XDR vs EDR Solution Comparison – Key Similarities and Differences

The global impact of the pandemic has been enormous, with modern cloud-based endpoint security solutions being adopted across all regions. This demand is expected to continue to grow at a rapid pace as organizations are investing in new technologies to better protect themselves against the threat of ransomware and other more sophisticated cyber-attacks.

Defending endpoints (meaning workstations, mobile devices and servers) is a key component of security strategy in organizations of all sizes. Endpoint defense typically comprises a combination of Endpoint Protection (EPP) and Endpoint Detection & Response (EDR) solutions. Many companies have shifted to this kind of setup as a natural evolution from traditional on-premise antivirus software and a response to the increased volume of advanced threats companies of all sizes face. Gartner® predicts, “By the end of 2025, more than 60% of enterprises will have replaced older antivirus products with combined EPP and EDR solutions that supplement prevention with detection and response capabilities” (1).

So, what about XDR (Extended Detection & Response)? Is this the next generation of endpoint security that will eventually replace EDR + EPP combinations in the same way they replaced earlier antivirus software? Or is it just a way for vendors to promote the same old technology with an impressive new acronym?

What is XDR?

The term XDR was first coined by Nik Zur at an industry conference in 2018. The idea is that XDR takes detection and response beyond the endpoint, integrating EDR with additional components like cloud-based secure email gateways and identity and access management (IAM) solutions.

The need for XDR is driven by the demand for integrated and holistic security solutions. According to F-Secure’s research, 82% of companies want an all-in-one cyber security solution (2). Forrester divides XDR solutions into two categories: hybrid and native. A hybrid XDR platform integrates data and telemetry from third party solutions, whereas native XDR only integrates solutions from the same vendor’s portfolio (3).

In this sense, XDR is not really a new solution, but the coming together of existing solutions which previously had not worked in harmony as much as they should have. The theory is that XDR enables a single solution to deliver enhanced detection capabilities by,

  1. Correlating telemetry from multiple sources
  2. Using a single data lake to enable efficient investigation
  3. Enabling a wider range of response actions than EDR alone

Correlation of data from different sources is done with the aim of helping security professionals to link indicators of attack (IOA) or indicators of compromise (IOC) that might not stand out on their own, making it easier to catch attackers that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Some might think storing events from multiple data sources is the job of a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution. SIEM solutions are designed for storage of logs and meeting basic detection use cases, often to meet compliance requirements, rather than detection of sophisticated attacks. SIEM solutions are also resource-intensive and often prove difficult to manage, especially when the number of data sources becomes very large.

XDR, with EDR at its core, is purpose built for detection and can deliver immediate results when deployed to a new environment. In addition, XDR solutions have rich response capabilities, whereas SIEM solutions are detection-only.

Finally, while XDR solutions accept a broader range of telemetry than EDR, they are not intended to be ‘send me anything’ solutions like SIEMs; a good XDR focuses on those data sources which provide clear value for detecting and investigating serious attacks.

In short, SIEM solutions are not designed to extend ‘detection and response’ capabilities and XDR solutions are not designed to replace SIEM solutions.

What is EDR?

As mentioned, EDR stands for Endpoint Detection and Response and is a technology that is deployed on all endpoints in an organization’s network. Put simply, EDR detection works by capturing security-relevant events such as process executions and network connections that take place on endpoints. The resulting dataset can be analyzed in order to detect malicious or unusual behavior, which can then be remediated using response capabilities such as process termination, file deletion or network blocking.

Unlike EPP, which is an automated preventative layer designed to block obvious malicious activities, EDR is a last line of defense which enables human experts to catch and remediate attacks that bypass preventive controls, before they can cause any real damage.

For a top-level overview of EDR's core detection and response capabilities and why all companies need an Endpoint Detection and Response solution, see our article 7 reasons why you need an EDR solution.

Similarities and differences between EDR and XDR

As far as similarities are concerned, both EDR and XDR solutions use methods of behavioral analysis and threat intelligence to detect and respond to advanced threats, with endpoints being the primary source of detections.

