Agent vs. agentless security: Which one is better?

How agentless security works: Centralized monitoring and scanning

Agentless security relies on centralized scanning and monitoring of cloud environments and workloads, without needing to deploy agents within the workloads themselves. Data is collected remotely through APIs, log analysis, and network traffic monitoring. This gives visibility into workloads and environments at a high level.

The advantages of agentless security

Minimal resource footprint

With no agents to deploy and manage, agentless solutions have a very small resource footprint. They do not consume meaningful resources like CPU, memory, or storage within the workloads being monitored. This makes agentless security lightweight and non-invasive.

Simplified deployment and management

Without specialized agents to install, configure, and maintain, there is no need to coordinate deployment and management across different teams, environments, and workloads. The setup process is quick, simple, and low-maintenance for agentless solutions.

Ideal for temporary or resource-constrained environments

Agentless security fits particularly well for temporary or short-lived workloads where installing agents may not be feasible or practical. It's also good for environments where resources are constrained and cannot accommodate agent overhead.

The role of security agents: Continuous monitoring and protection

Agents provide active, real-time monitoring and threat response capabilities by running directly within workloads. This enables much deeper visibility into workload activity and behavior at the process level. Agents also facilitate finer-grained policy enforcement and security controls.

Benefits of agent-based security

Granular visibility and control

By embedding within workloads, agents can provide visibility down to the process, user, file, and network activity level in real-time. Security controls and policies can be enforced at this granular level as well.

Real-time threat detection and response

Positioned within workloads, agents are able to detect potential threats and malicious behavior instantly as they occur, without relying on external monitoring and analysis. Agents can also take immediate action to block threats before damage is done.

Versatility for diverse environments and workloads

Agents are versatile enough to work across on-premises, cloud, container, server, and hybrid environments. They provide a flexible approach to security across the diverse landscape of modern IT environments and workloads.

Side-by-side comparison: Agentless vs. agent-based

Resource consumption and impact

Agentless solutions have minimal internal resource impact while agents consume more resources proportional to their degree of visibility and security functionality.

Deployment and scalability

Agentless solutions deploy faster without the need to coordinate agent installation. However, agents take more effort upfront but automation helps tremendously with smooth deployment at scale.

Coverage and visibility

Agentless provides workload-level visibility but from the outside. Agents enable deeper, real-time visibility into processes, users, and activity within workloads. They allow you to scan your entire environment (hosts, containers, application language libraries) in just a few minutes to detect vulnerability risk.

Flexibility and adaptability

Agentless works well for some managed cloud services but may be limited in on-prem or custom environments. Agents work flexibly across diverse on-prem, cloud, container, and hybrid environments.

How to choose between agentless and agent-based security?

Environment, use case, and resources

The environment type, specific use case needs, workload types, and available resources guide the decision between an agentless or agent-based approach to cloud security.

Evaluating agentless security use cases

Agentless security is a natural fit for temporary workloads, serverless environments, and managed cloud services with API access. Environments where resources are constrained also benefit.

Assessing agent security use cases

Security agents shine by providing deeper visibility, granular controls, and real-time threat detection across on-prem, cloud, container, serverless, and hybrid environments. Agents are versatile and flexible.