So which approach will be better? Determining which will be better depends upon a lot of factors, including the organization’s security needs, compliance, operational budget, and cloud infrastructure. In this guide on Agent-based vs. agentless security, we will delve deeper into the comparison and help you determine which will be better for you.

What Is Agent-Based Security?

Agent-based security is a popular cybersecurity approach that indicates the deployment of software agents on individual endpoints in a network that the organization needs to monitor and safeguard. 

The software agents in these endpoints play a pivotal role in collecting data and provide complete visibility and real-time monitoring of security controls of each endpoint. The software agents are also referred to as security software agents or security agents, and they come useful in enforcing security rules or performing any security actions on these endpoints.

Besides, agent-based security also possesses vulnerability assessment capabilities, where they scan for vulnerabilities and failed security patches and alert the organization to help them address those issues.

Even though, in this approach, the agents are spread across different endpoints, they are controlled through a centralized platform where security teams can configure settings and monitor events. The centralized platform also helps the team get granular level visibility security posture of each endpoint and ensure optimum cloud infrastructure protection.

Compatibility is an issue with this approach, as software agents can be installed on different endpoints, making them suitable for device types and platforms. However, agent-based security is highly resource intensive, and resource consumption entirely depends upon the tasks it performs along with complexity.

What Is Agentless Security?

Agentless Security is a modern security approach that helps organizations monitor and secure endpoints without needing to install software agents at each endpoint in a network. This approach is garnering a lot of attention among organizations due to its ability to scan and monitor endpoints from the outside by assessing all the information available on the cloud network. 

It also goes through all the configuration data that control the resources in the cloud infrastructure and evaluates if there is any security event. It is a lightweight solution that utilizes the protocols, network appliances, firewalls, and infrastructure switches to monitor network traffic and enforce policies. 

There is much advanced agentless security that seamlessly integrates with cloud providers’ API to help in gathering information about workloads without requiring agents. Unlike agent-based, agentless security is concerned with the comprehensive protection of the whole network rather than each endpoint. 

To provide complete protection, this solution also utilizes ID/IPS, network traffic analysis, firewall, SIEM, and other features. Many organizations prefer this approach as it is easy to deploy and cost-effective for all business types. 

Moreover, scalability is another factor that is making it more feasible for organizations as they scale it as the network grows and gets more complex. However, it may not be as resource-intensive as agent-based security, but it often requires a solid cloud infrastructure and dedicated hardware for smooth functioning.

Agent based vs Agentless Security Monitoring

What Is the Difference Between Agent-Based and Agentless Security?

Agent-based and agentless security are two distinctive security approaches that both have the same aim but with a different focus. They are pretty different from each other in various aspects and have their own set of benefits and limitations. Before we dive into the comparison chart, we would like you to take a look at their respective advantages and disadvantages;

Advantages of Agent-Based Security

Agent-based security has several advantages that make it entirely suitable for a modern organization operating in the cloud;

Real-Time Monitoring

Agent-based security solutions can continuously monitor the endpoints in a network and respond to threats when they detect something.  With agent-based vulnerability scanners, organizations can detect and remediate threats proactively.

Granular Control

Security agents are present at each endpoint in a network allowing the security team to customize security controls and policies and provide tailored protection according to the requirement. Thus, it will enable the organization to have granular control over all the endpoints.

Utilizes Behavioral Analysis

Agent-based solutions are also known to leverage the behavioral analysis feature paired with machine learning to help organizations identify issues in endpoint behavior. It is beneficial for detecting advanced persistent threats and zero-day threats.

Automation

Through agent-based solutions, you can not only enforce security policies and control at each endpoint but also automate them. You can automate the process directly on the devices with ease. Through automation, it also ensures that all the endpoints in networks adhere to regulatory standards and configurations.

Offline Protection

A unique benefit of an agent-based solution is that it can provide offline protection when the endpoint isn’t connected to the internet. It is incredibly beneficial for networks that have devices operating frequently in offline mode.

Complete Visibility

When an organization utilizes an agent-based solution, it is likely to have greater visibility into the security posture of each endpoint. Security teams can quickly learn about the patch status of each endpoint, identify vulnerabilities, and analyze malicious behaviors.

Disadvantages of Agent-Based Security

Here are some disadvantages of agent-based security;

Resource Intensive

Agent-based security is highly resource-intensive and consumes a lot of resources for performing routine tasks. Less powerful devices often face low-end point performance due to this issue.

