Understanding XDR Security: Concepts, Features, and Use Cases
Last Update: December 2020
Extended detection and response (XDR) solutions provide threat detection and protection that go beyond typical endpoint protection and EDR security. With XDR, you can centralize your threat tooling stack and gain greater control over your security. XDR features typically include network analysis, integrated threat intelligence, machine learning-based detection, user-friendly investigation response orchestration, and dynamic deployment. See XDR in action here
Extended detection and response is considered the evolution of existing threat detection and response solutions. It applies proactive measures by providing visibility of data across endpoint, network and system components in combination with analytics and automation.
XDR is designed to help security teams:
Identify threats that are highly sophisticated or hidden
Track threats across multiple system components
Improve detection and response speed
Investigate threats more effectively and efficiently
XDR was developed as an alternative to reactive endpoint protection solutions, which only provide one layer of visibility or event correlation without response. For example, endpoint detection and response (EDR) or network traffic analysis (NTA) tools.
While still useful, these layer-specific tools tend to provide greater volumes of alerts, require more time to investigate and respond to events, and require more maintenance and management. In contrast, XDR consolidates tooling and enables security teams to work more effectively and efficiently.
Want to dive deep into XDR? Here are some resources
XDR is different from other security tools in that it centralizes, normalizes, and correlates data from multiple sources. These capabilities enable more complete visibility and can expose less obvious events.
By collecting and analyzing data from multiple sources, XDR solutions are able to better validate alerts, thereby reducing false positives and increasing reliability. This helps reduce any time teams might waste on excessive or inaccurate alerts. According to Gartner, this results in improved productivity in security teams and allows faster, more automated responses.
Although similar results can be achieved with a combination of EDR and security incident and event management (SIEM) solutions, XDR goes beyond these capabilities. SIEM solutions collect shallow data from many sources while XDR collects deeper data from targeted sources. These collection methods enable XDR to provide better context for events and eliminate the need for manual tuning or integration of data. Moreover, because the alert sources are native to the XDR solution, the integration and maintenance effort required for monitoring alerts in a SIEM is eliminated.
You can learn more about endpoint security concepts in our guides:
EPP vs. EDR: What Matters More, Prevention or Response?
To better understand how XDR is different from traditional EDR tools, it helps to understand what features solutions typically include.
Analytics and Detection
XDR solutions rely on a range of analytics for threat detection. Below are some of the analytical features that are typically included:
Analysis of both internal and external traffic—ensures that malicious insiders and compromised credentials are detected as well as identifying external attacks. By monitoring and analyzing both internal and external traffic, XDR is able to identify a threat even if it has already bypassed your system perimeter.
Integrated threat intelligence—incorporates information on known attack methods, tools, sources, and strategies across multiple attack vectors. Threat intelligence enables XDR to learn from attacks on other systems and use that information to detect similar events in your environment.
Machine learning-based detection—includes supervised and semi-supervised methods that work to identify threats based on behavioral baselines. Machine learning technologies enable XDR to detect zero-day threats and non-traditional threats that can bypass signature-based methods.
Investigation and Response
Once suspicious events are detected, XDR can provide tools that help security teams determine the severity of a threat and respond accordingly. Below are some of the features included in XDR that can assist with investigation and response:
Correlation of related alerts and data—tools can automatically group related alerts, build attack timelines from activity logs, and prioritize events. This helps teams quickly determine the root cause of an attack and can help them predict what an attacker might do next.
Centralized user interface (UI)—enables analysts to investigate and respond to events from the same console. This helps speed response time and makes documentation of response simpler.
Response orchestration capabilities—enable response actions directly through XDR interfaces, as well as communication between tooling. For example, updating endpoint policies across your system in response to automatically blocked attacks on a single endpoint.
Dynamic and Flexible Deployments
XDR solutions are designed to provide additional benefit over time. Below are some of the features that help accomplish this goal:
Security orchestration—ability to integrate with and leverage existing controls for unified and standardized responses. XDR solutions can also include automation features to help ensure that policies and tooling are deployed consistently.
Scalable storage and compute—XDR uses cloud resources that are able to scale to meet your data and analysis needs. This ensures that historical data, useful for identifying and investigating advanced persistent threats or other long-running attacks remains available.
Improvement over time—inclusion of machine learning ensures that solutions become more effective at detecting a broader range of attacks over time. This in combination with inclusion of threat intelligence helps ensure the maximum number of threats are detected and prevented.
