EDR, MDR, and XDR are three different threat detection and response solutions. These tools, technologies, or services are employed by security teams to actively monitor, detect, and respond to threats in real-time.

Each plays a vital role with distinct capabilities and different levels of protection, management, and integration. Using a combination of the three can lead you to better defense, monitoring, and response, enabling improved visibility and a unified security process.

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) primarily focuses on endpoint security, providing visibility and control over potential threats on devices. Managed Detection and Response (MDR), on the other hand, is a service that combines EDR with security monitoring, threat hunting, and incident response provided by a team of experts. Extended Detection and Response (XDR) is a technology that extends beyond EDR detection to combine data from different security dimensions including endpoints, security information and event management tools (SIEMs), network security, cloud services, and threat intelligence. By ingesting, combining, and analyzing this data, an XDR architecture provides an understanding of an entire security ecosystem.

What Do They Do?

EDR is Essential for Threat Detection and Response

EDR helps organizations detect and respond to advanced threats on their endpoints, such as laptops, servers, and mobile devices. It employs various methods, such as behavior analysis and machine-learning algorithms, to detect and respond to security threats effectively. The capabilities of an EDR include:

  • Threat detection: EDR systems continuously monitor endpoints for indicators of compromise (IoCs) and potential security threats.
  • Incident response: EDR solutions facilitate investigations and incident response with detailed visibility into the attack timeline, including the initial infection vector, lateral movement, and any actions taken by the attacker.
  • Behavioral analysis: Analysts can use EDRs to see the behavior of endpoints to detect anomalous activities that may indicate a security breach (monitoring processes, network traffic, registry changes, and file activity).
  • Threat hunting: EDR has tools and capabilities used for proactive threat hunting across endpoints by security analysts.
  • Endpoint visibility: Visibility into endpoint activities allows organizations to monitor and document all events and actions so they can identify unauthorized or suspicious activities, track user behavior, and detect potential security threats or policy violations.
  • Enhanced security analytics: EDR platforms often leverage advanced analytics techniques — such as machine learning and behavioral analytics— to detect previously unknown threats and patterns. These analytical capabilities enhance the detection accuracy and reduce false positives, enabling security teams to focus on the most critical threats.
  • Data collection and retention: EDR systems collect and retain endpoint data, including process information, network connections, file modifications, and user activities. This data helps in forensic investigations, post-incident analysis, and compliance requirements.

MDR is a Team of Security Experts

MDR is a security service designed to enhance organizations’ protection against cyber threats. MDR services combine advanced threat detection, incident response, and continuous monitoring. Here are some of the key capabilities and features you can expect from an MDR provider:

  • 24/7 monitoring and response: MDR services offer round-the-clock monitoring of an organization's network and endpoints by continuously analyzing log data, network traffic, and endpoint activities for real-time detection and immediate response.
  • Advanced threat detection: MDR solutions leverage advanced analytics, machine learning, and behavior-based techniques to detect sophisticated and targeted threats (zero-day vulnerabilities, polymorphic malware, and sophisticated attack techniques) that may evade traditional security controls.
  • Threat intelligence and hunting: MDR providers leverage threat intelligence sources to proactively search for potential threats by identifying indicators of compromise (IoCs), suspicious patterns, and hidden threats.
  • Incident response and investigation: MDRs provide prompt and coordinated actions during a security incident—like investigating the incident, analyzing the root cause, containing the threat, and remediating the affected systems.
  • Log collection and analysis: MDR solutions collect and analyze logs from various sources, including network devices, servers, and endpoints for comprehensive visibility.
  • Ongoing Vulnerability Management: MDR services may conduct regular vulnerability assessments, identify weaknesses in the infrastructure, and provide remediation guidance to mitigate risks to reduce the attack surface.
  • Compliance Assistance: MDR providers help meet regulatory compliance requirements by identifying gaps in security controls, implementing necessary measures, and generating compliance reports.
  • Expertise and guidance: MDR services are security experts with in-depth knowledge and experience to offer guidance on security best practices, recommend improvements, and help create customized incident response plans.

XDR Extends Visibility and Centralized Security

XDR is a cybersecurity architecture that combines the capabilities of EDR, Network Detection and Response (NDR), and other security tools. While EDR technology looks at a single dimension (the endpoint), XDR architectures extend across multiple security dimensions. XDR aims to provide a centralized and holistic approach to threat detection, investigation and response across multiple security domains. Here are some of the key capabilities and features provided by an XDR architecture:

  • Data collection and correlation: XDR solutions collect, analyze and correlate data from various sources (endpoints, network devices, cloud environments, and application logs) for a comprehensive view of security incidents and complex attack patterns that may span multiple vectors and stages.
  • Cross-domain visibility: XDR offers a unified view of the entire security landscape and understand how threats propagate and impact different parts of the infrastructure.
  • Advanced threat detection: Similar to MDR, XDR utilizes advanced analytics, machine learning, and behavioral analysis to analyze data from multiple sources allowing greater context to a security event and efficiency in identifying targeted attacks.
  • Automated threat response and remediation: XDR architectures often include automated response capabilities (predefined playbooks and automated response plays) for quick containment and remediation (isolate affected endpoints, block malicious communications, or apply patches and updates to vulnerable systems).
  • Incident investigation and forensics: XDR allows security analysts to analyze the attack chain, uncover root causes, and determine the extent of the compromise across different security domains giving the full scope of an incident.
  • Threat intelligence integration: XDR solutions integrate with external threat intelligence sources so analysts can identify indicators of compromise and malicious IoCs known to be associated with specific threats or threat actors.
  • Centralized management and orchestration: XDR architectures provide a centralized platform and dashboard where security teams can view and manage security events, alerts, and response actions for streamlined security operations.
  • Scalability and flexibility: Designed to scale and adapt to evolving threat landscapes and dynamic IT environments, XDR solutions can handle large volumes of security events, support a wide range of endpoints and network devices, and integrate with different security tools and technologies.
  • Vendor Agnostic: XDR solutions can combine multiple technologies from a single vendor or can use an approach known as Open XDR that provides flexibility by leveraging multiple vendor security tools, threat feeds, and telemetry types within a single security operations platform.

