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Cybersecurity Fundamentals

What is Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)?

Find out how secure organizations protect their endpoints from sophisticated threats.

Every organization uses endpoints as an interface between users and network assets. Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) platforms continuously monitor these end-user devices to detect threats and launch coordinated responses to them.

Endpoint devices include everything from mobile phones, tablets, desktop computers, virtual machines, and servers. Internet-of-Things devices like web-connected smart appliances and security systems are also endpoints.

Securing these devices is vital to achieving consistent operational security results. EDR solutions standardize the process of safeguarding this wide and diverse category of network assets.

What problems do EDR platforms solve?

Before EDR solutions existed, organizations hired Incident Response teams to investigate security breaches. When someone detected unauthorized activity, the Incident Response team would jump in and investigate.

This process was time-consuming and expensive. Most organizations hired third-party service providers to conduct these investigations on their behalf, and this usually came with high costs.

By comparison, it took very little time and few resources for cybercriminals to embed malicious macros into document files that would evade network security and antivirus software. Security leaders saw a need for on-demand visibility into network endpoints, and EDR was born.

EDR solutions enable security teams to automatically discover endpoint attacks and take steps to resolve them. At the same time, they provide real-time and historical visibility

What makes EDR different from other security technologies?

EDR focuses on collecting, organizing, and analyzing data from endpoints throughout the network. It generates alerts and coordinates responses to endpoint threats, which are distinct from other types of threats.

For example, ransomware attacks often compromise endpoint devices and encrypt the data stored on them. If users can’t access their endpoints, day-to-day productivity grinds to a halt. In a ransomware attack scenario, EDR solutions would detect the large-scale encryption of company assets on network devices and provide security teams with tools to contain that threat.

This makes EDR distinct from the other two pillars of the SOC Visibility Triad: Network Detection and Response (NDR) and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM).

NDR solutions provide network-level visibility and analytics for catching insider threats and preventing lateral movement. SIEM platforms capture and correlate data from across the entire tech stack — including EDR — so that analysts can investigate threat activity with comprehensive insight. Together, all three contribute to a robust enterprise security posture.

How EDR solutions work

Endpoint detection and response empowers security teams to carry out four important tasks:

1.   Detect unauthorized activity

Detecting endpoint threats is a core feature of any EDR solution — it’s right there in the name. By the time a threat actor gains access to one of your endpoints, your perimeter defenses have already been breached. EDR gives you the ability to detect that unauthorized activity and take action before that breach turns into a major security incident.

EDR solutions typically accomplish this by continuously analyzing the files that endpoint devices store and use. Every time an endpoint device interacts with a file, the EDR solution will analyze that activity and generate a log describing its findings. If it detects unusual behavior, it will send an alert to the security operations team telling an analyst to investigate.

Most EDR solutions integrate with threat intelligence feeds to gain up-to-date information on what today’s threats look like in action. Some leverage emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze large datasets and detect unknown threats based on their correlations to known indicators of compromise.

2.   Isolate compromised devices

After an EDR platform detects malicious activity on an endpoint, it can then take steps to contain the threat. Most malicious files are programmed to infect as many network assets as they can, so EDR solutions are typically equipped with the ability to isolate compromised devices and disconnect them from the rest of the network.

In most cases, EDR solutions contain threats by isolating specific segments of the network and keeping them separate from everything else. Organizations with excellent security architecture will already have well-defined network segments that can be isolated from one another without causing too much damage to daily productivity.

Taking this step ensures that the attack won’t spread across the entire network. This is especially important in ransomware and data exfiltration attack scenarios.

3.   Investigate attacks

Once the threat has been isolated, analysts can begin investigating it. The threat is safely contained on its own network segment, so analysts can begin looking through security event logs to find out what led to the attack.

This could lead to important insights about the nature of the threat itself. If it looks like attackers easily broke through the network perimeter, it might mean they leveraged a critical vulnerability that was either unknown or unaddressed. Alternatively, the attack may have been caused by device misconfiguration, bad password policies, or any number of other weaknesses.

The investigation process generates these insights by running isolated malware in a simulated sandbox environment. By observing the threat’s activity in a tightly controlled simulation, analysts can find out exactly what it is, how it works, and how to protect against it.

4.   Neutralize threats

EDR solutions provide security teams with tools to eliminate threats based on the information gathered during investigation. For example, analysts may discover that the threat exploited a known vulnerability on a particular set of endpoint devices. Now they can create and execute an incident response playbook that automatically blocks code executions that leverage this specific exploit.

To eliminate threats effectively, EDR solutions must have deep visibility into the rest of the organization’s IT infrastructure. Once your EDR platform can see how every endpoint on the network interacts, it can pinpoint threatening activities and launch automated response playbooks to neutralize them.

What About Extended Detection and Response (XDR)?

Many security vendors now offer XDR capabilities alongside traditional EDR toolsets. XDR improves on the core functionality of EDR and expands it across multiple security controls and data sources.

While EDR solutions focus exclusively on protecting endpoints against unauthorized activity, XDR solutions have a much broader scope. XDR unifies security controls across endpoints, cloud-hosted applications, email, and more.

Because XDR covers a wider range of assets, it also draws on a larger set of data sources when analyzing threats. XDR solutions connect with third-party security tools and other data sources to provide in-depth contextualized data about threat activity in real-time.

This makes XDR a critical part of enterprise cybersecurity for organizations with extensive cloud computing deployments and highly distributed workforces. Even a highly advanced EDR solution would not grant full visibility and control in this scenario, and attackers could potentially exploit assets not covered under the standard EDR approach.

What should security leaders look for in EDR/XDR solutions?

Endpoint security is a vital part of the SOC Visibility Triad, and a crucial component of every successful security strategy. Not all EDR/XDR solutions offer the same value, however. To truly optimize your IT infrastructure and obtain the best security event outcomes, you’ll need endpoint security that provides the following:

  • Complete visibility. Analysts need real-time visibility over all network endpoints so they can observe threat actor activities and take the right steps to stop them. Not all EDR solutions provide the level of visibility that modern security teams need.
  • Contextual enrichment. EDR workflows rely on enormous amounts of telemetry data collected from endpoints across the entire tech stack. The best EDR solutions enrich this data with contextualized insight so that analysts can prioritize their investigations effectively.
  • Behavioral detection. Some EDR solutions rely on signature-based detection rules that advanced attackers can easily bypass. Behavioral detection rules are much harder to fool, but they require expert configuration to produce optimal results.
  • Accurate intelligence. EDR and XDR solutions rely on threat intelligence feeds to provide context on the activities they monitor. Solutions that support high quality third-party threat intelligence integrations can significantly improve the organization’s detection and response capabilities.
  • Automation capabilities. Automated detection and response workflows can significantly improve the efficiency of security operations. Properly configured automation lets analysts skip high-volume, low-impact alerts and spend their time on high-impact strategic initiatives

Improve endpoint security at your organization with Lumifi

Talk to our team and find out what expert product knowledge and in-depth experience can do for your endpoint security initiatives. Gain visibility and control over your organization’s endpoint fleet and respond to threats in near real-time with our help. Enhance your security operations with Shieldvision™ MXDR and strengthen every layer of your security posture with our help.

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