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NDR vs XDR: The Key Differences

Choosing the right security solution can be intimidating: the stakes are high, with the ability to detect and respond to cyber threats as vital as ever. The sheer volume of tools out there can complicate matters further – make the wrong choice, and security teams risk being bogged down with heavy integration demands. Network detection is a basic offering of NDR tooling; XDR promises extended detection of threats across various security layers – but which is better?

This article will delve into the key differences, benefits, and limitations of both NDR and XDR, guiding organizations in making an informed decision that aligns with their specific security needs.

What is NDR?

In most attacks, attackers don’t immediately access the specific confidential or sensitive files they’re after. Instead, they’re likely to engage in numerous network activities, prying at oversights and chaining vulnerabilities together. Traditional security measures that primarily focus on preventing attacks through firewalls or antivirus software allow attackers to engage in these command, control, and discovery operations, and often let threats slip under the radar completely. An NDR solution locks this method of attack down by providing visibility into all network events. This high degree of network insight further makes NDR systems capable of detecting later stages of an attack, such as lateral movements and data exfiltration.

NDR systems can take large quantities of network information and feed them into advanced analytics. This allows them to identify unusual patterns or behaviors that signify a security risk, such as unauthorized access attempts, data exfiltration, or signs of malware. Once a threat is detected, the NDR solution alerts security teams, allowing for immediate action to mitigate the risk. Additionally, these solutions often incorporate machine learning algorithms to improve their network detection capabilities over time, learning from each incident to enhance future threat identification. This dynamic and adaptive approach to network security makes NDR solutions invaluable for organizations seeking to protect their digital assets from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats.

For a deep dive into how NDR can be optimized, see our definitive guide to ‘What is NDR?’. Understanding the wealth of capabilities on offer is equally important, too – get to grips with the full breadth of NDR Platform capabilities here.

What is XDR?

Extended Detection and Response (XDR) solutions are part of a deeper, more advanced approach to enterprise cybersecurity. XDR focuses on integrating various security products into a cohesive, unified system. Unlike traditional security systems, which often operate in silos, XDR solutions amalgamate data from multiple security layers, including endpoints, networks, servers, and cloud resources. This integration allows for a more holistic view of the security landscape.

Generally, XDR solutions are vendor-specific ways to funnel every piece of data into advanced analytics and artificial intelligence: this helps correlate the data across vastly different security layers. Once threat detection kicks in, XDR systems can then automatically initiate responses, such as isolating affected systems, blocking malicious activities, or alerting security teams. This proactive and automated approach not only accelerates detection and response times but also reduces the reliance on manual interventions, making it an efficient tool in combating increasingly complex cyber threats. By offering a more dynamic and adaptive security posture, XDR solutions are gradually becoming a critical component in modern cybersecurity strategies.

Getting an XDR solution up and running doesn’t have to be difficult. From choosing a vendor to supercharging setup times, here’s how to implement XDR the right way. And if locking yourself into one specific vendor has kept you from exploring the field in the past, check out our open XDR platform.

NDR vs XDR Comparison: 3 Key Differences

Network Detection and Response (NDR) and Extended Detection and Response (XDR) are both integral components of modern cybersecurity frameworks, yet they differ fundamentally in scope and integration. NDR focuses specifically on network traffic, monitoring for anomalies and threats that traverse the organizational network. Its primary function is to analyze network data – such as traffic flows, logs, and packets – to identify suspicious activities that could indicate a security breach. NDR solutions are particularly adept at uncovering network-based threats, such as intrusion attempts, lateral movements within a network, and other forms of malicious traffic. It is essentially a siloed security tool that connects to your pre-established monitoring dashboards and alert tools.

While NDR solutions passively ingest and analyze network data, XDR extends beyond the network to offer a more comprehensive security solution. It integrates data from endpoints, cloud environments, applications, and, of course, network traffic. XDR provides a unified view of threats across the entire IT ecosystem, not just the network. This integration enables XDR to correlate data across different security layers, offering deeper insights and more accurate threat detection. XDR solutions also often incorporate automated response capabilities, allowing for quicker mitigation of threats across multiple domains.

Below, we take a closer look at the key differences.

#1. Scope

NDR focuses solely on network traffic, while XDR integrates data from endpoints, networks, cloud, and applications. Due to the smaller scope provided by NDR, it’s often encountered far earlier in the maturation of a company’s security toolkit.

#2. Threat Detection Capabilities

XDR provides a broader and deeper insight into threats due to its cross-layer data correlation, compared to the network-centric approach of NDR. As endpoints are increasingly becoming major puzzle pieces in attack forensics, NDR’s native inability to incorporate device data could be an issue.

#3. Price

Because XDR is designed for a holistic security posture across an organization’s entire IT environment, the price is often several times that of an NDR tool alone. However, it’s worth bearing in mind the price implications of siloed NDR tools. With false positives being such a roadblock in the way of efficient security teams, NDR options still require a broader scope – often supplied by yet more third-party tools. Finally, the ultimate cost of a successful attack needs to be considered. XDR tooling could lower the risk of the worst-case scenario while also leveling the playing field and saving time for your security staff.

Taking a step back, the total tooling costs may equal out: the following table provides a deeper dive into the precise differences in mechanisms and responses.

NDR

XDR

Data Ingestion Methods

Network tap, mirrored traffic, or AWS flow logs (applies to on-premises, virtual, hybrid, or public cloud environments).

Mix of endpoint agents for host process analysis, Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFW) for network traffic inspection, and other possible data sources.

