EDR, MDR, and XDR sound similar, but the differences between these acronyms are significant, although not immediately clear for many. If you are trying to determine if EDR, MDR, or XDR is best for your business, you have come to the right place.
After a quick introduction to each concept, we’ll compare them, point out circumstances that might be the best use for each, and then offer some pointers for evaluation.
What is EDR?
Endpoint detection and response (EDR) technologies improve the security of an organization’s computers and other network-connected endpoint systems (servers, IoT, etc.) against cyber threats. As a next-generation technology that surpasses Antivirus protection, EDR tools commonly include the following capabilities:
- Endpoint Monitoring: In this era of remote work, attackers target vulnerable endpoints – especially outside of the network. EDR solutions protect the endpoint by collecting and aggregating data about the protected system, analyzing it to detect potential threats, and sending alerts to security teams.
- Active Endpoint Protection: When EDR tools detect a threat, they can automatically react and delete malware, interrupt attacks, or even isolate the system from the endpoint to prevent the attack from spreading.
- Anomaly Detection and Artificial Intelligence: EDR systems integrate machine learning for threat detection, including anomaly detection and artificial intelligence (AI). These systems can analyze a great deal of data and extract patterns and trends that point to potential intrusions and other issues on the system. Some EDR technologies even detect local threats on a specific customer level and combine them with cloud-based, global anomaly detection across all of their customers to recognize and stop attacks even faster.
- Endpoint Log Management: Endpoints can generate a number of log files; however, this log data is useless if ignored. EDR performs automatic log management, making this data available to its own data analytics systems and to human analysts.
- Digital Forensics: Digital forensics investigations can be crucial to incident response and determining the cause and scope of an infection on a system. EDR systems support these investigations by performing log collection and data analytics and providing investigators with access to the compiled results and linked processes.
Email security catches many attacks, but most malware attacks still begin on an endpoint. Despite training, employees still accidentally click on malware-loaded email attachments.
EDR provides enhanced and automated protection against many different types of attacks including zero-day vulnerabilities, file-less malware, and active attacks. Plus the EDR technology catches all of the malware that is supposed to be caught by antivirus.
Additionally, EDR provides initial intelligence analysis of log files and can integrate with other tools or send alerts to assist experts in protecting the entire organization. Consider a managed EDR service, like Clearnetwork’s Managed Crowdstrike EDR, to gain enterprise-level security quickly and cost-effectively.
What is MDR?
- Round-the-Clock Network Monitoring: Cyber-attacks can occur at any time, and 24/7/365 SOC as a Service is essential to ensure that an organization is prepared to respond to any cyber threat.
- Threat Detection and Response: Managed detection and response services focus primarily on threat detection and response. MDR providers investigate and handle the responses needed to resolve an incident.
- Threat Hunting: Cybersecurity tools are not perfect, and some attacks slip through the automated defenses. Threat hunting is a proactive approach to cybersecurity in which threat hunters search for undetected intrusions within an organization’s environment. This service is included in MDR services and is essential to minimize an organization’s cybersecurity risk.
- Security Systems Management: Effective cybersecurity requires an array of cybersecurity solutions that need to be appropriately configured and managed. With MDR, this responsibility is in the hands of the experts of the service provider instead of burdening the organization.
No matter what tools a company may deploy, some attacks will elude automated resolution. SOCs, SIEMS, or MSSPs analyze alerts, but then often place the responsibility for threat remediation on the client. Someone must do the hard work to investigate alerts and actively stop the incident.
MDR delivers these critical incident response services as well as other benefits. Whether contracted to supplement internal teams with expert assistance or to perform all incident response duties, MDR delivers threat-hunting cybersecurity experts in malware and attack methods.
MDR engineers gain experience protecting many different types of clients and environments so that they can apply that expertise quickly and effectively across all customers. MDR teams work with an assortment of tools and can integrate with in-house or outsourced SOC, SIEM, EDR, XDR, and network monitoring solutions.
Many IT and security personnel become overwhelmed with alerts from EDR, XDR, and other security tools – often as high as 10,000 alerts per day! MDR experts can quickly evaluate alerts, flag some to be removed by tuning the tools, and immediately route more meaningful alerts to threat detection experts.
