What Is XDR? Transforming Threat Detection and Response

What Is XDR? Transforming Threat Detection and Response

XDR is a set of technologies that can help security teams perform more effective threat detection, as well as rapid investigation and response. 

Unlike previous-generation security solutions, XDR is not limited to one security silo — it combines data from networks, endpoints, email, IoT devices, servers, cloud workloads, and identity systems. It combines data from all layers of the IT environment, and enriches them with threat intelligence, to detect sophisticated and evasive threats. 

A primary value of XDR is that it provides prepackaged, automated threat detection, investigation and response (TDIR) for a variety of threats. XDR solutions are cloud delivered, suited for distributed, heterogeneous IT environments. They are turn-key solutions that immediately provide value and improve productivity for security teams. 

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The Need for XDR Security

Security operation centers (SOCs) need a platform that can intelligently unify all relevant security data to reveal advanced attackers. As attackers use more sophisticated tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to exploit vulnerabilities and circumvent traditional security controls, organizations need to protect assets both inside and outside the network perimeter. 

Cybersecurity Skills Shortage

Due to the global cybersecurity skills shortage, security teams are short-staffed and overworked. At the same time, the security environment has become more complex, cloud has introduced new security concerns, and the transition to remote work created a new set of challenges.

Disjointed Security Stack

Security organizations need integrated, proactive security measures to protect technology assets across traditional endpoints, mobile and cloud workloads. Adding more point solutions is not a viable solution, because teams will need to learn and certify on each tool, and they will create even more alerts to review and investigate.

Complexity of Security Investigations

Another pain point is the growing complexity of security investigations. Many security and risk managers are implementing threat hunting techniques, actively searching for malicious individuals such as malicious insiders, lone wolf attackers, hacker organizations, and state-sponsored attackers. 

Working with vendor-provided, siloed security tools makes it difficult to explore data and discover threats. These tools also generate many false positives and do not integrate well with analytics and incident response tools. 

These challenges gave rise to the development of XDR. XDR is a solution for all these concerns, providing one, integrated solution that pulls together data from across the environment, making it easily accessible to security analysts in one central interface.

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What are the Main Capabilities of XDR Solutions?

XDR aims to simplify security visibility across the entire IT ecosystem. It does so by providing:

Unified Visibility

XDR provides visibility across endpoints, networks, cloud infrastructure, mobile devices, and more, giving security analysts data on potential security incidents without having to learn and use multiple security tools.

Centralized Configuration

Security settings can be configured on a single management platform for the entire IT environment, letting security teams apply consistent security policies across different infrastructures.

Embedded Advanced Analytics

A must have for any XDR solution is behavioral analytics. Critical to the ease-of-use of XDR is the ability to baseline normal user, group and entity activity and flag any deviation.

Time to Value

A main focus of XDR solutions is to immediately provide value and relieve strain from SOC teams. XDR provides ready-to-use, integrated and pre-tuned detection mechanisms for a range of threats. This allows organizations to quickly derive value from their cybersecurity investments.

Increased Analyst Productivity

XDR eliminates the need for security analysts to switch between multiple dashboards to manually aggregate security data. This allows them to more effectively detect and respond to security threats. Behavioral analytics, versus a sole dependency on rules and signatures, are necessary to streamline response accuracy while minimizing alert fatigue.

Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

XDR provides an integrated network security platform, which can reduce costs associated with internal configuration, management, and integration of point solutions.

Analyst Empowerment

XDR provides a common management and workflow experience across an organization’s security infrastructure. This reduces training requirements and empowers tier 1 analysts to investigate complex incidents without escalating to higher tier analysts.

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XDR Protects the Entire Security Ecosystem

Let’s see how XDR protects different layers of the IT ecosystem:

Protecting Networks 

XDR can detect abnormal behavior anywhere in the network and reveal detailed information about how threats communicate. It automatically filters incidents to help identify real attacks. Security teams receive intelligence about the source and scope of attacks so they can respond more quickly.

