Managed vs. unmanaged antivirus software: The pros and cons of both approaches 

Most computer users, and particularly those working within small and medium-size businesses, typically give little thought to the antivirus software running on their computers. Hopefully someone installed antivirus software, but workers in general—occupied with completing responsibilities, joining a meeting or coordinating next steps within a wearying workflow—don’t usually fret over antivirus software. They have other jobs to do, nor should they bear such a burden. 

 So it’s been that a small office’s technology administrator, a larger organization’s IT department or a firm’s managed services provider often receives responsibility for installing and maintaining antivirus software on devices throughout a company. But once antimalware software is installed on a computer, or tablet or smartphone for that matter, the work is only just beginning. 

 Due to application updates, the need to continually patch operating systems, software’s potential for freezing and myriad other reasons, to provide proper protection against viruses, spyware, ransomware and other forms of cyber attack, contemporary antimalware software works best with continual monitoring and real-time (not scheduled) updates. This is especially true in an era when cybersecurity threats are ever evolving and adopting artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies to better evade defenses and attack users and computers in clever new ways. 

 Organizations sometimes rely upon standalone antivirus software. These unmanaged installations require technology staff to physically visit each computer to install the software, then circle back periodically to confirm the software is operating properly. When using independent unmanaged antimalware applications, administrators must also vigilantly confirm updates—which for traditional antivirus programs include important new signature information that assists recognizing and blocking documented threats—are flowing properly and scans haven’t surfaced problems the software is unable to resolve on its own. The unmanaged antivirus process, subsequently, proves time consuming and fraught with delays when something goes wrong, such as when a workstation’s antivirus components become corrupt. 

 Using traditional unmanaged antivirus software, compiling an inventory list documenting each workstation possesses properly functioning antivirus software—a common practice within various industries—proves difficult. Difficulties also arise when using standalone antivirus solutions to generate application status, scan and alert history, and other administrative reports. Typical administration and maintenance tasks subsequently become unusually inefficient, overall, using unmanaged antivirus software. 

 Managed antivirus programs, however, in which antivirus software is remotely managed and administered using a centralized console, offers organizations numerous advantages over the traditional unmanaged counterpart. The managed solution simplifies IT administration by providing technology staff with a solution that supports remote antimalware software deployment, meaning technology staff members need not visit each company site or branch office to ensure proper protections are in place. Using a managed solution, IT staff can also centrally manage and monitor antimalware performance. Centralized administration also assists in generating status reports, which better enables tech professionals to identify problematic systems or even identify a device operating without coverage. The fact that managed antivirus software can also generate real-time alerts further enables and accelerates rapid response. 

 When listing the advantages and disadvantages of unmanaged versus managed antivirus software, the lists break down like this: 

 Unmanaged Antivirus – Pros 

  • Provides basic antimalware protection
  • Typically simple installation

 Unmanaged Antivirus – Cons 

  • Requires physically visiting each machine to install
  • Typically no remote monitoring, alerting or administration capabilities
  • Typically no notification of failed updates or suspicious activity
  • Requires tracking and maintaining individual licenses
  • End users can often interrupt, disable and remove the software
  • Slower response
  • Potential for missed systems

 Managed Antivirus – Pros 

  • Features real-time monitoring and alerting
  • Boasts centralized administration
  • Improves confidence each endpoint is protected
  • Increases confidence alerts will arrive when an endpoint encounters difficulty
  • End users are typically unable to disable or remove software
  • Simplifies licensing
  • More cost effective
  • Enables rapid response, including for new threats

 Managed Antivirus – Cons 

  • Requires technology expertise to properly deploy and manage

 Fortunately, as cyberthreats have evolved, in some cases quite dramatically, so too have cybersecurity defenses. In the past couple years, especially, antimalware solutions have become much more sophisticated, themselves adopting advanced threat protection technologies including AI and ML to defend users, computers and data. 

The contemporary approach, subsequently, is shifting. Firms are increasingly deploying managed antivirus software capable of assisting remote administration and management. Frequently these solutions take the form of endpoint detection and response (EDR) or extended detection and response (XDR) solutions that include antivirus components but add additional capabilities, such as the ability to analyze suspicious behaviors to better intercept new threats, detect threat patterns and automate infection removal. 

 Because traditional antivirus programs often rely on matching virus signatures to recognize threats and spot an attack, significant delays can occur between the emergence of a new so-called zero-day threat and availability of the corresponding signature updates needed to protect against those newfound vulnerabilities. With a managed antivirus solution that includes an EDR or XDR component, response is much quicker. Because they use advanced analytics and identify patterns and anomalies, these newer technologies are more adept battling cyberattacks, blocking threats and notifying administrators when anomalies arise. The advantages are game changing, as EDR and XDR solutions can detect and protect against exploits before many traditional antivirus software firms can create a signature match and release the update and customer companies can download and install those needed patches. Better yet, because modern EDR and XDR solutions include antivirus components, they can safely be viewed as sophisticated antivirus solutions that replace unmanaged antivirus programs. 

 Differentiating between managed and unmanaged platforms can occasionally prove tricky. Some software providers offer both options or a platform that blends technologies. If you have trouble immediately differentiating between different types of offerings, here are some examples of entry level (usually unmanaged) antivirus programs. Note, some of these providers offer a basic antimalware engine boasting a cloud management component or a managed alternative: 

Examples of managed antivirus solutions, including some with EDR or XDR components, include: 

Examples of enterprise-capable EDR and XDR managed platforms (which, again, include antivirus protections) include: 

As demonstrated above, a variety of antivirus and endpoint protection solutions are available. Most providers now offer a managed solution, and for good reason. Each offering typically presents a wealth of features and capabilities, although navigating the corresponding data sheets and administrative nuances can require time, patience and expertise. 

Should you have questions, or need more information, reach out to a technical expert at Louisville Geek. We can be reached at 502-897-7577 or by email at [email protected]. You can also book an appointment to speak directly with one of our Sales managers.