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Jun 18, 2024

What is XDR (Extended Detection and Response)? An In-Depth Look


No organization - especially those with limited cybersecurity expertise and/or bandwidth - can prevent attackers from getting into their network, so you must detect and respond - as fast and as accurately as possible.


Extended detection and response (XDR) is a multi-source threat detection and response technology that aims to both automate and increase the accuracy of finding attacker activity - before the attacker’s mission can be completed. XDR does this by integrating threat intelligence, security stack data, and IT infrastructure telemetry sources with security analytics to provide rapid contextualization, correlation and prioritization of security alerts.


Unlike traditional security solutions that operate in silos, XDR consolidates data from various sources—such as endpoints, networks, servers, and cloud environments—to provide a holistic view of an organization’s security posture. The goal of XDR is to enhance threat detection and response capabilities by breaking down data silos, improving visibility, and automating response actions.


Here at Gradient Cyber, we've built our own XDR platform - which combined with our in-house SOC and analysts - is  integral to our MXDR service. But we find that many mid-market organizations are looking for foundational knowledge on both XDR platforms and services. This blog aims to inform readers on XDR platform essentials, with a closing section on how to evaluate whether a platform or service is the right fit your needs.


Is XDR Here to Stay?

According to Adroit Market Research, the global XDR market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 38.4% from USD 1.7 Billion in 2023 to USD 8.8 Billion by 2028.


In Q423, Forrester retired their EDR market report in favor of XDR, highlighting the importance of XDR in reducing security complexity and improving operational efficiency. They anticipate that XDR adoption will continue to grow as organizations seek to enhance their security posture while managing limited resources.


Security experts from leading organizations emphasize the role of XDR in enabling proactive threat management. They believe that the integration of AI, machine learning, and automation will transform XDR into a critical component of modern cybersecurity strategies.


What are the Origins of XDR?

For decades, the cybersecurity industry has been working to strengthen threat detection and response. It’s not a surprise to anyone who’s been around this industry for a while to know that prevention technologies alone will not save you. You have to have detection and response in your security stack. For years now we’ve had traditional detection and response solutions like Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), Network Traffic Analysis (which has evolved into Network Detection and Response (NDR)), and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM). Each has delivered important capabilities. But they are typically siloed, and therefore leave gaps. EDR focuses primarily on endpoint protection. NDR centers on the deep and complex world of network traffic analysis. SIEMs are good at collecting and analyzing log data, but often struggle with data volume and variety, leading to alert fatigue.


XDR, coined by Nir Zuk of Palo Alto Networks back in 2018, works to integrate the strengths of these traditional measures into a single, comprehensive solution. The integration of their strengths becomes hyper important when you consider 1) the growing complexity of any organization’s attack surface, 2) the fact that attackers are crafty, stealthy, well-tooled, and very motivated, and 3) virtually no organization is flush with talent, armament, and spare time. The evolution to XDR allows for much better correlation of data across different security layers, enabling more accurate threat detection and efficient incident response.


What are the Key Components of XDR?

XDR solutions have four key components that stretch from front-end data ingest to back-end response and remediation action: 

  • Data Integration. XDR aggregates data from multiple security tools, including EDR, NTA, cloud security, and email security, among others. This integration enables a comprehensive view of the threat landscape, facilitating the correlation of seemingly unrelated events to detect complex attacks.
  • Advanced Analytics. Leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence, XDR analyzes vast amounts of data to identify patterns and anomalies indicative of potential threats. These advanced analytics help in reducing false positives and enhancing the accuracy of threat detection.

  • Automated Response. XDR systems can automatically initiate predefined response actions when threats are detected. This includes isolating compromised endpoints, blocking malicious traffic, and triggering incident response workflows. Automation reduces the response time, minimizing the impact of threats on the organization.

  • Centralized Management. A centralized management console provides a unified interface for monitoring and managing security incidents across the entire IT environment. This centralized approach simplifies security operations, improves efficiency, and enhances the coordination of incident response efforts.


What are Example Threats Detected by XDR?

Here are five example threat ‘buckets’ that Extended Detection and Response (XDR) excels at detecting, where more siloed detection and response solutions may falter:


  • Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). APTs are prolonged and targeted cyberattacks in which an intruder gains access to a network and remains undetected for an extended period. These threats often involve sophisticated techniques and multiple attack vectors. XDR correlates data from various security layers such as endpoints, networks, and emails, enabling it to detect the subtle signs of an APT that might be missed by siloed solutions. XDR also uses advanced analytics to identify abnormal behaviors over time, which is critical for detecting the persistent and low-and-slow nature of APTs.