Which Is Right for Your Organization?

Before implementing solutions like EDR, MDR, or XDR, it’s crucial to assess your organization’s security program and the provider’s capabilities. This assessment ensures that the chosen solution aligns with your needs and fills any existing gaps. To evaluate your security program, consider the following factors:

Security Requirements

Assess your organization’s security requirements and priorities. Consider factors including the size of your organization, industry regulations, and your risk tolerance. This will help you determine the level of security coverage and capabilities you need.

Internal Resources and Expertise

Evaluate your organization’s internal resources and level of cybersecurity expertise. EDR solutions are typically implemented and managed by internal IT and security teams, which require a higher level of technical skill and resources.

MDR and XDR approaches, on the other hand, can combine technology and services to assist with the monitoring and response processes. It’s important to assess whether your organization possesses the internal capabilities required or if you would prefer to leverage external expertise for these security solutions.

Security Capabilities and Coverage

Look into the provider’s security capabilities and coverage across different security domains. For EDR providers, see what features they have for endpoint monitoring, threat detection, response, and forensics.

For MDR and XDR providers, consider how broad their coverage is across a security technology stack that includes endpoints, network security, identity, cloud assets and applications.

Also, consider whether the providers support multiple technology vendors in the same product category (SIEM, EDR, and so forth), as your security toolset may change in the future.

Compatibility and Integration

Consider the compatibility and integration requirements with your existing security tools and infrastructure. EDR solutions often integrate well with other endpoint security tools, whereas MDR and XDR solutions may offer broader integration capabilities across various security domains, allowing for better correlation and analysis of security events.

Evaluate how well MDRs and XDRs can integrate and exchange data with other security solutions in your environment, such as multiple SIEM or EDR investments, network security tools, identity and access management solutions, threat intelligence platforms, or vulnerability management tools.

Comprehensive Threat Visibility

Consider the level of threat visibility required by your organization. EDR solutions provide deep visibility into endpoints. On the other hand, MDR and XDR approaches offer broader visibility across multiple security domains such as endpoints, networks, and cloud environments. Determine whether your organization needs a consolidated view of threats across various vectors for better context and comprehensive security operations.

Detection and Alerting

Consider the provider’s detection and alerting abilities. Particularly for MDR and XDR providers, the speed with which threat detections can be deployed across a heterogenous environment varies widely. Providers vary greatly in their ability to sift through false-positive and duplicate alerts to surface what matters.

Look for real-time monitoring, continuous threat detection, and timely alerting mechanisms. Think about whether the provider offers contextual alerts, actionable insights, and access to a centralized security dashboard for better visibility and situational awareness.

Incident Response Capabilities

Evaluate your organization’s incident response capabilities. EDR solutions typically rely on your internal team to respond to and investigate incidents, requiring sufficient technical expertise and resources. MDR and XDR approaches often provide incident response services as part of their offering, facilitating prompt and coordinated response to security incidents.

For MDR and XDR approaches, assess how well they can promptly respond to security incidents and then coordinate with your internal teams and external digital forensic incident response organizations you may have on retainer. Check predefined incident response playbooks, incident management processes, and the availability of experienced security analysts.

Threat Intelligence Integration and Threat Hunting

For MDRs and XDRs, see how the provider incorporates threat intelligence into their solution. Look for partnerships with reputable threat intelligence providers, integration with external threat intelligence feeds, and proactive threat hunting capabilities. Effective integration of threat intelligence enhances the provider’s ability to detect and respond to sophisticated threats.

Support and Customer Care

Look for options for 24/7 support, dedicated customer success managers, and a knowledgeable support team. Consider their responsiveness and ability to address any issues or questions you may have during the evaluation and implementation process.

Scalability and Futureproofing

Determine whether the solution can scale as your organization grows and if it can adapt to new technologies, such as new cloud security services, IoT. MDR and XDR solutions, with their broader coverage and flexibility, often provide better scalability and future-proofing capabilities.

ReliaQuest GreyMatter Threat Detection and Response

While EDR is a foundational security tool that every organization needs, MDR solutions are often the go to choice for organizations that need to monitor and respond to threats quickly. However, they often have limitations, particularly for organizations that are looking to improve their security posture and grow their security maturity. ReliaQuest’s GreyMatter, an Open-XDR platform, offers a comprehensive approach to security operations. With GreyMatter, you can gain better visibility into threat investigations, automate playbooks with bi-directional integrations with your existing tech stack, and monitor security operations for gaps and improvement over time.