What is extended detection and response (XDR)?
Extended detection and response (XDR) is a technology-driven cybersecurity process designed to help organizations detect and remediate security threats across their entire IT environment.
XDR is an evolution of endpoint detection and response (EDR) technology that expands security visibility and protections beyond PCs, smartphones and other endpoint devices. The broader scope of XDR also includes networks, servers, cloud services and applications, as well as various security tools and identity providers that support user authentication processes.
XDR software collects security data from sources that are typically disconnected and aggregates it in a unified platform. By correlating security alerts and events across different domains, XDR provides contextual insight into what's happening in an organization's IT infrastructure. In addition, all the data collected by an XDR platform is normalized to support advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) applications that can help identify anomalies and detect potential security threats. Security analysts can then use XDR tools to determine the root cause and scope of security incidents.
Response capabilities are also a core part of XDR. Once threats are detected, XDR platforms can orchestrate coordinated responses by various security tools to help mitigate the risk of cyber attacks, data breaches and other issues. Security teams often use incident response playbooks with XDR to automate containment of compromised assets through actions such as blocking malicious IP addresses and quarantining users or devices.
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How does XDR work?
XDR technology supports threat detection and response efforts through a multistep process that includes the following key steps:
- Data collection and ingestion. The first step for an XDR system is to collect and ingest relevant telemetry data. XDR connectors pull in data from endpoint agents, network sensors, cloud platforms, identity systems, email and other sources. Common data types that are collected include endpoint activity, network traffic, log data, file metadata, process details, user behavior and IT alerts. Large volumes of historical and real-time data are consolidated into the XDR platform, where they're commonly stored in a data lake that can handle a variety of structured, semistructured and unstructured data.
- Analytics and threat detection. XDR tools aggregate the collected data and apply correlation rules, machine learning models, user and entity behavior analytics, and other advanced analytics techniques to detect known and unknown security threats. Analytics insights are presented in a unified management console that provides visibility into threats across IT environments. Security analysts can investigate detected threats using timeline analysis, threat hunting queries and other XDR capabilities.
- Automated responses and threat mitigation. Based on identified threats, XDR platforms can trigger automated response actions defined in playbooks. Possible responses include isolating infected host systems, killing application processes, blocking IP addresses or domains, disabling user accounts, quarantining emails and more. Such actions can be orchestrated across EDR tools, firewalls, antivirus software, security information and event management (SIEM) systems, security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) platforms and other security controls integrated with XDR technologies.
In addition, XDR centralizes threat detection, investigation, hunting and response workflows, enabling security analysts to pivot as needed between workflows without switching to a different tool.
XDR's potential business benefits
XDR technologies can provide various benefits for security teams and organizations as a whole. In general, extended detection and response tools promise to enhance threat protection and streamline security operations. More specifically, the potential business benefits of XDR include the following:
- Enhanced security posture. XDR's comprehensive threat visibility, detection and response capabilities better secure cloud and hybrid cloud environments against different types of cyber attacks and other security threats.
- Better security coverage. Ingesting diverse telemetry data closes visibility gaps and coverage blind spots that can result from using siloed security tools.
- Improved threat detection. Broader data collection by XDR tools enables earlier and more accurate detection of security threats across IT environments.
- Faster incident response. Automated workflows and playbook-driven responses support faster investigation and containment of detected threats than manual approaches.
- Increased productivity. Workflow consolidation and automation help to free up security analysts for more strategic work so they don't waste time on menial tasks.
- Simplified operations. The unified management console, workflows and reporting functions offered by XDR platforms streamline security operations and make them easier to manage.
- Reduced costs. Consolidating what otherwise would require multiple tools into a single XDR technology can reduce expenses compared with buying, deploying and managing different products.
What is the difference between XDR and EDR?
XDR builds on EDR's capabilities but provides expanded abilities to detect threats and respond to them. Here's a comparison of the two technologies:
- Data collection is from endpoints only with EDR, while XDR collects data from various sources.
- Similarly, EDR's threat detection scope and automated response capabilities are limited to endpoints. XDR can identify and respond to threats across an organization's entire IT environment.
- EDR's security analytics functions are endpoint-centric compared with XDR's centralization of analytics on data from the different sources it supports.
- Workflows are fragmented in EDR and unified in XDR.
- EDR provides per-tool management consoles vs. the single console built into XDR platforms.
What is the difference between XDR and MDR?
XDR and managed detection and response (MDR) both aim to improve threat detection and incident response capabilities in organizations, but they do so in different ways. While XDR provides a set of technologies for internal deployment and use, MDR is a managed service offered by external security providers that do threat monitoring, detection, investigation and mitigation work for companies. MDR services typically include separate XDR and EDR options to meet the needs of different customers.
Organizations can use both XDR software and MDR services. A business might augment its internal security team with third-party support by outsourcing some cybersecurity functions to an MDR provider. For example, the MDR service might be responsible for dealing with advanced threats that the company's security staff doesn't have the resources or skills to handle.
Challenges to be aware of on XDR
The term XDR was coined in 2018 by Nir Zuk, founder and CTO of security software and services vendor Palo Alto Networks. Initially, though, XDR was defined in different ways, which caused some confusion about the technology. A more common understanding of what XDR is has now taken hold. Nonetheless, XDR deployments come with some challenges. Potential drawbacks that organizations should be aware of include the following:
- More IT complexity. Implementing XDR security tools can add complexity to IT environments because of the need to deploy connectors to various data sources.
- Coverage gaps. Endpoint-centric XDR options might lack full network and cloud visibility if an organization is using other tools that are purpose-built for a specific type of threat detection.
- Staffing and skills limitations. Installing XDR software doesn't eliminate the need for skilled resources to take advantage of its capabilities. But there's a persistent lack of experienced cybersecurity professionals overall. If an organization doesn't have the required skills, it needs to hire people with them, train existing workers on XDR or turn to an MDR service.
- Training. Even if an organization already has a skilled cybersecurity staff, XDR introduces new workflows, use cases and tools that might require additional training for effective utilization.
- Vendor dependence. Relying on a single XDR provider's security software stack creates a potential risk of vendor lock-in.
- Increased costs. XDR's broad data collection, storage and analytics functions can drive higher IT infrastructure costs.
Key capabilities of XDR tools
XDR tools include the following core capabilities:
- Data collection and ingestion from multiple sources.
- Data correlation and normalization to prepare data so it's useful for analytics.
- A centralized data lake to store the collected data in one place.
- Data enrichment with threat intelligence and other contextual information.
- Advanced analytics and AI techniques, such as machine learning and behavior analytics.
- Unified threat hunting and investigation across an IT environment.
- Automated response actions defined by organizations in incident response playbooks.
- Consolidated workflows for threat detection and management.
- Reporting features to provide visibility into security operations and metrics.
The XDR market is evolving rapidly, with both established security vendors and startups offering XDR platforms and services. The following are some prominent XDR vendors and their technologies, listed in alphabetical order:
- Bitdefender GravityZone XDR.
- Carbon Black XDR.
- Cisco XDR.
- Cortex XDR (Palo Alto Networks).
- CrowdStrike Falcon Insight XDR.
- Cybereason XDR.
- Elastic Security for XDR.
- IBM Security QRadar XDR.
- Kaspersky Extended Detection and Response.
- Microsoft Defender XDR.
- Singularity XDR (SentinelOne).
- Sophos XDR.
- Trellix XDR.
- Trend Vision One XDR (Trend Micro).