Cybersecurity Glossary

Managed Detection and Response (MDR)

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What Is Managed Detection and Response (MDR)?

Managed Detection and Response (MDR) solutions combine human work with technology to provide continuous monitoring as well as threat detection and response in organizations’ digital environments. MDR solutions work as a third party for an organization, allowing them to rapidly detect and respond to cyber threats without needing additional internal staff.  

How Does MDR Work?

MDR solutions have three components: Monitoring, detection, and response.  

  • Monitoring: MDR solutions offer 24×7 monitoring of an organization’s technology stack and digital environment. 
  • Detection: MDR solutions utilize data from this monitoring to detect potential cyber threats (in the forms of suspicious or unusual behavior) quickly. 
  • Response: MDR solutions then investigate the threat themselves, to make sure it’s legitimate, and then alert the organization to said threat. Many MDR solutions work with organizations to offer incident response, additional investigations, and remediation. 

What Are the Key Features of MDR?

MDR solutions complete the three main tasks above by utilizing a variety of capabilities within the solution. 

Those capabilities include: 


MDR solutions can holistically monitor a network while prioritizing what’s most important from a security standpoint. That means when an organization is alerted to a threat, it is one that the solution deems critical. In addition, many MDR solutions are rules-based, which allows organizations to customize what behaviors are normal for their specific environment, weeding out potential false alarms.

Threat Hunting

MDR solutions actively monitor the environment and work through massive amounts of data to detect potential threats. Because MDR combines human work with technology, the human element of this solution can interpret data and identify potential threats for an organization.

Threat Intelligence Integration

As part of threat hunting (and threat investigation), MDR solutions utilize the best threat intelligence available to make sure an environment is protected, and threats are identified immediately. Threat intelligence, often paired with machine learning and behavior analytics, is critical to the success of an MDR solution.

Threat Investigation

MDR solutions don’t stop at identification. The solution investigates said threat to 1. make sure that it is real and 2. make sure that it is a top priority. The solution then contacts the organization about the threat.

Guided Response

MDR solutions are active partners with organizations, so if a threat is detected, they work with the organization to help them respond. Many MDR solutions offer full-service incident response and retainers for incident response costs.


Once a threat is neutralized, MDR solutions often work with the organization to patch vulnerabilities, understand what went wrong, and improve their security posture to reduce future risk. 

What are the Benefits of MDR?

While every organization’s business and security needs are unique, there are many benefits that an MDR solution can offer. 

  1. A Dedicated Security Team 
  2. Continuous Security Monitoring 
  3. Customizable Security Rules 
  4. Human-Augmented Machine Learning 
  5. Cloud Threat Monitoring 
  6. Compliance Reporting 
  7. Vulnerability Scanning 
  8. Workflow Integration 
  9. Log Data Collection/Correlation 
  10. Scalable Data Architecture 

What Challenges Does MDR Address?

MDR is a great option for organizations of all sizes and industries because not only does it help improve security posture, but it also solves key security problems organizations face.  

Those challenges include: 

Staffing Constraints

Many organizations lack the internal staff to manage their security tech stack in addition to active monitoring and threat hunting. Large organizations often rely on small IT teams, who are too overwhelmed to properly monitor and detect threats. MDR offers a human staff that assists in active monitoring, detection, and threat response. 76% of organizations cannot achieve their security goals due to staffing concerns. 

Budget Constraints

In addition to a lack of IT staff, many organizations deal with a set or stringent budget that is often spent on technology. There isn’t extra room in the budget for more technology or more hires to assist in monitoring and detection. Cost is the number one factor organizations consider when establishing a security program.  

Alert Fatigue

When an organization is using dozens, if not hundreds, of applications across their business environment, alerts can pop up regularly, overwhelming the internal staff. This alert fatigue can lead to threats not being addressed properly or missed entirely.  

Visibility Across the Security Environment

Visibility is a struggle for organizations considering the number of applications and aspects of the network that need monitoring. Many applications do not play well together, which prevents a centralized option for visibility and monitoring. An MDR solution is able to not only offer that centralized pane of glass but utilize it for better threat detection. 

Lack of Security Expertise

For organizations that can staff an internal team, there is also the issue of security expertise. Cybersecurity, as well as cloud security, are growing fields, but the demand for that talent outmatches the amount available. MDR security teams are full security experts and can provide expertise when organizations need it most. 56% of organizations distribute security responsibilities to their IT staff and there is mass turnover, with 65% of cybersecurity employees actively considering new positions. 


Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) is similar to MDR with one exception: EDR only monitors an organization’s endpoints. While endpoints are an important part of an organization’s security architecture, many organizations are moving to a cloud-first approach, and EDR does not monitor cloud or network services. 

While EDR can assist with visibility, insight, and remediation, the full scope of the tool is limited to that one aspect of an organization’s architecture. However, EDR is useful in detecting breaches and is more powerful than typical anti-virus software when it comes to endpoint breaches.  

MDR Vs. SIEM Solutions

Security incident and event management solutions (SIEM) is the main technology employed by a security operations center (SOC). This technology integrates with the IT system and low flows to digest data for analysis. The SIEM collects and aggregates data from different devices, security tools, and appliances, such as network devices (e.g., routers and domain controllers), endpoint security (antivirus, endpoint detection and response), intrusion detection or intrusion prevention systems, honeypots, and so on. 

While a SIEM solution is great for gathering and analyzing data, it still must be done in-house, which can lead to some disadvantages compared to an MDR, including false positives, incident misses, and high cost of ownership. SIEM solutions are often noisy, complex, and difficult to manage. 


Similar to a SOC or an MDR, Managed security services providers (MSSPs) are IT security providers that monitor, maintain, and manage security 24×7. While this outsourcing is popular because it’s more cost-effective and frees up internal team to focus on other priorities.  

MSSPs can bring value to your security posture, but only if they fill a gap in your existing infosec ecosystem — something that’s difficult to assess without the ability to independently evaluate the capabilities of the vendor. In addition, organizations do not have control over the MSSP’s security portfolio and processes – this lack of control can create major risks. It can also make compliance more complicated. 

MDR and Artificial Intelligence

As MDRs evolve, they are integrating more and more artificial intelligence (also called machine learning) into their processes. While MDRs are traditionally rules-based solutions, meaning normal (or abnormal) behavior is dictated by a set of rules given to the MDR by the organization, artificial intelligence learns behaviors over time. This approach allows the solution to have more context around alerts, and better understand user behavior in a broad sense. This can provide an organization with better information on how their system operates and what their users are doing – allowing them to act more intelligently if a threat arises. 

What Should You Look for in an MDR Solution?

There are many facets to consider when looking at an MDR solution. Every organization has unique needs that should be accounted for, but there are some guidelines, as highlighted by Gartner. 

Questions an organization should ask an MDR solution provider: 

  1. Does the MDR “orchestrate and centralize threat detection, investigation and mitigation, and methods, such as the use of API-enabled integrations?” 
  2. Is there a “focus on high-fidelity threat detection and validation?” 
  3. Is there a “a common delivery platform for all customers which provides centralized reporting?” 
  4. Is the provider “expanding into other security operations functions?” 
  5. Can the provider “monitor cloud infrastructure and platform services, as well as popular SaaS applications?” 
  6. Does the provider “use validation-type capabilities such as breach and attack simulation (BAS) and penetration testing as a services (PTaaS) to test and understand threat scenarios in an environment on a continuous basis” 

MDR Resources for Further Learning

Learn more about MDR capabilities with our buyer’s guide.

Explore MDR solutions in-depth with the Gartner® Market Guide for MDR Services.

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Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf provides your team with 24x7 coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
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