  • Insider Threats. Insider threats involve malicious activities carried out by employees, contractors, or business associates who have legitimate access to an organization's network and data. XDR provides visibility across all endpoints and network activities, making it easier to detect suspicious actions by insiders. XDR also analyzes user behavior patterns, where it can flag unusual access or data exfiltration attempts that might not trigger alerts in isolated systems.

  • Multi-Stage Attacks. Multi-stage attacks involve a series of steps that attackers take to infiltrate and exploit an organization, such as phishing for credentials, moving laterally within the network, and exfiltrating data. XDR is good at tracking activity across different stages of an attack, from initial compromise to lateral movement and data exfiltration.

  • Ransomware Attacks. Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a victim's files and demands a ransom payment to restore access. XDR can detect ransomware through abnormal file access patterns and suspicious process activities.

  • Supply Chain Attacks. Supply chain attacks target an organization's supply chain by compromising third-party vendors or software providers to infiltrate the primary target. XDR monitors activities across the entire IT environment, including interactions with third-party systems and software. By integrating threat intelligence and contextual data, XDR can identify signs of supply chain compromise and provide actionable insights for mitigation.

What are the Benefits of XDR?

Enhanced Threat Detection

One of the primary benefits of Extended Detection and Response (XDR) is its ability to enhance threat detection across an organization's entire IT environment. By integrating data from various sources - such as endpoints, networks, servers, and cloud environments - XDR provides a comprehensive view of potential threats. This holistic approach allows XDR to detect sophisticated attacks that might evade traditional security measures. At the same time, XDR is likely to improve detection accuracy through superior data correlation, behavioral analysis, and false positive reduction:


  • Data Correlation: XDR correlates data across multiple security layers, identifying patterns and anomalies that indicate potential threats. This cross-layer analysis enhances the accuracy of threat detection.

  • Behavioral Analysis: Leveraging machine learning algorithms, XDR continuously learns from observed behaviors to identify deviations from the norm. This proactive approach helps in detecting zero-day threats and advanced persistent threats (APTs).

  • Reduced False Positives: Advanced analytics and AI-driven insights minimize false positives, ensuring that security teams focus on genuine threats.

Simplification of Security Operations

Traditional security solutions often operate in silos, making it challenging to manage and correlate data across different tools. XDR integrates the logs and alerts of multiple security products like EDR, NDR/NTA, SIEM, Active Directory, and cloud security solutions, where they can be processed as an integrated whole versus disparate silos. This integration ensures all relevant data is considered during threat detection and response, improving the overall effectiveness of security operations.


XDR provides a centralized management console that offers a single pane of glass for monitoring and managing security incidents. This simplifies the workflow for security teams.


Automated response actions and predefined playbooks help in streamlining the incident response process, reducing the time and effort required to mitigate threats.


Faster Response Times

In the face of modern cyber threats, speed is crucial. XDR enhances response times through automation and predefined response actions, ensuring that threats are mitigated swiftly. XDR can automatically isolate compromised endpoints, block malicious traffic, and trigger incident response workflows based on predefined rules and policies. Further, security teams can create playbooks for common threat scenarios, enabling XDR to respond quickly and effectively without manual intervention.


Improved Visibility

XDR provides comprehensive visibility across the entire security environment, enabling security teams to detect and respond to threats more effectively. Specifically, XDR offers a unified view of all security events and alerts, making it easier to identify and investigate potential threats. But it goes beyond just a unified view. By correlating data from various sources, XDR provides contextual insights that help security teams to better understand the nature and scope of threats.


Is XDR Easy to Deploy and Manage?

While XDR is powerful and offers numerous benefits, its implementation and operation is not for the faint of heart. Understanding its challenges are crucial for organizations to make the best decision with respect to owning and operating an XDR platform in-house, versus leveraging a Managed XDR (MXDR) solution where a service provider absorbs the following responsibilities on your behalf:



Implementing XDR can be complex due to the integration of multiple security tools and the need for seamless data correlation. Organizations must carefully plan and execute the implementation process to ensure success. A comprehensive assessment of the current security infrastructure helps to identify the areas where XDR can provide the most value. Before full-scale deployment, a pilot test helps to understand potential performance and integration issues.


The platform itself is really the proverbial tip of the iceberg. An adopting organization still needs to concern itself with necessary data integrations (where third-party APIs must be continuously monitored for changes), analytics updates, threat intel source management, human vetting of findings, 24x7 staffing, and back-end response / remediation action or automation.


Data Volume

XDR collects and processes large volumes of data from various sources. Managing this data effectively requires robust data storage and processing capabilities.


