What Is an Endpoint?
An endpoint is any device connected to a network and exchanging data or commands with other devices. Endpoints are crucial in employee workflows and in facilitating communication and collaboration across an organization’s ecosystem. They serve as access points for any networks to which they connect; some endpoints can also store data.
Unfortunately, this means that endpoints also serve as both the critical point of entry and the primary target of threat actors. A vulnerable or unsecured endpoint provides an attacker with a springboard for everything from data exfiltration to the execution of malicious code, such as ransomware. A malicious actor may also hijack an endpoint to use it as a node in a botnet for a distributed denial of service attack.
It’s important to note that although endpoints operate on a network, they are not themselves network infrastructure. That qualification applies exclusively to devices such as routers, switches, load balancers, and gateways—these systems, known as intermediary devices, facilitate network access between users and endpoints but do not typically serve as endpoints themselves. Network security devices such as firewalls are also distinct from endpoints, with their sole purpose being to protect against network-based threats.
To use a real-world analogy, picture an endpoint as a bus terminal that transmits data (commuters) between cities (networks). In this analogy, the roads and gas stations connecting different bus terminals could be network infrastructure. Similarly, security checkpoints would be akin to network security devices.
Types of Endpoints
“Endpoint” is an extensive term encompassing critical enterprise hardware, sensitive medical systems, and consumer devices. Examples of endpoints include:
- Computers (desktops and laptops)
- Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as:
- Connected medical hardware
- Kitchen appliance
- Thermostat and climate control systems
- Point of Sale (POS) systems
- Printers and fax machines
- Virtual environments
Additionally, an endpoint may fall under one of two categories depending on its intended use:
- An end-user device or client endpoint typically serves as an interface between human users and other devices on a network. This category applies to the vast majority of endpoints.
- A host device or server endpoint communicates with other endpoints but does not typically interface directly with end users. These may include email servers, website hosting platforms, and databases.
Endpoints and Cybersecurity
Traditionally, endpoint security was pretty simple—all an organization needed to do was control access to its network and run the occasional antivirus scan. Unfortunately, this is no longer sufficient in a world defined by distributed work and hyperconnectivity. Organizations must prioritize endpoint security and embrace a more modern, comprehensive approach to cybersecurity that accounts for the full scope of threats they now face.
For adequate protection, an endpoint security solution must include the following:
- Continuous monitoring supported by artificial intelligence and machine learning
- Protection against email-based threats
- Malicious download prevention
- Centralized device management with granular access and permission controls
- Behavioral monitoring
- Data loss protection, prevention, and remediation
- Integration with third-party software
- Reporting and alerting with prioritized vulnerability notifications
- A streamlined administrative dashboard
- Automated detection, investigation, and remediation
- Anti-exploit protection against zero-day vulnerabilities and memory-based attacks
The Difference Between an Endpoint and an API
An application programming interface (API) is a framework that allows applications to connect to other applications or endpoints. They serve a similar purpose to network infrastructure in that they facilitate communication between systems. To go back to our earlier bus station analogy, you could think of the API as the bus itself—it transports commuters from one location to another based on a set schedule.
Another helpful way to conceptualize an API would be to consider it similar to a bank teller.
An API endpoint is not the same thing as a network endpoint. It’s simply a term coined by developers to refer to how a service or server is accessed. This typically takes the form of a URL.