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The ever-changing number of cybersecurity threats organizations face seem to be rivaled only by the number of tools developed to combat them. As you would assume, the more security tools an organization uses, the more difficult it becomes to effectively manage multiple platforms and achieve the level of visibility necessary for effective security. One such approach is extended detection and response (XDR), an approach that has gained rising popularity in the industry.  

XDR promises to dramatically improve SOC teams’ investigation and response times, but as with any new approach, there is confusion about what exactly it is, how it differs from traditional security solutions, and what security outcomes users can expect from it. 

Link to on-demand webinar: A Guide to Threat Detection and Response: XDR, EDR, MDR and more

What Is XDR Security? 

XDR is a cross-layered detection and response tool. It gathers and correlates data from across multiple security layers including endpoints, email, servers, apps, clouds, and networks. This holistic approach provides improved visibility into an organization’s technology environment, enabling security teams to detect, investigate, and respond to threats more quickly and effectively. 

However, in order fully understand XDR, we need to take a step back and look at why it was developed in the first place. To do that, we must bring endpoint detection and response (EDR) and managed detection and response (MDR) into the conversation. 

To start, companies relying on the traditional approach of EDR realized their security wasn’t as effective as it needed to be due to a lack of integration and subsequent visibility across multiple systems. The data produced from the combination of separate tools wasn’t easily normalized for analysis, making it challenging to detect more intricate threats. Attackers took advantage of this, stealthily evading notice by hiding between the security silos. 

MDR was a superior option that would effectively address those issues and provide better security, but it was a newer concept that needed to mature. This being the case, EDR vendors took advantage of the opportunity and introduced XDR.  

XDR collects deeper activity data than traditional solutions and consolidates all of it into a unified incident detection and response solution. Rather than weeding through a relentless stream of events from multiple disjointed tools, security teams can easily make logical connections from a single view of data and quickly act on those insights to mitigate threats.  

There is one important thing to keep in mind though — while XDR is a great option for many organizations, it doesn’t mean they are on the path to MDR, though they may think so. The path from EDR to XDR to MDR isn’t linear. XDR addresses a lot of issues that exist with EDR for many companies, but depending on company size and desired outcomes, many run into scaling issues around multiple systems and their people and processes. In a nutshell, the management piece starts to become a problem  something we’ll discuss in more detail later. 

How Does XDR Security Work? 

XDR is implemented as a SaaS-based tool that integrates with an organization’s current security productsto create a cohesive security operations system. The system collects raw telemetry data from the organization’s various network points and stores it in a data lake. It then performs automated analysis and correlation of the data to hunt and bring visibility to sophisticated threats. 

When a threat is detected, the XDR tool constructs a graphical attack timeline that’s accessed from a centralized user interface. This timeline view can answer questions like how a user got infected, where the threat originated, how it spread, and what other assets have been impacted. The XDR tool can respond to threats to contain or remove them based on correlated data and use threat intelligence to prevent similar attacks from occurring in the future. 

What are the Benefits of XDR? 

XDR’s primary goal is to provide organizations with complete visibility of their network’s infrastructure from a unified standpoint. This brings several benefits: 

  • Greater visibility and context: Unlike traditional solutions which typically focus on a single security layer, XDR provides a comprehensive view of the IT infrastructure. This eliminates security silos and allows analysts to see a threat anywhere in the environment and determine where it originated, how it spread, and who it affected. This context allows security analysts to better understand threats and target their response more accurately. 
  • Reduced manual effort: XDR uses automation to support security analysts’ capabilities and streamline workflows. It eliminates many repetitive manual tasks, freeing lower-tier security analysts to focus on higher-value activities. It also allows analysts to more easily gain insights from huge volumes of data so they can respond to security events more quickly and investigate more efficiently. 
  • Better operational efficiency: XDR provides a holistic view of the entire environment through centralized data collection and a single user interface. Security analysts no longer have to switch between several different dashboards and aggregate data manually. That gives them more time to spend on detecting and responding to threats. 
  • Tailored threat responses: A typical EDR response is to contain compromised endpoints through quarantine. That creates problems when the endpoint is a business-critical server. XDR’s expanded visibility allows it to tailor its threat response based on the affected asset and leverage other control points to minimize the overall impact. 
  • Event prioritization: Security teams are confronted with an overwhelming volume of alerts and little context to correlate and prioritize them. Thanks to XDR’s automated data analysis and correlation capabilities, it can group related alerts, prioritize them, and surface the most critical ones. 
  • Improved detection and response: Because XDR collects data from across the entire ecosystem into a single pool, it enables faster, deeper, and more sophisticated threat detection and response, including an increased ability to detect stealthy attacks. 

Link to on-demand webinar: A Guide to Threat Detection and Response: XDR, EDR, MDR and more

XDR vs EDR 

XDR, as stated earlier, is a more sophisticated evolution of EDR. Though a valuable part of any security strategy, EDR provides a limited view as it focuses solely on managed endpoints. That, in turn, limits the range of threats that can be detected and narrows the visibility into what those threats affect. EDR alone is too restricted to detect the scope of threats in today’s ever-shifting landscape. 

XDR offers advantages over EDR because it takes an integrated view of all security layers rather than approaching each layer independently. By pooling data from across the entire environment, XDR creates a foundation for deeper and more effective threat detection and response than EDR. 

XDR vs MDR 

XDR and MDR take similar approaches. Both collect and analyze data from across the organization’s network, endpoints, servers, and cloud to detect advanced threats. And like XDR, MDR employs AI-driven data analysis and continuous threat intelligence to maintain visibility into current threats and vulnerabilities across all these platforms.  

However, there is one key difference between these two — MDR provides a high level of human expertise around alert data, a managed component that XDR doesn’t include. XDR is best viewed as complementary to MDR, rather than an alternative to it, and may even be included as part of managed detection and response service. 

How MDR Can Help Companies Considering XDR or EDR 

This complementary relationship refers to the ability MDR vendors have to ingest XDR (and EDR) sources, coordinate all the different tools into a singular approach, and ultimately provide a more holistic solution. 

Further, unlike XDR, MDR focuses on security outcomes and how to achieve them. This plays into the managed component that XDR lacks, as it’s that component that ultimately enables organizations to focus on their goals as opposed to being bogged down with security silos. 

Think of it this way: the common lexicon for XDR is extended detection and response, but what does that really mean when your desired outcome is peace of mind? Is the X referring primarily to endpoints, desktops, servers, containers, or something else entirely?  

The answer, ultimately, is that extended simply means more than one, but it doesn’t address how all of those separate components are managed. That is what comes with the human expertise of MDR. 

Learn more about XDR and MDR 

Many businesses don’t have the resources or expertise to effectively respond to the range of complex threats they face. One solution is to extend your security posture with a threat detection technology like XDRMDR, or EDRIf you’d like to learn more, attend the exclusive webinar, A Guide to Threat Detection and Response: XDR, EDR, MDR, and more. 

Onkar Birk
About the Author
Onkar Birk

As SVP, Product Strategy & Engineering, Onkar Birk oversees Product, Release and Threat Management as well as R&D for Alert Logic. Birk has built his reputation as a leader focused on delivering products to market with customer success, swift execution, and the development of talent on his teams. Previously, he led technology transformation for global clients, driving revenue generation through customer success. Prior to his seven years in consulting, Birk was General Manager and CTO for the Avaya Services & Contact Center Solutions Division, where he helped achieve the leader position from Gartner.

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