This allows them to perform core security tasks such as:

  • Real-time monitoring – Both EDR and XDR solutions continuously collect and analyze data to detect unusual or malicious behavior. Having everything in a ‘single data lake’ allows cyber security analysts to monitor and triage quickly and easily.
  • Alerting and response – Sophisticated EDR and XDR solutions generate low numbers of false positive alerts, avoiding alert fatigue and ensuring a faster response to serious threats.
  • Proactive threat hunting and investigation – Both EDR and XDR solutions enable security analysts to go beyond automated alerting and search for subtle attacker activities that weren’t triggering any alerts.

The differences between specific EDR and XDR solutions vary. In some cases, EDR has been just renamed as XDR even though there is no material difference. Only a few XDR solutions deliver true value over and above EDR, so it’s important to do detailed due diligence on the capabilities of individual solutions.

A good XDR solution should extend telemetry data sources and response integrations to areas where it matters the most. Simply capturing more data from network infrastructure will not necessarily result in a better detection capability. You will need the right telemetry available to support your ability to detect the most common attacks as well as an effective response capability to stop those attacks.

Since research shows that 22% of all breaches involved phishing (4), F-Secure can demonstrate how an XDR solution which combines EDR and email security capabilities can effectively detect and respond to phishing attacks:

  1. Detecting the initial compromise of a target workstation with an EDR solution.
  2. Determining that the infection vector was a phishing email.
  3. Using data gathered from an email security solution to identify other users who have received the same phishing email but are yet to open it.
  4. The email can then be quarantined before further infections take place.

As the example above demonstrates, there are three core differences between EDR and XDR:

  EDR XDR
Solution coverage Endpoint detection and response (EDR) uses endpoint agents or sensors. Commonly EDR works seamlessly with endpoint protection (EPP) as another endpoint focused solution. XDR aims to unify detection and response capabilities across multiple telemetry sources, not just endpoints. In modern IT environments email and identities are the most valuable ones to be covered.
Telemetry coverage EDR is solely focused on endpoints as the richest source of telemetry and is not concerned with other telemetry sources. XDR aims to take telemetry from multiple sources, make it available in a cloud-based ‘data lake’, and correlate it for broader visibility that goes beyond endpoints.
Response coverage EDR enables remote investigation and response to stop attacks identified on the endpoint that were not already blocked by EPP. XDR aims to extend response beyond endpoints, and ultimately automate investigation and response activities, like in the phishing example above.

Which is the right detection and response solution for you?

According to Ponemon’s Cost of a Data Breach (5) report, two-thirds of companies experienced a data breach in 2020, including multimillion-dollar companies with state-of-the-art security. Therefore, the first thing to be aware of is that simply adding more tools or telemetry sources does not make you impervious to all kinds of cyber-attacks. In the worst case, more tools come with more complexity and are a distraction from the real priority of defending your environment.

Strong preventive measures combined with EDR will reduce the risk of a breach, as well as limit its impact by enabling fast detection and response to attacks.

Once you have robust endpoint protection and EDR capabilities in place, and if your team (or a service provider) is already capable of responding to the threats identified from the endpoints, you’re in a good position to “extend” detection and response with XDR. An extended detection and response (XDR) solution will provide a broader capability than EDR alone, thereby allowing you to defend your organization against additional attack vectors and deal with intrusions more efficiently. Watch out for vendors trying to couple on-premise legacy security technology such as firewalls and email security gateways with EDR and calling it “XDR”; these legacy technologies were left behind for a reason and any XDR solutions built on them will fall short of delivering the benefits of a true integrated and cloud-native XDR solution.

Finally, don’t forget the importance of security awareness since technology cannot always protect people from falling victim to advanced attacks, such as a carefully crafted phishing attack. However, the right technology will help, quickly detecting and responding to attacks and minimizing the impact on the organization.

Check out our article on 10 things to consider before buying an EDR solution for a list of topics that apply to choosing both EDR and XDR.

References

[1] Gartner, Competitive Landscape: Endpoint Protection Platforms, Rustam Malik, 18 Feb 2021. GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission.
[2] F-Secure Global B2B Market Research survey of 2750 IT/Network Security decision makers and influencers, 2020.
[3] Forrester, Adapt Or Die: XDR Is On A Collision Course With SIEM And SOAR, Allie Mellen, 28 April 2021.
[4] Verizon, Data Breach Investigations Report, 2020.
[5] Ponemon, IBM, Global Cost of a Data Breach Study, 2020.