Protecting Email Infrastructure

XDR detects email threats and identifies infected accounts. It can also detect attack patterns such as users who are frequently attacked, users who mistakenly give attackers access, and users who receive phishing emails. XDR can automatically quarantine emails, reset accounts, and block senders. Importantly, it connects malicious email activity with security events detected in other systems.

Protecting Cloud Workloads

XDR detects threats targeted against cloud servers, containers, or other workloads, identifies threat access points, investigates the impact of threats on workloads, and understands how they spread across the network. 

XDR can take automated action to stop threats, for example by implementing microsegmentation to isolate infected assets. In complex hybrid or public cloud environments, with many connection points between resources, this can catch threats early and prevent catastrophic data breaches.

Open XDR vs Native XDR

XDR is a new solution category, and two primary solution architectures are emerging, known as native XDR and open XDR.

What is Native XDR?

Native XDR is a solution that provides a closed security ecosystem, with front-end solutions that  generate data, and back-end capabilities for data analytics and workflows. To provide a native XDR solution, a vendor must have all the necessary sensors for common threat detection use cases — including endpoint, network, cloud, identity, and email. In addition, the vendor must provide a backend that can automatically combine the data and enable rapid investigation. 

Native XDR vendors are platform vendors with a broad portfolio of security tools, expanding their portfolio to offer an XDR solution. They could also be EDR vendors broadening their solution set into other areas of the IT environment, and adding backend features like analytics and data integration.

What is Open XDR?

Open XDR solutions focus primarily on backend analytics and workflow engines. Instead of providing its own front-end tooling, it integrates with your organization’s existing security and IT infrastructure, correlates and analyzes all relevant data. Its backend capabilities are focused on threat detection, investigation and response (TDIR), automating and optimizing TDIR workflows to enable rapid response to incidents.

Open XDR vendors address common threat use cases, providing prepackaged security content that covers all stages of the TDIR lifecycle — from identification of indicators of compromise (IoC), through alert prioritization, triage and in-depth investigation, and targeted response. 

As the security stack within organizations becomes more complex, open XDR acts as a single control plane for multiple products and vendors. This provides visibility and enables orchestration and automation of operations, like the previous generation of security orchestration and automation (SOAR) technology. This leverages existing security investments, while improving productivity for SOC teams, and eliminating tedious manual workflows.

A Closer Look at Threat Detection, Investigation and Response (TDIR)

Organizations are making large investments in their security tools to stay one step ahead of sophisticated adversaries. Security tools provide sophisticated capabilities, but those capabilities are not typically aligned with the process a SOC uses to detect and respond to threats. 

This process, which we call the threat detection, investigation and response (TDIR) process, typically includes the following steps:


Preparation and data collection 


Detection when an event occurs


Triage and assignment, when an alert is escalated


Initial response


In-depth diagnosis and investigation


Final response and incident closure


Post mortem and root cause analysis (leveraging lessons from previous incidents)

In many SOCs, the above process is poorly defined or inconsistent. It is also important to recognize that these steps might be substantially different for different threat categories. As a result, different analysts develop different approaches to investigating and responding to the same threats, creating gaps, wasted effort, and often resulting in a lacking security posture.

Where Do Security Tools like SIEM Fit In?

Security tools used by SOCs, like traditional security, information and event management (SIEM) systems, are intended to support and optimize the TDIR process. However, these tools are designed for complex functionality and customization, rather than outcomes for specific threat categories. 

This means security teams must spend major efforts on implementation and customization for the specific threats that face their organization. Very often, security projects suffer from long delays in time to value, without a measurable increase in coverage against critical threats.

As a mature category, SIEM has inevitably been influenced by “scope creep”. The current solution offering of SIEM is dramatically different from its initial capabilities. Areas such as compliance reporting, and SOAR have increased the utility of SIEM but also increased the complexity of deploying and managing them.

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Aligning Security Tools with the TDIR Process

Modern security tools, in particular XDR solutions, must align themselves with the TDIR process to be effective. Advanced platforms will provide prescriptive, end-to-end workflows, enabling organizations to automate the entire TDIR process for a specific threat category. This will enable organizations to increase operational efficiency, accelerate time to value and improve their security posture over time.

