Cybersecurity 101: MDR vs. XDR

Digital cybersecurity and network protection

As cybersecurity providers advance and evolve their service capabilities, they may fall into one of two camps relative to managed detection and response (MDR) or extended detection and response (XDR) technologies — or blur the lines by offering both.

What are the similarities and differences between MDR and XDR? And who are the key players in either space? If you’re an MSSP, MSP or cybersecurity vendor, it’s important to know.

MDR and XDR are both cybersecurity services designed to enhance threat detection and response capabilities. However, they differ in scope, integration and in the way they are delivered.

Human Expertise a Key Component in MDR

MDR is a service that provides organizations with a combination of technology and human expertise to detect, analyze and respond to threats. It focuses on endpoint detection and response (EDR), but may also include network and log monitoring.

MDR typically involves EDR tools and other security monitoring technologies, using security analysts and incident responders who monitor and manage threats 24/7.

MDR is delivered as a managed service by third-party providers. It often includes threat intelligence, proactive threat hunting, incident analysis and response actions. MDR is designed to supplement or replace in-house security operations centers (SOCs) for organizations without sufficient internal resources.

The benefits of MDR include advanced threat detection and response capabilities without requiring extensive in-house expertise. MDR offers continuous monitoring and immediate response to incidents, and it can be tailored to the organization's specific needs.

XDR Stretches Beyond the Endpoints

XDR is a security solution that integrates multiple security products into a cohesive system for improved detection and response. XDR extends beyond endpoints to include data from various sources, such as networks, servers, applications and cloud environments.

XDR technology provides an integration of data from EDR, network traffic analysis (NTA), security information and event management (SIEM), email security and other security tools. XDR is delivered via a unified platform that is centralized for visibility, correlation and analysis of threats across the entire IT environment.

XDR can be delivered as a product (software) or as a service. It often includes automated and semi-automated response capabilities, reducing the need for human intervention. XDR provides a holistic view of the security landscape by integrating data from various sources while enhancing detection and response capabilities through improved context and correlation of security events. XDR also streamlines and simplifies security operations by reducing the complexity of managing multiple disparate tools.

How MDR and XDR are Different

A key difference between MDR and XDR centers on integration versus management. MDR focuses on managed services, relying on human expertise combined with technology to handle detection and response. But XDR’s focus is on integrating various security tools and data sources into a unified system to enhance detection and response capabilities.

As for their respective scope of coverage, MDR is primarily focused on endpoints but can include network and log monitoring. XDR differs from MDR in that it broadens the scope to cover endpoints, networks, servers, applications, and cloud environments, providing a more comprehensive security view.

While both MDR and XDR aim to improve an organization's ability to detect and respond to threats, MDR is more about providing managed services with expert human oversight. XDR focuses on integrating and automating various security tools to offer a more comprehensive and efficient detection and response solution. Organizations may choose one over the other based on their specific needs, resources and existing security infrastructure.

XDR-Only Providers

Some security service providers focus exclusively on XDR. Notable examples include:

  • LevelBlue: LevelBlue is an XDR companying specializing in providing a platform that integrates and correlates security data across multiple layers including endpoint, network, cloud and email.
  • Netsurion. The Netsurion security platform includes an XDR component as part of its comprehensive managed security services. Netsurion employs advanced analytics and continuous monitoring to protect against cyber threats.
  • SecurityHQ. Known for its extensive range of security solutions, SecurityHQ’s XDR services provide thorough visibility and rapid response to threats across different environments.
  • Secureworks. Taegis ManagedXDR from Secureworks is a comprehensive XDR solution integrating various platforms like endpoint, network and cloud to provide extensive monitoring and threat detection capabilities.
  • Stellar Cyber. Stellar Cyber's Open XDR platform integrates various security tools and data sources to provide comprehensive threat detection, investigation, and response capabilities.

Focusing Exclusively on MDR

A number of security service providers focus on MDR services exclusively. Notable examples include:

  • Check Point: Check Point offers Incident Response and Managed Detection and Response services as well as Managed SOC and NOC.
  • Expel. MDR services include threat monitoring, detection and automated response actions. Expel is known for its transparent operations and detailed reporting to help organizations understand and improve their security posture.
  • Huntress. Huntress focuses on providing MDR services, specializing in threat detection, investigation, and response for small and medium-sized businesses.
  • Red Canary. It’s MDR services provide continuous monitoring, threat detection and response without the broader range of services typically offered by MSSPs. Red Canary emphasizes EDR technology and use a variety of tools and integrations to enhance security operations.
  • Redscan (part of Kroll). Known for its MDR services, Redscan offers comprehensive detection and response capabilities, using frontline intelligence to manage and mitigate cyber threats. Their services include endpoint security, network monitoring and incident response.

Vendors Offering Both MDR and XDR

Several security vendors offer both MDR and XDR services. Notable examples include:

  • Palo Alto Networks. With their Cortex XDR, Palo Alto Networks delivers an integrated security solution that combines data from multiple sources for comprehensive threat detection and response. The company also offers MDR services leveraging its XDR technology, enhancing overall security posture and incident response efficiency.
  • Secureworks. As a provider of both XDR and MDR services, Secureworks emphasizes integration with existing security infrastructures to offer robust threat detection and response capabilities tailored to various organizational needs.
  • SentinelOne. SentinelOne's XDR platform, Singularity XDR, integrates various security tools and data sources to provide a unified approach to threat detection, investigation, and response. Additionally, SentinelOne provides MDR services, leveraging their platform and security expertise to monitor, detect, and respond to threats on behalf of their clients.
  • Sophos. Sophos MDR is designed to integrate with a wide array of security tools and offers flexible deployment options, such as re-selling Sophos MDR services, co-managing with their experts, or building and delivering your own MDR services using their XDR platform.
  • Trend Micro. Both XDR and MDR services are offered through Trend Micro’s Vision One platform, which integrates various security technologies to provide a holistic view of security threats and enhance threat detection and response capabilities.

Editor's Note: Human editors were assisted by ChatGPT in the preparation of this article.

Jim Masters

Jim Masters is Managing Editor of MSSP Alert, and holds a B.A. degree in Journalism from Northern Illinois University. His career has spanned governmental and investigative reporting for daily newspapers in the Northwest Indiana Region and 16 years in a global internal communications role for a Fortune 500 professional services company. Additionally, he is co-owner of the Lake County Corn Dogs minor league baseball franchise, located in Crown Point, Indiana. In his spare time, he enjoys writing and recording his own music, oil painting, biking, volleyball, golf and cheering on the Corn Dogs.