Use Cases for XDR
XDR can provide support for a wide range of network security responsibilities. It can also be adopted to help support specific use cases, depending on the maturity of your security teams. Below are three use cases, mirroring the tiers that security professionals are often classified with.
Tier 1: triage—XDR solutions can be adopted as the primary tool for aggregating data, monitoring systems, detecting events, and alerting security teams. These systems can form the base for further efforts or can enable a hand off to higher level teams.
Tier 2: investigation—teams can use solutions as repositories of analyses and information on events. This information, in combination with threat intelligence can be used to investigate events, evaluate responses, and train security staff.
Tier 3: threat hunting—data collected by XDR solutions can be used as a baseline for performing threat hunting operations. These operations proactively seek evidence of threats that have been overlooked by systems and analysts. Data used for, and collected during, threat hunting processes can also be used to create new threat intelligence which is then used to strengthen existing security policies and systems.
XDR Security Benefits
An XDR platform can provide the following benefits:
Improved prevention capabilities—inclusion of threat intelligence and adaptive machine learning can help ensure that solutions are able to implement protections against the greatest variety of attacks. Additionally, continuous monitoring in combination with automated response can help block a threat as soon as it is detected to prevent damage.
Granular visibility—provides full user data at an endpoint in combination with network and application communications. This includes information on access permissions, applications in use, and files accessed. Having full visibility across your system, including on-premises and in the cloud enables you to detect and block attacks faster.
Effective response—robust data collection and analysis allows you to trace an attack path and reconstruct attacker actions. This provides the information needed to locate the attacker wherever they are. It also provides valuable information that you can apply to strengthen your defenses.
Greater control—includes the ability to both blacklist and whitelist traffic and processes. This ensures that only approved actions and users can enter your system.
Better productivity—centralization reduces the number of alerts and increases alerting accuracy. This means fewer false positives to disclude. Also, since XDR is deployed as a platform, it is easier to maintain and manage, and reduces the number of interfaces that security must access during a response.
Mistakes to Avoid With XDR Platforms
While XDR platforms are a significant improvement over traditional tools and many EDR systems, these solutions are not foolproof. To ensure that your implementation is effective and that you are getting the greatest protection for your investments, make sure to avoid the following mistakes.
Complexity of integration
XDR solutions need to integrate smoothly with your existing solutions. If integration requires excessive work or custom plugins, you lose out on productivity gains. You’ll likely also have to sacrifice some of the control and visibility that makes XDR an improvement over alternatives. If the platform you want doesn’t integrate well, you’re likely better off finding another.
While you may not get all of the features of your preferred platform, not having to maintain or build an integration from scratch can be worth the compromise. Being able to take advantage of native integration enables you to implement a new platform quickly and provides immediate protection enhancements.
Likewise, when looking to integrate additional tooling with your XDR, make sure to prioritize those that are already compatible. In general, you should be wary of applications, tools, and services that require additional integration work since this is a debt you’ll have to carry forward.
Lack of sufficient automation
Automation is a key driver of the efficiency of XDR. The ability to automate tracking, alerts, and responses is what reduces the workload of security teams and enables them to focus on higher-level tasks. However, automation needs to go beyond simply sandboxing processes or blocking all traffic to be effective.
The XDR platform you choose should ideally include automation that adapts to current system conditions and responds based on multiple parameters. For example, recognizing when a device has connected to your network and being able to either match it to a previous user profile or assigning it a temporary status. This can then enable you to more closely monitor unknown devices and more quickly restrict potentially malicious access.
XDR platforms are supposed to ease the efforts of security and response teams. This goes beyond interfaces and dashboards and extends to configuration and maintenance requirements. If a solution is difficult to update or does not enable settings to be easily set or changed, its value decreases.
Additionally, if a platform is constructed of various technologies that are not natively-linked, your teams are effectively still using disparate tools. These tools are unlikely to be as effective and are more likely to require extra operational efforts. Instead, you should look for platforms that include native services and functionalities that don’t require external add-ons.
XDR – The future of EDR
EDR was created to provide perimeter wide protection for a system. This was an advancement on existing methods as it provided coverage for a primary component in an attack, endpoints. The result was proactive endpoint security that covered many security gaps and blindspots.