Security tools for threat investigation can be extremely expensive – especially when compared against the small number of true attacks the typical organization sees each year. Working with a MDR provider allows an organization to gain access to the tools and expert evaluators at a fractional rate.
Working with MDR service providers can also tap into expertise for compliance. For example, the Clearnetwork MDR service can include critical compliance and security functions such as asset discovery, vulnerability assessment, and behavioral monitoring.
What is XDR?
The recent development of eXtended Detection and Response (XDR) tools seeks to place more security functions within a single software solution. XDR tools often provide features such as:
- Consolidated threat monitoring: XDR combines endpoint, cloud resource, and network monitoring for malware detection and incident response into a single software solution.
- Centralized user interface: With a broader reach, XDR promises to put more security functions within a single software solution and reduce integration requirements.
- Automated response: As with EDR, XDR tools can provide automated responses to certain types of attacks on covered resources.
- AI enhancements: XDR tools often include AI algorithms that can detect anomalous behavior and handle low-level incident response.
- Reporting & Investigations: XDR tools provide alerts and logs that can be used to satisfy a wide variety of reporting and investigation needs.
XDR solutions acknowledge that endpoint detection alone is not enough to protect modern IT infrastructure. Indicators of compromise, abnormal behavior, and unusual traffic also exist throughout the network and within cloud resources.
XDR can reduce tool costs by replacing specialist tools and simplifying integration and deployment requirements. XDR can simplify alert management by consolidating all alerts within a single software package and performing initial triage.
EDR vs MDR
Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) is software that focuses on the detection of and response to cybersecurity threats on the endpoint (servers, laptops, mobile devices, virtual machines etc.). Managed Detection and Response (MDR) is a security-as-a-service offering that provides companies with everything they need to protect themselves against the evolving cyber threat landscape. EDR is better suited for those looking specifically to enhance their endpoint security, whereas MDR is a better option for those looking for a comprehensive IT management and security service. MDR can leverage EDR’s technologies as a method to enhance its threat detection capabilities
MDR vs XDR
Managed Detection and Response (MDR) is an outsourced security service that transfers the responsibility of network security to a team of experts that specialize in threat detection and response. Extended Detection and Response (XDR) is a more evolved, holistic, cross-platform approach to endpoint detection and response. XDR streamlines security data ingestion, analysis, and workflows across an organization’s entire security stack, enhancing visibility around hidden and advanced threats. EDR is the baseline monitoring and threat detection tool for endpoints and the foundation for every cybersecurity strategy MDR helps rapidly identify and limit the impact of threats without the need for additional staffing, while XDR provides accurate, context-rich alerts to help organizations quickly respond to threats. XDR also extends EDR capabilities to protect more than endpoints.
EDR vs XDR
Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) focuses on endpoint protection, providing detailed visibility and threat protection for specific devices. Extended Detection and Response (XDR) takes a broader view and unifies security data from multiple sources, such as emails, endpoints, servers, secure web gateways, network intrusion prevention systems (IPS), network firewalls, and unified threat management. XDR provides centralized access to various security tools and automates many of the functions that EDR requires manually. Managed Detection and Response (MDR) is a managed service that packages the benefits of EDR and/or XDR into a convenient offering.
EDR vs MDR vs XDR
EDR, MDR, and XDR all offer solutions to enhance an organization’s cybersecurity posture. All solutions provide:
- Threat Detection
- Incident Response
- Log Aggregation, Triage, and Analysis
- Data Analytics
- Support for Threat Hunting
As software tools with embedded AI, EDR and XDR can provide enhanced alerts, automated responses, and initial data analysis to triage incoming alerts and log files. MDR also utilizes EDR, XDR, and other AI-enhanced tools to further analyze alerts, analyze data, and respond to active threats.
While EDR, MDR, and XDR share similarities, they are differentiated by their differences which include:
- Area of Focus:
- EDR security solutions focus solely on endpoint security
- MDR security focuses on protection and threat hunting across all resources
- XDR security solutions take a broader focus on endpoints, cloud, and networks.
- Service vs. Tool: Both EDR and XDR solutions deploy as software tools that need to be deployed, configured, and managed by human operators. The alerts generated by their software also need to be reviewed by other tools or by human evaluators. MDR is a service that may integrate EDR or XDR solutions as part of its core threat detection and response capabilities.
