In recent years, dozens of XDR vendors have emerged. But do they deserve the hype? And is XDR different from EDR or NDR technologies that thousands of organizations already rely on worldwide? This article by Mark Doering, director of technical marketing, NETSCOUT, compares these technologies and how they fit into an organization’s cybersecurity stack.
Cybersecurity and abbreviations go together like peanut butter and jelly. It is hard to imagine one without the other. New technology inevitably begets new terms to keep track of.Â
Still, the industry’s ever-growing acronym soup of abbreviations and jargon can make it challenging to compare technologies over time. Take the example of three closely related categories of threat detection technology: Network Detection and Response (NDR), Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), and Extended Detection and Response (XDR). Each offers a comprehensive solution to detect and respond to various cyberattacks. Moreover, they rely on similar but different approaches worth considering as the volume and sophistication of attacks continue to grow, and the risks to organizations show no signs of relenting.Â Â
In recent years, dozens of XDR vendors have emergedOpens a new window . But do they deserve the hype? And is XDR different from EDR or NDR technologies that thousands of organizations already rely on worldwide? This article will compare these other technologies and how they fit into an organization’s modern cybersecurity stack.Â
EDR Identifies Tangible Changes at the Endpoint-level
EDR systems became popular about a decade ago because they promised a more holistic approach to discovering security breaches as they happen. The oldest threat detection technologies outlined above, EDR systems protect companies by deploying a software agent on each connected endpoint device. These endpoint agents can help detect malicious activity previously missed by a firewall, for example, by identifying tangible changes such as registry changes and key file manipulation.Â Â
For many companies, EDR is critical to their overall cybersecurity posture. More advanced EDR systems may automatically employ machine learning or AI to detect new threats, leveraging profiles based on suspicious behaviors and activity. Additionally, security professionals can look back over endpoint data to determine potential points of compromise.Â
However, there are limits to their effectiveness. For example, EDR detection logs do not always trigger alertsOpens a new window , so a periodic manual review of endpoint data may be necessary to prevent cyber-attacks. Agents can also not be deployed on all devices (e.g., BYOD or IoT devices) or in environments such as the public cloud, potentially leaving gaps in visibility, that threat actors can exploit.Â
Many professionals may think that, in the event of a cyber-attack, a threat actor would have to compromise an endpoint and could thus be detected. Still, as malware and attackers grow more competent, they can mask the initial signs of attack or even catch the agent and sleep until needed. These gaps shatter the myth that organizations only need an EDR. And with more employees working remotely and in hybrid settings, organizations need a more versatile and advanced form of technology to detect threats across multiple environments, which is why many organizations are looking at XDR solutions.Â
XDR Provides More Holistic Protection Against Cyberattacks Than EDR
While definitions vary as the category evolves, XDR is generally understood as the next evolution of EDR, made more effective with the integration of network, application and cloud data sources to respond more quickly and effectively to threats. Of course, part of the reason there is so much confusion around XDR platforms’ capabilities and varying definitions is that there are different types.
Broadly, three types of XDR platforms exist:Â
- Native (works only with products from a single vendor)
- Open (works with all vendors)
- Hybrid (can integrate data from some outside vendors, with limitations)
Unlike EDR, XDR solutions attempt to bring a more proactive approach to threat detection and response by providing a one-platform solution that offers visibility across multiple data streams (endpoint, network, and cloud). Additionally, this intelligence can be further improved with enhanced Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) and Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) tools while using analytics and automation to address more complex problems and threats.Â
Although XDR’s one-platform approach suits organizations with diverse data environments to monitor all activity in one place, even a streamlined, single-platform solution is limited if it lacks visibility into an organization’s broader networked environment. Cybersecurity leaders need to see changes in network activity and compare that against endpoint and cloud data, which is where NDR solutions can provide the necessary context to focus on potential cyber threats.Â
NDR Recognizes Threats at the Packet Level for Real-time Response
Unlike EDR or XDR solutions, NDR focuses on analyzing packet data in network traffic rather than endpoints or other data streams to detect potential cyber threats. After all, packets don’t lie, making them the best source for reliable, accurate, and comprehensive insights. And by combining NDR with other solutions such as log analysis tools via security information and event management (SIEM) and EDR, organizations can mitigate blind spots within their networks. Together, NDR solutions heighten security capabilities by providing network context and automating responses to threats, supporting greater collaboration between network and security teams and faster mitigation.Â
Â However, within the category of NDRs, it is essential to differentiate the capabilities of more advanced platforms that offer features that modern cybersecurity stacks should incorporate. For example, evaluating different NDRs ensures they can provide reliable forensics with long-term data storage. It’s also crucial they do not rely on NetFlow-based data, which isn’t supported in all environments and may offer opportunities for more sophisticated attacks that depend on tunneling. Indeed, more advanced systems should allow a retroactive view of network traffic to examine the behavior of threats before, during, and after attacks. So, if an indicator of compromise (IOC) is detected, security teams can investigate the communication of compromised hosts, determine lateral movement, and determine if a data breach has occurred.
In summary, EDRs are designed to monitor and mitigate endpoint attacks through connected computers and servers, but only where agents can be deployed. As a result, EDR does not work in some cloud-based hosting environments, for example. By contrast, XDRs offer a more unified platform approach to monitoring devices and data streams but often lack the network context that NDRs provide through real-time packet monitoring.Â
The reality is that most large organizations today need a more comprehensive solution that combines network and endpoint data with other security solutions for a more robust, real-time view of the ever-changing threat landscape. Network data provided by advanced NDRs thus acts as the glue that connects and contextualizes inputs from complementary EDR, XDR, SIEM, and SOAR systems, making them more effective for more rapid threat detection and response. After all, it’s impossible to hide your tracks on the network, and cyber-attacks are only growing in sophistication. Working in tandem, these systems offer a complete view of attacker behavior and indicators of compromise.Â Â