Data Privacy

The extensive data collection and analysis required for XDR raises potential privacy concerns. Thought must be given to collecting only the data necessary for threat detection and response (avoid collecting sensitive or personally identifiable information (PII) unless absolutely required). Anonymization and encryption techniques should be used to protect sensitive data - both in transit and at rest. Strict access controls, including role-based access controls (RBAC), should be used to ensure only authorized personnel can access sensitive data.


Additional data privacy considerations include:


  • Regulatory Awareness: Stay informed about relevant data privacy regulations, such as GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA. Ensure that the XDR solution complies with these regulations.

  • Data Protection Policies: Develop and enforce comprehensive data protection policies that outline how data is collected, stored, processed, and shared. Regularly review and update these policies to reflect changes in regulations and best practices.

  • Audit and Monitoring: Conduct regular audits and monitoring to ensure compliance with data privacy regulations. Implement mechanisms to detect and respond to data breaches promptly.

Talent Gap

Effective use of XDR requires skilled security professionals who can interpret the data, configure the solution, and respond to threats appropriately. The industry-wide shortage of cybersecurity talent can be a barrier to the successful implementation and operation of XDR:


  • Data Analysis and Interpretation: Skilled professionals are needed to analyze and interpret the data generated by XDR solutions. They must be able to identify patterns, correlate events, and detect anomalies.

  • Configuration and Tuning: Configuring and tuning XDR solutions to fit the organization's specific needs requires expertise in security technologies and threat detection methodologies.

  • Incident Response: Responding to detected threats promptly and effectively requires trained incident response teams who can follow predefined playbooks and adapt to evolving threat landscapes.

What Does the Future of XDR Look Like?

Let’s first consider the bigger picture. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime will cost the world $10.5 trillion in 2025. If so, that makes it the 3rd largest global economy - behind the US and China. Statista says the global spend on cybersecurity in 2023 was $166 billion. If we round those numbers to $10 trillion and $200 billion, that’s a 50X delta. One can argue, of course, that cybercrime would be significantly larger were it not for time, energy and spending devoted to defending against the bad guys, but considering the overall picture, that argument is thin.


If we imagine a perfect defense model, networks, applications, and data would be hard as a rock. Identity and access management would be flawless with no chance of compromise. Humans would actually learn (and adhere to) security best practices, and never be duped by a phishing, vishing or smishing attack - regardless of growing deep fake sophistication. But then you wake up. We are nowhere near that as a reality and we will not be for years - if ever.


So, in the meantime, we are left with getting back to basics. And basics are defined as:


  1. You can not prevent criminals from getting into our IT environments
  2. You (or someone on your behalf) must detect and respond
  3. You (or someone on your behalf) must detect and respond faster, with greater accuracy, and at increasingly lower cost

If these statements are true, then you have to ‘go long’ on every cybersecurity solution segment that feeds on big data, performs intricate analyses and makes decisions, or at least recommendations circa response and/or remediation. XDR is no exception.


Here is what what we, at Gradient Cyber, believe that means:


  1. XDR will become the backbone of modern SOCs, providing a unified platform for comprehensive threat management. Consolidating data from various sources and correlating events across the security stack will simply become mandatory to have any chance of catching increasingly sophisticated and stealthy attack activity early in the kill chain.

  2. Anomalous, suspicious and malicious activity detection get a huge boost due recent, dramatic improvements in large language models (LLMs). The ability to scour oceans of data from a wide variety of disparate security telemetry sources - and highlight the activity that needs attention without exhausting levels of false positives - changes dramatically.

  3. Predictive analytics move from early stage to high growth. The ability of LLMs with sophisticated prompting (and advanced software agents) piece together very early kill chain signals - tied to user and system behaviors, fine-grain understanding of system vulnerabilities / risk metrics, and emerging attack patterns - with much higher confidence than previously imagined.

  4. The integration of advanced analytics and automation capabilities will streamline incident response processes. Future XDR solutions will enable SOCs to respond to incidents faster and with greater precision, minimizing the impact of security breaches.

  5. Natural language processing (NLP) driven sitreps from XDR will facilitate better collaboration and communication both inside and outside of SOCs. This will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of security operations and also improve customer satisfaction with response times and analysis findings.


Hopefully the above information helps you understand and appreciate the power of XDR. But, it should also be clear that purchasing, running, and using an XDR platform is non-trivial. That, of course, begs the old ‘product or service’ question. And, the answer to that is ‘it depends’.


XDR and Managed Extended Detection and Response (MXDR) are both advanced security solutions designed to enhance an organization's threat detection and response capabilities. However, they cater to different needs and offer distinct advantages. This section will compare XDR and MXDR, highlighting their key differences and similarities, and provide insights into when each solution is most effective.


