March 7, 2022 | Cyber security education
What is the difference between MDR, XDR, and EDR?
With contributions from Libby Robinson and James Morgan.
The cyber security industry should come with a glossary to cover all the acronyms it uses. We’ve talked about some of the more common terms in the past, but today we’re taking a closer look at three big ones: MDR, XDR, and EDR.
What do these three acronyms mean, exactly? The short answer is easy enough:
- MDR refers to managed detection and response.
- XDR refers to extended detection and response.
- EDR refers to endpoint detection and response.
Put simply, these three approaches to detection and response technologies are hot topics in the security sector and dominate a lot of conversation.
While they are closely related, there are several major differences—not to mention subtler nuances—that set their approaches to security apart. The challenge is in navigating how these terms are used by vendors. Without a clearer understanding of the actual outcomes each one provides, businesses may struggle to make an informed decision about the solution(s) they need to defend their operations and data.
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MDR, XDR, and EDR share a lot of DNA, but the way they approach security can vary wildly. Let’s take a closer look at these three solutions to better understand their capabilities and potential benefits.
In this blog, you’ll learn:
- What MDR, XDR, and EDR are designed to protect
- The benefits of each detection and response solution
- Which approach is best for your business
What is endpoint detection and response (EDR)?
Endpoint detection and response (EDR) focuses on securing endpoint devices—any device with connections to and from a network. Endpoints include laptop and desktop computers, smartphones, tablets, Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices, servers, and more.
EDR can be seen as an evolution of traditional endpoint protection (EPP), a classification-based form of threat detection. EDR solutions that rely on classification-based detection can only really identify known threats by querying an existing database to compare detected activity to known threats, and to take an automated action when matched.
EDR can incorporate signature-based detection to defend against known threats but sets itself apart with a greater focus on active monitoring. This makes EDR better suited to detecting and identifying unknown threats, such as advanced persistent threats (APTs). APTs are, as the name suggests, more sophisticated cyber threats that can go undetected for long periods of time.
EDR is all about visibility, giving teams more insight into what’s happening on an endpoint so they can quickly resolve threats as they arise.
What are the benefits of EDR?
EDR has a number of benefits that make it an appealing security tool. It offers visibility into the state of your endpoints, and since 70% of all breaches start with endpoints, this approach is highly valuable for security professionals.
EDR reviews a broad set of information, and as such can detect threats that evade legacy EPP platforms, such as fileless malware attacks and perform incident response (IR) activities. And like other tools, EDR can integrate with a larger solution like a security information and event management (SIEM) platform.
However, the narrow focus on endpoint telemetry alone limits the amount of data available for analysis. In isolation from other sources, abnormal endpoint activity paints an incomplete picture. Without context from what’s happening on the network or in the cloud, for example, it’s harder to determine what’s a genuine threat and what’s simply a false positive.
What’s more, when used as part of a SIEM, EDR solutions can also contribute to significant alert volume. Activity on endpoints would generate one set of notifications, while activity in the cloud (potentially from the same threat) creates another. The challenge of correlation means that dealing with the alerts can leave teams exhausted, exacerbating alert fatigue and potentially increasing employee turnover.
What is extended detection and response (XDR)?
XDR’s origins come from the fact that looking through a single lens at an organization’s infrastructure simply doesn’t provide the necessary coverage required to minimize the threat surface. Compromises can happen at the endpoint, network, and cloud, and through employees themselves.
EDR and some traditional MDR offerings are frequently seen as limited point solutions, addressing a single aspect within a network. XDR is a direct response to those limitations, pulling together detection and response capabilities for endpoints, networks, and cloud services in a single platform. XDR is often offered as software-as-a-service (SaaS), making it easier for businesses to access this technology.
In light of hybrid work environments, complex IT infrastructure, and increasingly sophisticated threats, XDR solutions promise to deliver relevant information and threat data so organizations can better protect their data and operations.
What are the benefits of XDR?
XDR solutions acknowledge that endpoint detection alone is not enough to protect modern IT infrastructure. Indicators of compromise don’t exhibit solely at the endpoints; abnormal traffic and traffic patterns through the network, and anomalous cloud activity can equally indicate trouble.
