Managed detection and response (MDR) is the term applied to an outsourced, specialized cybersecurity service based in a security operations center (SOC). A combination of machine learning, artificial intelligence, edge computing, and human intelligence, MDR revolves around threat hunting and the remediation of discovered threats. MDR services connect organizations to highly trained IT staff who help to monitor, analyze, and respond to incidents and anomalies in their network.
Today, companies are under near-constant threat of cyberattacks and data breaches. The entire goal of MDR is to provide larger organizations with critical support and relieve them of some of their workload or provide a strong threat detection and remediation solution for companies that are too small or under-resourced to manage it themselves. MDR solutions are particularly valuable in providing support to teams that may not have the entire skillset (or indeed the time or manpower) to be able to manage the detection and remediation of cyberthreats themselves. They provide pervasive and overarching protection for companies that are struggling to protect their networks due to lack of budget, time, and staffing.
How Does MDR Work?
To provide the most effective security, MDR comprises a wide range of advanced tools as well as highly skilled and trained staff to be able to monitor, detect, prioritize, investigate, and remediate threats appropriately and effectively. They utilize artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to automate network scanning and threat detection, and to reduce the overall number of alerts. The human side of MDR consists of threat hunters, data analysts, security analysts, and more to provide specialized insight and problem –solving expertise, to help analyze threats and implement the most efficient, effective incident response workflows.
But what do MDR services actually do?
The Benefits Of MDR
Perhaps the most crucial task completed by MDR services is threat hunting. MDR services proactively seek out potential and emerging known and unknown threats. They aggregate activity data from a wide variety of sources—such as logs, events, endpoints, and user behavior—and analyze that data for vulnerabilities and indicators of active threats. This continuous, extensive approach to threat hunting makes MDR particularly adept in finding advanced and sophisticated threats, such as zero-day malware.
The round-the-clock threat hunting also helps for threats to be discovered and responded to far quicker, meaning the issue can be solved much faster, thereby reducing its overall impact. MDR solutions can also perform dark web monitoring, target- and risk-based threat hunting, Digital Asset Monitoring, and domain registration monitoring.
In order for MDR services to stay one step ahead of the curve, they need to aggregate a lot of data from a wealth of sources to provide detailed forensics about all threats–both new and old. MDR services collect data from assets, user behavior, events, files, logs, endpoints, and any other network activity. They also consult heavily with shared lists on known and emerging threats, and often will regularly trawl the dark and deep web to detect if company information is being misused at any point. This data collection isn’t just stored and left, however; MDR staff also use it for research.
For MDR teams to be able to respond to threats as appropriately and as quickly as possible, they rely heavily on threat intelligence. Threat intelligence pertains to the data that is collected, processed, and analyzed to learn and understand a particular attacker’s target, motive, behavior, and patterns of attack. This information is analyzed to help SOC and MDR teams further understand how threat actors operate, helping them in turn to make quicker and more informed responses to (and anticipate) threats and develop prevention strategies.
For more on what threat intelligence is and what types of intelligence your SOC team may benefit from, read more in our blog here: What Is Cyber Threat Intelligence?
MDR solutions provide companies with access to a team of experts who meticulously research incidents as they occur, allowing for them to prioritize threats and assess what the best course of action is to respond to an attack and devise guided responses.
And of course, it’s no good just to have a highly skilled and full kitted out team to just deliver extensive reporting and analysis. MDR services also provide incident response, either through immediate automated response from tools that nip emerging threats in the bud or through a team analyzing and remediating more sophisticated threats that need a pair of human eyes on them. The organization experiencing the breach will be notified and supplied with a root cause analysis and remediation recommendations and toolkits to solve the problem, with some MDR services actually remediating the breaches themselves.
Generally, the quicker the responses to incidents, the greater the reduction in the overall impact a threat can have on a network.
MDR services, in addition to threat hunting and responding to said threats, can also be proactive in the actual prevention of attacks. They offer vulnerability management, pointing out to organizations where security may be lacking and offering solutions to patch these oversights. They, of course, also perform dedicated, constant security monitoring of an organization’s network perimeter, network activity, endpoints, and more.
What Does A Good MDR Service Look Like?
The tools, staff, and capabilities that make up the framework may vary between solutions, but there are some critical features that you need to look out for when choosing an MDR provider:
Good MDR services tend to not overcomplicate things. Rather than tearing out your security architecture and building something from scratch, MDR services tend to make things more manageable by building on what you already have. If appropriate solutions aren’t in place, then MDR services can help you to devise and build your security framework. Most MDR services also have a range of deployment options, covering on-prem, cloud, hybrid, and public environments.