XDR Advantages, Challenges and When to Consider

XDR is a platform that unifies multiple security products into a cohesive system to provide comprehensive threat detection and response across an organization’s entire IT environment.



  • Holistic View: Provides a comprehensive view of the security landscape, enabling better detection of sophisticated threats.
  • Improved Efficiency: Reduces the complexity of managing multiple security tools by integrating them into a single platform.
  • Scalability: Can be scaled to fit the needs of different organizations, from small businesses to large enterprises.


  • Implementation Complexity: Requires careful planning and resources to integrate with existing infrastructure.
  • Skill Requirements: Needs skilled professionals to configure, tune, and manage the solution effectively.

When to Consider XDR

  • Organizations with In-House Security Expertise: Companies with a skilled security team capable of managing and configuring an XDR solution - and capable of converting detection to understanding and proper action, quickly - can benefit from its comprehensive capabilities and flexibility.
  • Desire for Full Control: Organizations that prefer to maintain full control over their security operations and data may opt for XDR to customize and manage their security environment.

MXDR Advantages, Challenges and When to Consider

MXDR is an outsourced service that combines the technology of XDR with the expertise and resources of a managed security service provider (MSSP) to deliver comprehensive threat detection and response capabilities.


Key Features

  • Managed Services: Includes 24/7 monitoring, threat hunting, incident response, and continuous improvement provided by the MSSP.
  • Technology Integration: Leverages the MSSP’s XDR platform (and SOC) and integrates it with the organization’s existing security infrastructure.
  • Expertise: Provides access to a team of security experts who manage and operate the XDR solution on behalf of the organization.


  • Reduced Burden: Alleviates the operational burden on internal IT and security teams by outsourcing security management to experts.
  • Cost-Effective: Offers a cost-effective solution by reducing the need for in-house security personnel and infrastructure investments.
  • Enhanced Capabilities: Benefits from the MSSP’s expertise, advanced analytics, and continuous threat intelligence updates.


  • Vendor Dependency: Relies on the MSSP for security management, which may raise concerns about vendor lock-in and control.
  • Customization: May require customization to align with the organization’s specific security needs and policies.

When to Consider MXDR

  • Limited Security Resources: Organizations with limited in-house security expertise or bandwidth can leverage MXDR to access advanced security capabilities and expert management without the need for significant internal resources.
  • Need for Rapid Deployment: Companies looking for a quick and efficient way to enhance their security posture can benefit from the managed services and ready-to-deploy solutions provided by MXDR providers.


XDR is revolutionizing the way organizations approach threat detection and response. By integrating multiple security products into a unified platform, XDR provides comprehensive visibility, enhanced threat detection, and streamlined incident response. This holistic approach addresses the limitations of traditional security measures, making XDR an essential component of modern security operations.


Throughout this blog, we have explored the key components of XDR, its numerous benefits, and the challenges organizations may face during its implementation. We looked to the future and asserted XDR is poised to play a pivotal role for years to come - supported by advancements in AI and other emerging technologies. Finally, we’ve highlighted how XDR compares to Managed Extended Detection and Response (MXDR), considering the pros and cons of each. 


At Gradient Cyber, we are firmly committed to XDR - having built our own platform, analytics and SitRep production process. But, we serve the mid-market - where we find an abundance of organizations who are either short on cybersecurity expertise, or short on the 24x7 bandwidth required to perform true threat detection and response.


To that end, we are even bigger believers in MXDR. Our analyst team, in-house SOC, and personal service model - loved by our customers - are all testament to our commitment to an effective service model. Further, our unique positioning - including our network-centric approach, security stack agnosticism, detailed SitReps, and fully integrated platform - sets us apart in a highly-competitive landscape.


We invite you to explore Gradient Cyber’s MXDR solution to see how we can help your organization achieve a higher level of security and peace of mind.

Neal Hartsell

Neal Hartsell is Chief Marketing Officer at Gradient Cyber. His career spans three decades where he has held senior leadership roles in product management, product marketing, and digital marketing in networking and cybersecurity companies. He has served in senior roles across industry giants such as Cisco, 3Com, and Northern Telecom. Neal held CMO, VP Marketing, and product management and marketing roles at startup, early-stage, and growth companies including ECI Telecom, Crossroads, TippingPoint, RGB Networks, NSS Labs, Netgate, NetSpeed (acquired by Cisco), Surgient Networks, RipCode (acquired by RGB Networks), and Click Security (acquired by Alert Logic). Neal has also served as a strategic marketing consultant to a number of cybersecurity startups.