Threat Use Cases: the Key to Leveraging XDR

Traditionally, organizations introduced security tools that can automate different stages of the TDIR process. For example, certain tools assisted with data preparation, improved threat detection, or enabled response automation.

However, these tools attempted to target all threat types at once. Not all threats are created equal — each threat may involve different entities, different priorities, different types of data, different detection methods, as well as different people, processes and tools needed for effective response. 

For this reason, SOCs that tried to optimize the process from left-to-right approach found that this was tedious, required specialized tooling and massive customization, and was often ineffective. Even after the efforts spent, automated tooling could not deal with all threat types.

A New Approach: Focusing on Threat Use Cases

A more effective approach is to identify threat types and apply optimization and automation for each threat category, across the incident response cycle. SOCs can start with simple but common use cases, then move on to more complex threats. The optimization process would then look like this:

  1. Optimize for phishing attacks → address steps 1-7 above
  2. Optimize for malware attacks → address steps 1-7 above
  3. Optimize for injection attacks → address steps 1-7 above
  4. Optimize for privilege escalation → address steps 1-7 above
  5. (and so on)

How Vendors Support Use Case-based Optimization

To facilitate the automation of TDIR processes, some vendors provide prescriptive guidelines and workflows to detect and respond to specific threats. This requires the vendor to adjust their product to deliver results for each threat category.

Users of a security tool should not be forced to build their detection, classification, investigation and response processes using “Lego blocks” provided by the vendor. Instead, vendors must provide prepackaged content for each use case, which addresses the entire TDIR process, specific to a threat category. This prepackaged content must include everything a security team needs to address specific types of threats and achieve repeatable, successful threat mitigation.

Use Cases in XDR Solutions

XDR must support this type of use-case optimization, providing a closed-loop solution that encompasses the entire threat security operations workflow. Regardless of the level of expertise of SOC analysts, XDR should be a turnkey solution requiring minimal or zero configuration, providing rapid time to value. 

SOC analysts should be able to use XDR from start to finish, with no need for fine-tuning to support specific scenarios. The XDR should fully address each relevant threat use case with prepackaged content spanning the entire TDIR process. Without this capability, XDR cannot fully implement its value proposition.

How To Choose an XDR Platform

Commercial XDR platforms generally have similar architectures and use similar processes, but they can also have some important differences that you should consider when selecting a solution. Different XDR products offer varying levels of data collection —for example, some platforms might focus on endpoint data while others might prioritize network data.

To select the right XDR platform for your organization, you should consider the following questions:

  • What is the geographical distribution of users?
  • Where do your servers, data and applications reside? Do you rely more on the cloud or on an on-premises data center?
  • Do you have sensitive data that must traverse an untrusted network like the public internet?
  • Who is responsible for handling threat hunting and threat intelligence? Does the XDR provider take a proactive approach?
  • What AI capabilities does the platform offer?
  • What is the experience level of the solution vendor providing scalable data collection, behavioral analytics, automation and remediation?
  • Does a Closed XDR or Open XDR approach align with your existing environment and/or purchasing strategies?

Enterprise-level XDR platforms typically have their own threat detection teams that can identify emerging threats. These teams collect threat intelligence that can help inform automated security policies, which are incorporated into security tools. They must be able to quickly detect threats and create appropriate policies to mitigate them — for example, to identify and respond to zero-day exploits.

Various integrated AI capabilities might focus on detecting threats, minimizing false positives, analyzing the root cause of threats and gaining insights for remediation. Depending on your priorities, these capabilities can help you save time when investigating and responding to threats.

Exabeam Fusion XDR

Fusion XDR, a cloud-delivered solution, takes an outcome-based approach and offers prescriptive workflows and pre-packaged, threat-specific content to efficiently deliver threat detection, investigation, and response (TDIR). Pre-built integrations with hundreds of 3rd party security tools and our market-leading behavioral analytics combine weak signals from multiple products with understanding of normal operating behavior to find complex threats missed by other tools. Prescribed workflows and pre-packaged content focused on specific threat types enable SOCs to achieve more successful TDIR outcomes. Automation of triage, investigation, and response activities from a single, centralized control plane turbocharges analyst productivity and reduces response times.

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