Effective use of EDR still requires collaboration with other tools and processes, however. It cannot protect your system on its own. It also cannot provide full visibility of your system. Rather, it can provide limited visibility into what actions attackers are taking on your endpoints. If you want to know what happened throughout the attack, you need to bring in other monitoring and detection tools.
XDR was designed to fill this information gap. Unlike EDR, it can provide visibility into every phase of an attack, from endpoint to payload. By integrating XDR into your security platform, you can collate information from across your systems. This helps you determine a more accurate picture of past attacks as well as attacks in progress. This is especially important as networks become more distributed and more external services are incorporated and provided system access. Learn more about EDR in our guide: What Does EDR Stand For?
XDR Security with Cynet 360
Beyond XDR – Autonomous Breach Protection
Cynet 360 is the world’s first Autonomous Breach Protection platform that natively integrates the endpoint, network and user attack prevention & detection of XDR with the automated investigation and remediation capabilities of SOAR, backed by a 24/7 world-class MDR service. End to end, fully automated breach protection is now within reach of any organization, regardless of security team size and skill level.
Endpoint protection—Multilayered protection against malware, ransomware, exploits and fileless attacks
Network protection—Protecting against scanning attacks, MITM, lateral movement and data exfiltration
User protection—Preset behavior rules coupled with dynamic behavior profiling to detect malicious anomalies
Deception— Wide array of network, user, file decoys to lure advanced attackers into revealing their hidden presence
SOAR Layer: Response Automation
Investigation— Automated root cause and impact analysis
Findings—Actionable conclusions on the attack’s origin and its affected entities
Remediation— Elimination of malicious presence, activity and infrastructure across user, network and endpoint attacks
Visualization— Intuitive flow layout of the attack and the automated response flow
MDR Layer: Expert Monitoring and Oversight
Alert monitoring— First line of defense against incoming alerts, prioritizing and notifying customer on critical events
Attack investigation—Detailed analysis reports on the attacks that targeted the customer
Proactive threat hunting—Search for malicious artifacts and IoC within the customer’s environment
Incident response guidance— Remote assistance in isolation and removal of malicious infrastructure, presence and activity
Cynet 360 can be deployed across thousands of endpoints in less than two hours. It can be immediately used to uncover advanced threats and then perform automatic or manual remediation, disrupt malicious activity and minimize damage caused by attacks.
Extended means XDR can provide insight into data in networks, clouds, endpoints, and applications (unlike traditional EDR which only focused on endpoints).
Detection means XDR has automated analysis capabilities that can help it identify anomalies in the IT environment, detect potential security incidents, and provide the full attack story.
Response means that XDR gives security teams the tools to immediately respond to an attack, by locking down endpoints, applying network segmentation, or other proactive measures.
Why is XDR Important?
The main promise of XDR is to reduce the likelihood of breaches that will have an impact on an organization and its customers.
XDR gives analysts contextual information about real attacks that can help them understand, contain and eradicate the threat more quickly. It can do this by combining data sources from the entire cybersecurity ecosystem, including endpoints but extending to networks, cloud resources and other resources, and helping analysts visualize the entire kill chain.
In addition, XDR can achieve significant efficiencies in security organizations, which suffer from a talent shortage and scarce resources. XDR is a unified platform, rather than a set of separate security tools, making it easy to deploy, upgrade, expand, and manage. This reduces the need for extensive training and certifications, and improves productivity, especially for Tier 1 security analysts.
What is the Difference Between Point Solutions (NGAV, EDR, NDR, etc.) and XDR?
XDR collects activity data from multiple vectors including endpoints, servers, and networks, providing a level of detection that is difficult or impossible to achieve with SIEM or isolated security solutions.
Tools like next generation antivirus (NGAV), endpoint detection and response (EDR) or network detection and response (NDR) are only effective against attacks that are focused on one layer of the security environment, and find it difficult to detect and respond to threats that cross multiple layers, for example leveraging a compromised endpoint to attack the network.
Is XDR Better than EDR?
XDR takes endpoint detection and response (EDR) one step further, evolving the original EDR approach which focused on a single security vector.
EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response) is still of great value, and XDR solutions continue to leverage EDR capabilities to protect endpoints. However, EDR is ultimately limited because it can only see the endpoint in a complex attack story. This limits the scope of the threats that can be detected and mitigated. In this sense, XDR is better than just EDR alone, because it extends the benefits of EDR to threats that go beyond the endpoint to target additional security layers
Which are the Top XDR Solutions?
Here are five leading XDR security solution providers: