A Beginner’s Guide to XDR: Extended Detection and Response

  1. Definition
  2. Features of XDR
  3. What Makes XDR Different
  4. Advantages
  5. Challenges
  6. XDR Stats

What is XDR?

Recent research from Microsoft shows that cyber criminals – and their attacks – are becoming more sophisticated. Online criminals are using techniques that make them harder to detect. Naturally, to fight this complex threat, cyber security solutions also need to become more advanced.

This is where XDR comes into play. XDR is a holistic security solution for detection and response. It breaks down the silos between different security layers – such as endpoints, email, the cloud and the network – to provide comprehensive monitoring and detection capabilities across the entire attack surface. 

XDR can spot patterns and potential threats across the enterprise, connecting the dots between seemingly unrelated events to identify indicators of an attack. It then helps security teams to understand where threats are in real-time, and highlights potential attacks that need further investigation. 

What are the Defining Features of XDR?

Below, we dive into the defining features of XDR solutions. 

Analytics and Detection

XDR solutions depend heavily on data analytics and threat detection capabilities, including:

  • Analyzing internal and external traffic: XDR monitors internal and external traffic, analyzing patterns to find internal threats like compromised accounts, as well as keeping out for external attacks like malware or ransomware.
  • Powered by threat intelligence: XDR is smart in that it is self learning. It learns about known attack methodologies that hackers use, and then monitors for similar events within the organization.
  • Machine learning-based detection: Security analysts are busy and it can be easy for them to be overwhelmed by the number of threat alerts they receive each day. XDR helps to combat this through machine learning, which is used to automatically identify threats and sift through false positives, freeing up the security team’s time to focus on other tasks. 

Investigation and Response

XDR goes beyond just detecting potential attacks. It also helps security teams to understand and respond to suspicious threats. Here’s how:

  • Correlates connected alerts and data: XDR connects disparate endpoints and security layers to understand the totality of a potential attack. In other words, it groups related alerts together to form a complete picture of an attack timeline. This helps the security team to find the origin of an attack, as well as predict the attacker’s next move, so they can stop them in their tracks.
  • Centralized user interface (UI): To give the security team a complete picture of attacks and make the data it produces easy to understand, XDR presents information through an intuitive, central user interface.
  • Response orchestration capabilities: The same user interface also enables the security team to choose their response to a suspicious event. Security teams can update endpoint security protocols, block certain actions and siphon off compromised vectors. 

Convenient and Scalable Deployment

As mentioned previously, XDR solutions are smart. They are self-learning, meaning they become more efficient and useful the longer they are used. Over time, this creates additional benefits for the organization, such as:

  • Security orchestration: XDR learns each organization’s unique security policies and standard responses. Using automation, it can ensure that these protocols are implemented across the enterprise.
  • Scalable storage and compute: Because it relies on the cloud, XDR can be scaled up and down in line with the organization’s needs. Its cloud architecture also helps with storage of historical data, allowing the XDR to build and maintain a wealth of knowledge for identifying new and old threats.
  • Improvement over time:  XDR’s machine learning capabilities allows it to learn as it goes, making it more effective and accurate over time. This means the security solution gets better and better, rather than becoming out of date or redundant like some legacy solutions do.

What Makes XDR Different from Other Security Solutions?

XDR builds upon the capabilities of endpoint detection and response solutions (EDR) and security incident and event management (SIEM). However, it goes further than these solutions, by widening the scope of detection to previously disparate sources. This gives the security team more visibility and understanding of the entire threat landscape

SIEM solutions are only as effective as the data they are fed. They are also notorious for generating false positives that result in ‘alert fatigue’ for the security team. While a SIEM tool can be useful for detecting threats, it does not have the capabilities to respond to them, meaning it needs to be integrated with EDR for effectiveness. Even then, the quality of the alerts is not as high as with a native XDR solution. 

EDR solutions focus on monitoring endpoints – such as mobiles and laptops – to stop attacks before they enter the corporate network. While EDR collects data activities across these endpoints, XDR widens this scope to include endpoints, networks, servers, the cloud and much more. XDR is effectively an evolution from EDR, taking its capabilities and expanding them to provide a holistic view of the entire organization’s IT infrastructure. This gives security teams a clearer and more accurate picture of attempted attacks in real-time.

What are the Advantages of Using XDR?

XDR has a host of benefits for the enterprise. It is a cohesive, unified platform for security detection and response, fit for identifying today’s complex threats. Here are the key advantages. 

  1. Greater visibility: Cyber criminals frequently try to exploit the gaps caused by  siloed security solutions. XDR tackles this by combining multiple security modules into a single platform, including data regarding application usage and access permissions. This gives security personnel a complete and total picture of their IT infrastructure, making it easy to spot potential threats and respond to them.
  1. More flexible control: With its cloud-native infrastructure, XDR gives security teams the flexibility and scalability needed to evolve with the changing threat landscape. It also features the ability to both blacklist and whitelist traffic and processes. This ensures that only approved actions and users can enter a system.
  1. Better perimeter security: Building upon EDR, XDR provides powerful endpoint protection capabilities. Through its AI and threat analysis capabilities, It can stop both known and unknown attacks before they cause damage. 
  1. Faster response time: XDR is proactive. It connects disparate data sources and actively searches for signs of a malicious threat. Because it does this constantly – in real-time – it is extremely fast and accurate, allowing security teams to discover threats that they have missed for weeks, if not months. 
  1. Better security management: By centralizing detection and response, XDR reduces the number of false positives and increases alert accuracy. This reduces the burden on security teams, as they no longer have to spend an overwhelming amount of time sifting through alerts. Moreover, because XDR presents data from across the enterprise in one unified console, it is much easier for security teams to manage, as opposed to them having to monitor and maintain many security solutions.

What are the Challenges in Implementing XDR?

Despite its promise, XDR is not a plug-and-go solution. Its deployment is complex and it might not be the right solution for every organization. Below, we explore the main challenges. 

Compatibility with legacy systems: Today’s enterprise security infrastructure is often a mishmash of different security tools. Most companies rely on a wealth of different vendors and multiple products. XDR proposes to eliminate many of these solutions in favor of using it as a total, unified solution. This involves overhauling the organization’s current suite of tools – which is no easy feat. It might also be difficult for the security team to convince the C-level to completely abandon previous security solutions for XDR. 

Integration challenges: In the future, XDR could be the new centre of the SOC. However, right now, the market is still in its infancy. This means that there are not many vendor solutions that offer end-to-end protection and response. They often have to rely on existing SOC security solutions to work. However, integrating these technologies together – particularly if from different vendors – can be challenging and take time. If done poorly, then the investment in XDR could prove itself not to be worth it, as security gaps could still remain if there are interoperability issues. 

Security teams must learn the new system, user interface, response protocols: Any new system needs to be understood to be effective. XDR requires new skills and understanding from the security teams that use it. Without a thorough knowledge of the interface and the alerts presented by XDR, security teams will not be able to make the most of their solution. 

As Gartner notes, in the remote working world, “extended detection and response (XDR) products are beginning to have real value in improving security operations productivity with alert and incident correlation, as well as built-in automation.” However, as the quote says, these solutions are just beginning – they are still in their infancy. While it’s worth understanding the potential of XDR, it’s best that security personnel wait for the market to develop before investing. 

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