Coverage and insights into network activity need to be not only in depth but wide reaching, leaving no stone unturned. MDR services should be applied to every single part of the network, regardless of whether it’s cloud to on-prem, from behind a data center to every single endpoint.
MDR solutions pull data and analytics from every reach of the network and all their threat intelligence from a variety of sources. Good MDR services should provide organizations all of this within a single, intuitive, and clean dashboard that is easy to navigate and understand.
Attacks come from all angles and at all hours. MDR revolves around constant detection, investigation, and response. Cyberthreats don’t sleep and neither do MDR services; MDR provides 24/7/365 analysis and response, making sure that organizations are protected at all times. This round-the-clock support is delivered by robust, automated tools that actively hunt for threats and remediate them where they can when no human input is necessary, and a team that covers all hours of the day.
Alongside these benefits, MDR services also bring valuable insights and extensive reporting to the table that wouldn’t necessarily be available from just automated reports or from an in-house team. They can also help devise custom responses to incidents, ensuring a more targeted and effective approach to remediation.
MDR And EDR
Endpoint detection and response (EDR) is a tool in the subset used by MDR staff to help them record behavior and subsequent anomalies on endpoint devices. All anomalies are sent to administrators–with particularly intuitive EDR solutions categorizing and prioritizing these anomalies–for further inspection.
MDR’s utilization of EDR tools is a welcome relief for organizations who need EDR but can’t deploy it themselves. The deployment, configuration, and maintenance of EDR solutions can be a complex process and can be an insurmountable task for companies that don’t already have the time, skillset, or budget to do so or to train their own staff to operate the program.
Essentially, MDR is endpoint security as-a-Service; MDR solutions allow smaller organizations to leverage EDR technology without having to manage it themselves.
MDR vs MSSP: What’s The Difference?
Managed security services providers (MSSP) are another type of outsourced security provider. While they might seem very similar at surface level, MDR and MSSP have some fundamental differences:
- MDR focuses on detecting and remediating threats, whereas MSSPs focus on threat prevention via technologies such as firewalls, vulnerability scanners, antivirus tools, and intrusion prevention
- MSSPs are mostly contained to perimeter-based technology and rule-based protocols to help detect anomalies and threats, and are generally only really adept in detecting known threats whereas MDRs can detect and remediate zero-day attacks
- MDR can detect and then respond to threats, whereas MSSPs will notify your organization that a threat exists so your incident response teams can deal with it themselves
- MDR delivers extensive analytics on user behavior, endpoints, apps, and general network activity, and often delves much deeper into analytics and detection than MSSPs can
- MSSPs often only do cursory scans based on rules and signatures, whereas MDR can also detect file-less malware and advanced threats
MSSPs are still valuable, providing alerts from network monitoring, but admittedly don’t go much further than that. MSSPs can manage firewalls and utilize log management, vulnerability scanning, and SIEM platform management to deliver threat detection and analysis to organizations. For larger organizations, it’s not uncommon for both MSSPs and MDRs to be utilized at the same time, as the MSSPs can deliver more day-to-day network security and monitoring, whereas MDRs offer a more specialized and targeted service that focuses exclusively on dealing with threats.
Managed detection and response services combine highly advanced technology and technical expertise to deliver strong security measures that organizations often struggle to achieve alone. There are a number of reasons that can lead to an organization needing to outsource detection and response services, one of the most common of which is staffing. The demand of round-the-clock threat hunting, prevention, and remediation is no small feat and one that needs highly trained team members to run–it’s a very specific skill set that is currently particularly difficult to hire for, with IT staff with that level and expertise being in high demand, but hard to come by. (ISC)2 reported in their annual Cybersecurity Workforce Study that while the global cybersecurity skills shortage fell to 2.7 million, the size of the required workforce that is actually needed is still firmly below 65%, making MDR often the more feasible choice than hiring.
It also reduces alert fatigue by minimizing the number of issues and alerts admins are presented with on a daily basis–and which still need to be individually assessed by human eyes–by having this outsourced to a specialized team.
Beyond reducing workload and enabling access to highly skilled staff, MDR services also provide extensive threat hunting on sophisticated threats that are hard to detect, provide extensive insights into network activity, and offer strong, robust, and–perhaps most importantly–quick threat remediation. They offer strong reporting and customized responses, ensuring that your organization takes the best course of action in every eventuality.
There are a lot of MDR services on the market, with each one offering a slightly different feature set to meet a speciic use case. To help you find the best one for your organization, we’ve put together a guide to the top MDR solutions out there, which you can read via the link here: The Top 8 Managed Detection And Response (MDR) Solutions.