Requires Individual Installation

Organizations have to install agent-based security at every endpoint of each network, which can be a daunting task. For complex networks, it can also be time-consuming and less efficient.

Costly

Agnet-based security is slightly expensive to deploy as organizations have to pay a subscription fee for each security agent. Moreover, the deployment and management of security agents also add to the operational cost.

Scalability Challenge

It is not easy to scale agent-based security as the organization grows and starts to have more complex networks. It will be highly resource-intensive and costly for organizations to add and manage agents for new devices and offices.

Advantages of Agentless Security

Agentless security has become a popular approach that is taken by many modern organizations, and it is mainly due to the benefits it has on offer;

Easy Deployment

One of the primary reasons agentless security is widely preferred by many is because of its easy deployment without needing the installation of security agents. This helps in saving a lot of time and complexity of deployment.

Lightweight Solution

Agentless security doesn’t run on endpoints, which prevents them from accessing significant amounts of resources, thus making it a lightweight solution for cloud networks. They depend upon the infrastructure and hardware of the device so they run seamlessly without affecting productivity.

Highly Compatible

Agentless security is widely compatible with a lot of devices and operating systems so it can be used in all kinds of cloud environments. Since it doesn’t need agents on endpoints, this solution doesn’t have to be specifically compatible.

Lower Cost

With easy management, no agent deployment at endpoints, and minimal resource requirements, agentless security solutions have lower operation costs. Moreover, the licensing cost is also less in comparison to agent-based security.

High Scalability

High scalability is one of the vital benefits that makes it a go-to choice for most modern organizations, as the solution can scale with growing networks and devices. As the solution can be managed through a central platform, it eases the scalability.

Centralized Control

Agentless security solution offers centralized management and control through which the security team can enforce, configure, and manage security policies. It helps streamline the security and allows teams to have better visibility into the security posture.

Disadvantages of Agentless Security

Like agent-based security, Agentless security also has some cons, and they are;

Lacks Real-Time Security

One of the most significant drawbacks of agentless endpoint security is that it doesn’t provide real-time protection like agent-based security, as it mainly relies on APIs and log files for risk identification. When it comes to agent vs agentless monitoring, agentless lacks in proactively securing the network. 

Lower Granularity

Agentless endpoint security focuses more on offering precise control over security settings rather than fine-grained control and policy deployment on endpoints. This limitation in the granularity reduces the level of details an agentless security can collect.

Dependency on Network

It is highly dependent on the availability of network connectivity on the device, and if not connected to the internet or existing network of the organization, it would leave the network vulnerable to attack. This also leads to the risk of high downtime when it is not connected.

Less Effective Against Network-Based Attack

Agentless device security relies on the network when it comes to protection, so it might not be effective for addressing risks originating within the network. 

Key Differences Between Agentless and Agent-Based Security

Agentless and agent-based security have many key differences that set them apart, and here we will look at them in a tabular form:

Key Differences Between Agentless vs Agent-Based Security
 Agentless SecurityAgent-Based Security
DeploymentAgentless Security solutions are straightforward to deploy as it doesn’t require security agent installation and configuration at endpoints in a network. Agent-based security requires the deployment of security agents at individuals in a network to provide monitoring and protection against suspicious activity and vulnerability.
Resource UsageIt has minimal resource usage as it is not installed on endpoints. Instead, it depends upon the network, devices, and firewalls of the infrastructure to monitor and mitigate threats. Due to this, they have a lower impact on the performance.It is highly resource intensive and relies on system resources like CPU, RAM, and storage available on the endpoints. The effect of high resource usage depends upon the complexity of the network.
CompatibilityAgentless security solution is compatible with a wide range of devices and operating systems.Agent-based security solutions also offer extensive compatibility, but sometimes, they might require specific agents for certain endpoints.
GranularityWhen it comes to granularity, it has limited control at the endpoints as it mostly manages everything from the outside.This security solution offers fine-grained control over endpoints and allows you to manage the security proactively.
VisibilityAgentless security primarily offers network-level visibility, and a central panel allows you to do all the scanning and deploying.Agent-based security provides endpoints level visibility. Each agent performs scanning depending on the defined policies.
Network DependencyThis solution is entirely dependent on the system network connectivity, and if not available, it can cause serious downtime. Moreover, it is ideal for networks that have large bandwidths.This solution depends upon the network available on the endpoints. It also can operate and offer protection in an offline state. It is suitable for distributed networks with endpoints having limited bandwidth.
Real-Time MonitoringThis security approach doesn’t provide real-time monitoring; instead, it uses APIs and log files to offer protection.This security approach provides real-time monitoring to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities before they can make any impact.
Environment CompatibilityAgentless security is highly effective for cloud environments and can be deployed quickly for multi-cloud environments.Agent-based is also compatible with hybrid, on-premise, and cloud environments. However, they can be difficult to deploy for complex systems.
UsageIt is widely used by organizations for patch management and also for managing assets on network machines.It is highly useful for organizations doing Linux-based patch management work. Many organizations also utilize it for performing application control at endpoints.
Mitigating Network-Based AttacksIt is not highly suitable for addressing network-based attacks and focuses more on external threats.It is capable of addressing network attacks and insider threats without any complexity.
Complexity in SetupThe setup process requires complex configurations for all networks.The complexity of configuration varies according to the network and number of devices.