- Internal vs. External: An EDR solution is deployed directly on a protected system within the protected network. XDR solutions often deploy agents internally, but their analysis software may be cloud-hosted as a 3rd-party Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). MDR providers are third-party service providers that operate outside of the protected network.
Which is Right for Me?
EDR, MDR, and XDR provide overlapping capabilities; however, they are very distinct and satisfy specific needs. When considering one or more of these solutions an organization needs to honestly evaluate its current capabilities including:
- Internal Security Staffing: The state of an organization’s in-house security talent is a crucial differentiator in the decision between sticking to tools such as EDR or XDR or selecting MDR services. If an organization has a right-sized security team capable of handling the potential volume of alerts and incidents, then EDR or XDR tools provide sufficient solutions on their own. However, if a security team is understaffed, or does not have the expertise, then MDR services may provide more valuable services to an organization to fill critical gaps. For teams truly understaffed or missing security expertise, a managed EDR or XDR solution may be required in addition to MDR services.
- IT Infrastructure: What assets need to be protected? Without cloud resources or a large network, most of the features in an XDR solution will be unused. If the organization uses mostly bring-your-own-device endpoints, then they will likely not benefit from an EDR solution. The tools selected should address the actual, not theoretical needs of the organization.
- Other Existing Solutions: Moving to zero trust? Already have a robust SOC solution? Other security tools will overlap with XDR, EDR, or even MDR functions. Unless the organization is looking to replace existing solutions, a new solution should primarily address security gaps. If, on the other hand, the organization’s entire cybersecurity program needs improvement, then multiple solutions might be the correct option.
- Required Security Expertise: EDR and XDR solutions assume that an organization has the required skills to deploy, configure, and operate them effectively. In addition to bodies, this requires true security and threat-hunting expertise. If this is not the case, MDR service providers can take over the responsibility for managing an organization’s security infrastructure – including EDR or XDR.
- Incident Response & Threat Hunting Capabilities: Incident response and threat hunting are essential parts of managing an organization’s cybersecurity risk, but neither EDR nor XDR provides capabilities for either need. While the tool features provide strong support for security experts, strong in-house expertise or a MDR provider needs to provide robust incident response and threat hunting services.
Based on these key criteria, organizations can generally understand how these tools and services fit their organization. For many organizations, having both a tool (EDR or XDR) and a service (MDR) is the superior option to obtain sufficient coverage.
Pointers for Evaluation of EDR, MDR, and XDR
The key criteria above form the foundation of the decision tree between EDR, MDR, and XDR at a conceptual level. However, evaluators must also understand that the details for the specific tool or service under consideration also should be weighted heavily.
The effectiveness of EDR or XDR detection varies significantly from tool to tool and the footprint or CPU usage of the tools also varies heavily depending upon the specific technology used.
While price always matters to determine the value of a tool, some EDR tools offer little more than slightly enhanced Antivirus. Also, any required function should also be evaluated and not taken at face value for any tool or service.
For example, XDR remains early in its development as a technology and some components have not been cohesively developed to ensure high quality and seamless interoperability. In the race to develop an XDR offering some security tool specialists in one area have purchased basic tools in other areas and bolted them onto their existing offerings.
This can lead to multiple unlinked and identical alerts generated from the endpoint, network, and cloud resources. Instead of making life easier for the security team, the excessive alerts add to the fatigue and burden.
Also, despite many advancements in AI, tools still hand off to humans for adjustments, management, and investigations. EDR and XDR tools generate context-dependent alerts that will be useful in some environments and useless in others so humans need to tune the tools to create useful logs and alerts.
Evaluators also need to carefully evaluate potential MDR candidates to understand their capabilities in more detail. The quality of threat hunting, incident response, and customer service vary from service provider to service provider.
Look for tools and service providers with a good reputation and a history of providing superior technology or service to their customers. Also keep in mind that these are not the only three options and other security strategies, products, and services might be a better fit for specific needs or organizations.
For some, a managed security service provider (MSSP) might be a better fit than an MDR service provider, although the difference between the two can vary from provider to provider. Similarly, others might benefit more from a managed SIEM or SOC and might need to explore how each is defined with the service providers under evaluation.