Beyond this, XDR provides a range of benefits for organizations:
- Improved detection and response—as we’ve discussed, because of its focus on the entire threat surface, XDR can help businesses identify and address threats targeting any aspect of their IT infrastructure.
- Centralized user interface—one of the major selling points of XDR solutions is the fact that they centralize all threat data in a single dashboard, making it easier for teams to prioritize their response.
- Lower total cost of ownership—XDR solutions can simplify security toolsets, often helping organizations find efficiencies and maximize their resources.
- Automated analytics—having a solution that will identify, triage, and prioritize threats on your behalf while simultaneously analyzing reams of data is a huge benefit for security teams everywhere.
XDR takes its broad approach to cyber threat monitoring by pulling together multiple pieces of technology to deliver greater insight into an IT environment. But that approach has its drawbacks.
XDR solutions often are built in a disparate fashion—that is, each component hasn’t been cohesively developed from the ground up to ensure seamless interoperability. As a result, each piece of the platform may only be providing a snapshot of the bigger picture. Additionally, the footprint and CPU usage due to the different pieces of technology can be significant.
This leads to considerable noise, too. Each tool in an XDR solution may be providing multiple alerts for the same issue. As mentioned above, suspicious activity in a cloud service and suspicious activity on an endpoint may be linked, but XDR solutions don’t always provide that context—which could mean the difference between preventing an attack or falling victim to one.
What is managed detection and response (MDR)?
As useful as these tools can be for an organization, they can both generate a flood of data that needs analysis at some point. Reviewing telemetry data requires cyber security expertise, but even with this expertise, it’s a time-consuming and tedious process. This is the challenge managed detection and response seeks to address.
MDR is not a specific technology, but a managed service that packages the benefits of EDR and/or XDR into a convenient offering, helping offload some of the challenges of hiring cyber security professionals who have the experience needed to build an in-house security program.
As we’ve touched on, EDR and XDR generate significant amounts of information, requiring teams to parse greater volumes of alert data and determine what is a false positive and what is an actual threat. MDR takes this off a client’s plate, putting detection and response responsibilities in the hands of an experienced third-party security provider.
In many cases, MDR simply offers a services approach to traditional detection and response activities. Sometimes it’s packaged alongside a range of other security tools, such as a DNS firewall, network sensors, or cloud monitoring to better protect modern IT infrastructure.
What are the benefits of MDR?
The biggest benefit of MDR is the peace of mind it offers businesses. As a managed service, MDR frees up time for IT and security teams to focus on strategic initiatives that support business goals.
What’s more, a managed service may be more cost-effective and more accessible than building an in-house security team. By taking EDR capabilities and delivering them as a managed service, MDR providers can offer added benefits to their clients:
- Event analysis—handling the hard work of analyzing the billions of security events, helping weed out false positives from genuine threats, often by augmenting machine learning with human analysis and support.
- Alert triage—triaging alerts which allows businesses to better prioritize their cyber security activities and focus on the most critical issues first.
Vulnerability management – proactively addressing vulnerabilities to minimize an organization’s threat surface
- Remediation—offered as an additional service or included in the service agreement, MDR providers can help repair, restore, and remediate after a cyber security incident, minimizing damage and recovery time.
- Threat hunting—MDR providers can monitor an organization’s network and look for active incidents, helping businesses detect threats early and minimize potential damage.
As useful as MDR products and services can be, not every provider offers the end-to-end defence a modern business requires. Some MDR solutions fail to account for network- or cloud-based threats, only offering visibility into a single set of data.
What to look for in a cyber security solution
The prevalence of these three terms frequently means that companies in search of a solution are often stuck trying to figure out what protections vendors will provide. They also contribute to the belief that a single technology will solve all security challenges. But you’re not going to find the perfect solution in an acronym.
Instead, focus on the outcomes you need for your business. This includes things like the extent of coverage each solution provides, along with the expertise, qualifications, and services offered by the solution provider. You need protection that extends across every aspect of your IT infrastructure, delivering relevant and timely information along with the context needed to make informed decisions about your security posture.
At Field Effect, we always suggest considering a more holistic approach. Look at the tools and solutions that will help you consolidate your security tech stack while giving you the visibility you need into every aspect of your network and IT infrastructure.
Not sure where to start? Field Effect’s team of experts is here to help. Contact us today to learn about what a holistic approach to cyber security would look like for your business.