What is The Benefit of Agent-Based Protection When Compared To Agentless Protection?

Agent-based security solutions have some unique benefits that make them more valuable when compared to agentless protection. Not only is agent-based security more secure and effective than agentless security solutions, but it also helps with deeper insight into security posture. It can collect and detect all the network traffic locally and provide you with real-time protection. 

Agent-based security also can enforce security policies, perform scans, and mitigate vulnerability when the network is offline, but agentless is entirely dependent on the network. 

Importantly, agent-based security offers granular control over the network and manages specific devices and endpoints while agentless lacks granular control due to its limited control over endpoints. 

Moreover, it provides runtime protection for all the applications in the network and can also be used as a firewall, which is not possible with agentless security. Networks with limited bandwidth highly benefit from agent-based protection because they can offer protection even without connectivity. It is safe to say agent-based protection has unique advantages over agentless protection, and that is why organizations often prefer it.

Agent-Based or Agentless Security: Which Solution Is Better?

To sum it up, both agent-based and agentless security solutions are highly effective for modern organizations, and the solution that will suit the organization depends upon an organization’s infrastructure and network environment. 

Agent-based security is highly suitable for networks with standard configurations and systems and also has simple workloads. Importantly, agent-based security is highly secured and effective in collecting data, but you have to configure it for each endpoint manually.

Agentless security will be an ideal choice for your organization if you are looking for a solution that will be compatible with your large and complex network. This solution is more suited to work with workloads that are constantly changing and for environments that work with APIs.

Since agentless solutions have easy deployment, low cost of ownership, and better performance, many organizations are integrating this solution from top providers like CloudDefense.AI, which is a top-tier agentless security solution. However, it doesn’t mean agent-based security is inferior in today’s cloud-centric industry, and many large-scale organizations still prefer it for security controls and real-time monitoring.

The security solution you will choose will entirely depend upon your organization’s existing network, scalability, deployment time, and data collection requirements.

FAQs

What is required to pair an agentless system?

The pairing of an agentless system is typically used in network security, and it allows the security teams to ensure optimum security posture. The pairing process usually needs network connectivity, compatibility with OS and systems, port and protocol configuration, security policies, and authentication and authorizations.

What is an agentless management service?

An agentless management service is generally a cloud-based solution that is utilized by different security to monitor and manage all their assets in the cloud. It doesn’t require any dedicated agent to be installed on individual devices or servers.

What is agent-based and agentless monitoring?

Agent-based and agentless monitoring are two types of approaches in the network world that are utilized for monitoring and gathering data about the posture and performance of a network, device, and system. Although they have the same end goal, both the process takes a different approach.

What is agent-based backup and agentless backup?

Agent-based and agentless backup are two distance backup processes where each has its own set of characteristics and benefits. In agent-based backup, agents are installed on the device that needs to be backed up, whereas agentless backup utilizes APIs or networks to backup data remotely.

Conclusion

In today’s cloud-based system, both agent-based and agentless security solutions serve as a practical choice for organizations. However, there is no perfect solution for all organizations, as each approach has its own characteristics. 

The approach an organization should choose entirely depends upon its requirements, infrastructure, and other aspects. In this guide, we have correctly differentiated between the two through an agent-based vs agentless comparison chart. We have also forwarded many further details that will help in finding which security approach will be ideal for your organization.

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Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, currently co-founds CloudDefense.AI, a cybersecurity solution with a mission to secure your business by rapidly identifying and removing critical risks in Applications and Infrastructure as Code. With a background in Amazon, Microsoft, and VMWare, they contributed to various software and security roles.
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