The cybersecurity industry is always evolving. Whether new solutions arrive because of advances in technology, emerging threats, or changing security needs, every few years a new platform — and often acronym — joins the market.
Extended detection and response (XDR) is one of those solutions that has gained momentum from buyers and taken over many security conversations in recent years. According to Gartner’s XDR Market Guide, “by year-end 2028, XDR will be deployed in 30% of end-user organizations to reduce the number of security vendors they have in place.”
Part of this rapid adoption is fueled by the growing trend of consolidation and part is fueled by the changes in organizations’ security and operations infrastructure. As organizations turn to the cloud, hybrid work models, and digitization, more traditional security measures, such as endpoint detection and response (EDR), are no longer enough to cover the growing attack surface.
But, with so many solutions on the market and the dynamic nature of both cybersecurity and organizations’ operational needs, it’s important to look at what XDR is, what it isn’t, and if it’s the best option moving forward.
What Is XDR?
XDR is a literal “extension” of EDR solutions, which are focused solely on endpoints, and aim to be more unified and efficient as organizations’ attack surfaces expand and threat actors’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) evolve.
However, there is still some debate among vendors about what the actual definition of XDR is, with some vendors even offering varying explanations of the acronym itself. Some define XDR as “cross detection and response,” where others see the ‘X’ as a variable and define the acronym as any or all detection and response. The most common definition, however, is based around the idea of XDR being extended detection and response.
Gartner defines XDR as, “a platform that integrates, correlates and contextualizes data and alerts from multiple security prevention, detection and response components.”
XDR, per Gartner’s definition, is cloud-based and uses “advanced analytics to correlate alerts from multiple sources into incidents from weaker individual signals to create more accurate detections.”
XDR vs. MDR
The main difference between XDR and managed detection and response (MDR) is the managed component of MDR, which provides an organization with third-party security engineers to oversee the solution. MDR refers more to the service component than the solution’s capabilities. While XDR is capable of preset responses, MDR allows for real-time response without the need for additional internal staffing. While it will vary by vendor and technology capabilities, MDR generally utilizes a pre-defined technology stack to cover similar areas as XDR: endpoint, network, logs, and the cloud. However, because MDR is externally managed, organizations that utilize it may have less control over threat detection use cases relative to their needs and environment. The other side of that managed component is that organizations can monitor their environment and respond to threats more efficiently and effectively, without worrying about resource or budget constraints.
XDR vs. SIEM
Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) is similar to XDR in that it combines long-term data collection from multiple sources with analysis and real-time monitoring of events. However, unlike XDR, SIEM solutions are primarily centered around data collection and alerting, which can lead to a high signal to noise ratio, reoccurring false positives, and alert fatigue. XDR, however, is designed to streamline that alerting process, providing a centralized view and more accurate alerts.
The Benefits of XDR
Because XDR is driven by efficiency, it has many advantages, particularly for organizations looking to augment or forgo a SIEM solution, which is a more do-it-yourself model for monitoring and detection across the IT environment.
Advantages of XDR include:
- The sharing of threat intelligence among multiple security products within an organization’s environment
- Reduction of missed alerts through correlation and confirmation
- Use of behavioral analytics to create more accurate alerts
- Centralized configuration for better, more efficient detection and response
- Visibility across the IT environment
- Automated response to incidents and alerts
- (Often) use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) for stronger data correlation, detection, and response
However, many of those advantages can be found in other security solutions — particularly other detection and response solutions like MDR — and the specifics of how each of those advantages works within an environment is highly dependent on the vendor providing the solution. For example, when talking about comprehensive visibility that extends beyond the endpoint, what does it extend to? Is it vendor-neutral?
Those kinds of questions show the ways that XDR can fall short.
Disadvantages of XDR
While XDR can provide great value, especially in terms of visibility and real-time response, it isn’t a magic tool that solves all security problems an organization may have.
Disadvantages of XDR include:
• Vendor limitations, which can affect how useful the tool is within a given environment
• Depending on the vendor, XDR solutions may not “play nice” with other tools in the security environment, leading to implementation complexity
The main disadvantage of XDR, however, is that, like so many others on the market — it is just a tool. All security tools, be them SIEM, SOAR, or XDR come with the same question: How will your organization implement and maintain this tool and does your organization have the staffing and expertise to use this tool effectively?
Should Your Organization Utilize an XDR Security Solution?
There is not a ‘yes or no’ answer to this question. There’s a lot of factors at play, including organization size, the number of security and operational tools in the environment, and what internal staffing and resources are available for tool management.
Some questions an organization can ask themselves regarding XDR adoption are:
• How large is our enterprise, and would MDR or a SIEM solution be better for the volume of our data and our internal resources?
• Do we have the budget and time to hire internal security engineers to monitor and act on XDR alerts?
• Do we have legacy technology and vendors that may or may not integrate well with an XDR solution?
• What is the XDR vendor promising and what can they deliver?
There are also a few truths every organization should consider:
- Cyber attacks are increasing in frequency and sophistication, with 62% of organizations reporting a higher number of security incidents per month
- The security skills gap is only growing, with 50% of organizations planning to reduce their cybersecurity headcounts
- Organizations are struggling to integrate tools and systems and feel that their SIEM solutions are falling short.
There’s also a shifting pattern that may have organizations rethinking XDR as a solution to their security woes — 73% of the respondents said that they are using a combination of incident response (IR) and a security operations center (SOC) in-house to detect and respond to security incidents.
Being able to monitor your environment and get real-time alerts is certainly critical to overall cybersecurity, but the response element is becoming paramount as threat actors evolve and breach fallouts intensify.
Organizations should look past XDR and instead focus on a more holistic, operations-focused security approach that combines human expertise with cutting-edge technology.
Arctic Wolf and XDR
Arctic Wolf is focused on security operations, not just adding more tools to your tech stack and hoping that more alerts meet your security needs. Cloud native and built on open-XDR architecture, the Arctic Wolf® Security Operations Platform takes a vendor-neutral approach, providing 24×7 monitoring of the network, endpoint, cloud, and identity sources. This allows for both broad visibility and real-time, advanced alerts.
Where Arctic Wolf differs from a traditional XDR solution, however, is through the managed response portion. The Arctic Wolf® Security Teams ensure Arctic Wolf has a complete understanding of an organization’s unique IT environment right from the start. Our security operations center (SOC) then monitors security events enriched and analyzed by the Arctic Wolf Platform to provide an organization’s internal security team with coverage and security operations expertise.
By focusing on the human element while understanding that cybersecurity is an ongoing journey, Arctic Wolf exceeds XDR’s capabilities while helping organizations harden their attack surface and reduce their current and future risk levels.
See how leveraging a managed tool like MDR can transform your organization’s cybersecurity architecture.