EDR vs MDR vs XDR: How They Differ and Which One is Right for You

The cyber threat landscape is growing faster than ever, and organizations across the globe are struggling to find the protection they need to stay ahead of the risks. Along with the persistent increase in attacks, cybersecurity specialists are constantly developing new tools to protect networks and allow industries to continue taking advantage of the benefits of new technology. Still, for the average layperson, cybersecurity quickly becomes confusing, and the vast amount of acronyms used to describe products and services muddies the water even further. So, how can you determine what type of protection will best serve your company without taking the time to learn an entirely new profession (and the language of letters)? Learning more about how cybersecurity tools work to protect against specific risks and how they compare to each other can help.

When every company faces long supply chains and the expansion of the internet of things (IoT) has exploded, endpoint security is a major concern. The rapid expansion of remote work due to pandemic restrictions only served to aggravate the problem. Organizations no longer have closed-off networks that create a barrier from the outside world. While the increased communication of these technological advances brings about major advantages, they also provide a massive threat landscape for hackers to take advantage of. Cybersecurity vendors offer a variety of products to help provide essential endpoint security. The most common of these include managed detection and response (MDR), endpoint detection and response (EDR), and extended detection and response (XDR). Learning more about the changing cybersecurity landscape and each type of solution will help you determine what kind of protection you need and how each of these tools or services complement or overlap each other.

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The Evolution of Traditional Network Security

Early security efforts were composed of firewalls and antivirus software designed to protect a single device or closed-off network. These practices were generally sufficient for personal computers and even businesses without digital connections outside of a single company. However, technology has evolved at lightning speed, dramatically changing the way people and businesses communicate. Along with these changes, vulnerabilities were exposed that make businesses, consumer information, and sensitive data easily accessible to hackers and threat actors. 

While cybersecurity regulations aren't new in many industries, there are new vulnerabilities being revealed daily and more companies are a target than ever before. A September 2020 Gartner survey revealed that the evolving threat landscape was ranked as the top driver impacting the information security organization during the next three to five years. The reasons for these fears are grounded in the rapid and drastic changes brought about by advancing technology and COVID-19 restrictions.

Early security solutions depended on knowledge of existing threats to block these attacks from reaching unaffected networks. While this technique worked to prevent some attacks, cybercrime began to evolve. Threat actors discovered new ways to exploit vulnerabilities and move within networks without being detected. As the monetary and intellectual value of attacks were realized on a wider scale, attack vectors grew quickly.

The growth of technology only served to increase vulnerability and make companies and organizations more prone to attacks. From personal devices used to access a network to electrical meters that transmit data back to a network, new devices provide vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit. Smart factory equipment and logistics tracking improved convenience and sales in the manufacturing sector, but also created new points of vulnerability.

Each of these devices that communicate with your network is considered an endpoint. A single network can have hundreds or even thousands of them. For example, consider how many personal devices are used on a college or university campus. While traditional security methods provide some protection against threats, they're subject to human error (like the choice to override) and easy to work around. Under the right circumstances, such devices are often used as tools for a breach without detection.

When COVID-19 restrictions suddenly put millions of employees out of work, businesses scrambled to catch up with remote work options that had only been used minimally in the past. This resulted in a significant increase in the number of exposed remote desktops, virtual private networks, and external devices. Digital meeting solutions provided even more unexplored vulnerabilities to exploit. While it might be said that no one was ready for the impact of the pandemic, it certainly seems as though cybercriminals were poised to take advantage of the confusion created by such an event. The drastic changes brought about during the pandemic have fueled a widespread recognition of the importance of endpoint protection.

Cybersecurity methods that target multiple network components and are designed to anticipate threats offer an improved form of protection. Instead of simply blocking known threats, cybersecurity solutions that provide detection and response efforts anticipate new threats and contain them before they do any damage. You could consider your traditional firewall and antivirus as protection similar to your home alarm system. They alert you to a threat and hopefully scare the danger away. Imagine if you could take your security system to a new level. This might include security footage for a mile radius around your home which detects a threat and deploys the correct type of trap before the danger even reaches your property.

While detection and response cybersecurity systems aren't quite that exciting, they do provide more visibility into the different components of your network. They can also be configured to automatically restrict the danger to a single area and even take actions to disable the threat. These more advanced cybersecurity tools collect data to establish normal behavior. After learning normal behavior, they can detect abnormal behavior and classify it as a threat. However, all types of cybersecurity tools that detect, restrict, and remediate threats aren't the same. Some are designed for specific actions, and some are designed to complement existing security tools. 

Here's where the differences between EDR, XDR, and MDR come in. To determine what type of protection is best for your company, you should have a clear understanding of what each of these systems does and how they compare to and contrast with each other.

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)

To be clear, EDR isn't about detecting endpoints related to your system. In fact, it could better be described as endpoint threat detection and response. EDR is a cybersecurity solution that uses data analytics to identify potential endpoint threats before they occur, block malicious activity, and offer remediation suggestions. EDR solutions must provide these capabilities.

  • Detect security incidents
  • Contain the incident at the endpoint
  • Investigate security incidents
  • Provide remediation guidance

An endpoint is any device that connects to a computer network. Examples include computers, tablets, smartphones, laptops, and IoT devices. Since these devices communicate with the network, they can provide easy entry for threat actors if they're not properly protected. The variety of these types of devices and the constant evolution of new ways for computers and other devices make it easier for hackers to target endpoints. For this reason, endpoint security that detects threatening behavior before malicious action takes place is more important than ever.

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How EDR Works

EDR is a platform that provides continuous real-time visibility into the activity on your endpoints. The system then uses security logic based on defined and observed "normal" behavior to automatically identify, trace, and respond to suspicious behavior. How these perceived threats are managed is up to the user.

Typically, an EDR system immediately sends out an alert to specified professionals when suspicious behavior is noted. The system can then restrict activity, remove the threat, and repair any damage. For instance, when a threat is detected, the system will send out an alert and launch an automated response to isolate the affected endpoint from the rest of the system. At this point, human intervention is required to determine what action should be taken next. Data analysts will need to investigate the threat to determine how the breach occurred and if additional damage occurred. The data collected by your EDR system is a valuable part of the investigation.

It's important to note that EDR is designed specifically to protect endpoint devices. It does not provide complete network protection and should be used in conjunction with other cybersecurity tools. Essentially, EDR can be considered an evolution of traditional antivirus (AV) software. Instead of only recognizing and responding to known threats like traditional AV, EDR uses learned behavior to recognize emerging threats.

Extended Detection and Response (XDR)

Like the name suggests, XDR provides protection that extends beyond EDR. Though it's still in the early phases of development and use, XDR takes threat detection and response across multiple network security points. XDR uses some of the same techniques as EDR to extend threat detection and response to include both endpoint and network activity. In other words, XDR solutions collect data to help identify and isolate threats across networks, cloud infrastructure, SaaS components, endpoints, and other network components.

XDR combines multiple solutions that are used to provide protection throughout your network. The goal of this is to provide end-to-end tracking with a unified view across multiple tools and attack vectors to improve SOC performance. By identifying and eradicating threats throughout the network, businesses are more likely to disrupt potential threats before they become active and avoid downtime.

How XDR Works

An ideal form of XDR would be a tool that uses various methods to protect all vectors of a network, including endpoints, cloud applications, web, SaaS providers, etc. However, a more accurate definition of the way XDR works is a tool that encompasses more than one type of detection across multiple security points. The goal of XDR could be described as an all-in-one platform to provide these tools.

  • EDR
  • Cloud access security brokers
  • Secure web gateways
  • Network firewalls
  • Network intrusion prevention systems
  • Unified threat management
  • Identity and access management

However, XDR isn't a specific tool with defined parameters. Instead, it can be any range of protection that automatically collects and correlates data from more than one component. In the same way that SIEM works to put network information in one place, XDR strives to place all security tools on the same platform.

XDR works in the same way as EDR for multiple components within an organization's chosen scope. Based on a company's specific needs and the vendor's capabilities, XDR detects, responds, and reacts to threats across multiple components of a network. Like EDR, XDR offers alerts, automated threat responses, and data to assist investigation.

It's important to note that XDR doesn't have specific parameters and protected components may vary by provider. Like EDR, XDR is a tool designed to be used by security experts for complete protection. 

Managed Detection and Response (MDR)

While EDR and XDR are focused strictly on technology, MDR offers a different cybersecurity solution. MDR is a form of cybersecurity service, usually provided by a managed security service provider (MSSP). These services utilize a host of cybersecurity tools and can be used to provide complete network coverage or a specific type of coverage designed to complement existing cybersecurity efforts. Cybersecurity tools used in your MDR solutions may include:

  • EDR
  • SIEM
  • Network traffic analysis
  • User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA)
  • Asset discovery
  • Vulnerability management
  • Intrusion detection
  • Cloud vulnerability

Cybersecurity tools used in MDR are only half of the equation. The service acts as a remote SOC, providing you with around-the-clock access to cybersecurity experts. These experts act as an extension of your team to provide scalable cybersecurity solutions that combine the speedy response of technology and the intuition of human intervention.

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How MDR Works

Because it is a service instead of a tool, MDR works differently than both EDR and XDR. MDR uses tools and technologies supplied by a provider on the user's premises. The service typically begins with an investigation of an organization's current security posture and potential concerns about future threats and attacks. MDR technologies are installed and managed by cybersecurity experts that act as an ongoing extension of your security and IT teams.

MDR uses a variety of tools to provide complete network coverage across multiple components. These technologies may include:

  • SIEM: Complete network visibility with real-time dashboards, reports, and threat alerts
  • SOAR: Immediate, automated response to present and future threats
  • UEBA: Protection from potential future threats based on events experienced by other users
  • Remote SOC: The human element of MDR that provides organizations with an off-site SOC
  • CTI: Central threat intelligence utilized from all clients on the platform and outside sources
  • Compliance reporting: Log retention, analysis, and reporting tools needed for meeting various compliances can be incorporated into SIEM

MDR vendors not only provide the technology to detect, react to, and mitigate threats. They also scale solutions to your organization, deploy technology to meet your needs, manage software, and provide a human response. Although XDR is emerging as a new term among cybersecurity software providers, the concept of an integrated cybersecurity solution is not new. MDR could be accurately described as a managed XDR solution.

Circumstances That Impact Your Cybersecurity Choices

Company leaders seeking cybersecurity solutions face a confusing landscape full of acronyms and comparisons. All too often, services that are designed to serve different functions are lumped into the same categories, making choices even more difficult. For most organizations, choosing comprehensive cybersecurity solutions requires an examination of current security practices and goals. These circumstances commonly impact cybersecurity choices for any business.

On-Premise Cybersecurity Employees

Some large companies have a security operations center (SOC) staffed with full-time employees. Companies that already have these experts on staff are seeking tools to help provide the most complete coverage possible. This might mean adding EDR to a system that already utilizes several other tools for different aspects of security. However, organizations with an in-house SOC might also add some levels of outsourced support to cover gaps. Analysts and IT security managers receive thousands of alerts each day, out of which 45% are false positives. This can lead to alert fatigue and increased stress due to a fear of missing real threats. Furthermore, a full-time cybersecurity team typically works an average of 8 hours each day, leaving networks vulnerable more than two-thirds of the time. Investing in a partial MDR solution allows these teams to utilize tools that automate threat detection and 24-hour protection.

Companies that don't already have an in-house security team will be faced with substantial start-up investments to create one. This is why these companies often seek solutions that include human support from a third-party vendor. Comprehensive MDR solutions that provide end-to-end protection across an entire network are usually referred to as Soc as a service (SOCaaS). This is usually the best option for companies that have limited cybersecurity staff and resources.

Budget

Across all industries, company managers are realizing that the cost of no protection is vastly more expensive than the cost of cybersecurity solutions. However, the knowledge that you need security doesn't increase your cash flow or expand your budget. While your security needs will depend on the size of your organization and the types of data you handle and store, a comprehensive cybersecurity system will include these features.

  • Cybersecurity software and products
  • Cybersecurity professionals
  • Cybersecurity services

For most companies, the budget is an important factor in deciding between in-house SOC or outsourced SOC. If you're starting from scratch, your budget for an in-house SOC will need to include the cost of salaries for a team of experts, infrastructure, software, and any additional tools that aren't already part of your security solution. Many companies choose outsourced SOC to avoid up-front investments and the cost of employing a security team.

Hiring Conditions

If you've evaluated your company budget and examined the differences between an on-premise and outsourced SOC, you may be interested in hiring full-time cybersecurity experts to protect your company's assets. However, recruiting the talent you need to fill positions on your team may be a challenge. A persisting global cybersecurity skills shortage means there aren't enough qualified professionals to fill the roles that exist. A recent study estimated that the total number of cybersecurity professionals needed to eliminate the gap is around 4 million. This means that companies with the budget and intent to hire a cybersecurity team are likely to face recruitment challenges and may be forced to supplement an understaffed team with outsourced additions. In light of the growing cybersecurity skills gap and talent shortage, Gartner estimates that 50% of organizations will be using MDR by 2025

XDREDRMDR

Making the Right Cybersecurity Choices for Your Business

After learning what each of these systems does and how they work, it's easy to see there are some similarities. Each system collects data and uses it to detect threats. They also provide automated responses based on the input of data and AI learning. Yet, there are considerable differences that set each solution apart from the rest. For example, EDR is designed specifically to protect endpoints. For effective cybersecurity, this tool must be combined with additional tools that protect other parts of the network. While XDR can be scaled to protect a variety of components with different tools, it must be coupled with professional security experts to install and utilize these tools. MDR stands out from both options to provide businesses with a full-service security team that analyzes data and actively responds to future and active threats.

MDR with BitLyft Air is a single turn-key solution for managed detection and response. The service is designed to protect your organization with SIEM, SOC, SOAR, and CTI, which go above and beyond traditional MDR services. MDR with BitLyft Air provides advanced technology to gain greater visibility into the activities on your network and automatically respond to threats at lightning speed. More importantly, our security experts act as an extension of your team to help you properly utilize the software and yield optimal results. Our teams are available 24/7 to respond to threats and ensure the security of your network so you can concentrate on your business with the peace of mind provided by full-scale cybersecurity protection.

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