Installation Site Deployed without agents. Positioned out-of-band in cloud environments, data centers, and remote locations. Endpoint agents and NGFW appliances are deployed on each endpoint and at network boundaries for enhanced visibility.
Response Capabilities Responses are typically limited to network-based actions like blocking traffic or isolating segments. Automated responses across various domains, including isolating endpoints, adjusting firewalls, and more.
Deployment Minimal deployment complexity. Requires more effort for deployment.
Impact on Performance Does not affect performance adversely. Potential performance degradation when monitoring lateral network traffic.
Provider Strategy Integrated natively with threat intelligence, Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems to prevent vendor dependency. Single-provider focused: Extended Detection and Response (XDR) platforms are often specific to a single vendor, limiting third-party integrations to functions like threat intelligence.

NDR Pros and Cons

Network Detection and Response (NDR) systems are a vital component of cybersecurity infrastructure. It offers plenty of benefits, and several advantages over manual security processes but comes with a variety of limitations.

NDR Pros

Network Pattern Recognition

NDR is adept at recognizing patterns and unusual activities in large volumes of network data, which makes it highly effective in identifying advanced zero-day exploits and lateral movement within a network

Real-Time Raw Data Analysis

Analyzing raw network telemetry in real-time provides timely alerts – these allow teams to improve incident response times.

Contain Existing Threats

NDR allows your security team to attribute malicious behavior to a specific IP address, which then allows the tool to perform forensic analyses and determine how attackers have moved laterally within an environment. This enables teams to see what other devices might be infected, leading to faster incident response and threat containment, and better protection against unfavorable business impacts.

NDR Cons

Complexity and Expertise Requirements

Implementing and managing an NDR system requires a certain level of expertise to accurately interpret the data and distinguish between false positives and genuine threats. This can be a significant challenge for organizations without a dedicated cybersecurity team.

Resource requirements

NDR systems can be resource-intensive, both in terms of computational power and bandwidth. They need to process and analyze large volumes of network data in real-time, which can be demanding on an organization’s infrastructure.

Unique Considerations

When compared to basic security solutions, NDR takes the lead by providing deep network visibility and detecting anomalies based on behavior, rather than relying solely on known threat signatures. However, its resource intensiveness and complexity in terms of setup and ongoing management can make it less accessible for smaller organizations with limited cybersecurity resources.

To establish its suitability for your organization, consider the network architecture you rely on day-to-day: while all NDR must supply you with metadata-rich analysis, the precise data it collects scales in conjunction with your own network complexity.

This once again reveals the data demands made by NDR solutions: while basic data analysis can provide an initial degree of visibility, a common complaint made by budget NDR users is the sheer number of false positives. In order to weed out the false positives from genuine threats, the NDR will need even more information: inbuilt machine learning algorithms further require network device activity, user behavior, and application data itself. Together, only then can an NDR reasonably cut out false positives to a manageable amount. Finally, as the vast majority of network data is encrypted, it’s further important for an NDR solution to detect threats without decrypting potentially-sensitive data. Understanding the limitations of each security tool is paramount to keeping your organization’s defenses top-notch.

XDR Pros and Cons

While NDR offers a single approach, XDR’s ability to integrate and cross-reference data makes it a far more cohesive tool that will immensely benefit your security teams.

XDR Pros

Holistic Security Integration

XDR’s primary advantage is its ability to integrate various security tools and data sources, such as endpoint security across email, network, and cloud sources. This integration offers a more comprehensive view of an organization’s security posture, allowing for more efficient threat detection and response across multiple layers of the IT infrastructure. This holistic approach distinguishes XDR from solutions like NDR, which focus primarily on network traffic.

Automated Threat Detection and Response

XDR systems utilize advanced analytics and machine learning to automate the detection of complex threats. This automation not only speeds up the detection process but also ensures rapid response to identified threats, reducing the time attackers are active within the system. This feature is particularly beneficial compared to traditional security information and event management (SIEM) systems, which often require more manual intervention.

Improved Incident Investigation and Response

XDR provides enriched, correlated insights from various data points, aiding in more effective incident investigation and response. This unified data analysis can lead to more accurate threat identification and a better understanding of attack vectors. Consider the fact that NDR takes an approach that defines “normal” – and only alerts security teams when events are ‘different’. While better than nothing, this strategy fundamentally mixes up different with threatening. Well-funded and experienced attacking teams are able to take advantage of this by hiding malicious behavior under a facade of ‘normal’ behavior. At the same time, this approach can generate large amounts of irrelevant noise. XDR avoids this by implementing high-fidelity analysis at every entry point. Analysis now no longer needs to make black-and-white assumptions.

XDR Cons

Complexity and Resource Requirements

Implementing and managing XDR can be complex, requiring significant resources and expertise. Organizations might face challenges in integrating various security components into the XDR system, especially if they are already using a mix of security products from different vendors. This complexity can be a barrier, especially for organizations that don’t yet have highly skilled professionals.

Potential Over-Reliance on Automation

While automation is a strength of XDR, over-reliance on it can lead to gaps in security. Automated systems may miss new or sophisticated attack vectors that haven’t been previously encountered or adequately learned. This contrasts with more manual, investigative approaches like threat hunting, which can sometimes uncover threats that automated systems miss.

Vendor Lock-In and Integration Issues

XDR solutions often work best when all components are from the same vendor, potentially leading to vendor lock-in. This can limit flexibility and choice for organizations, and integrating third-party tools or legacy systems might not be seamless. Unlike more open, modular solutions, XDR can impose limitations on how an organization’s security infrastructure evolves over time.

These pros and cons highlight that – while XDR offers a unified and automated approach to security – it also brings complexities and dependencies that organizations need to consider carefully when deciding on their security infrastructure.

Don’t Rush the Decision-Making Process

The tools in your security team’s toolkit can make the difference between malware deployment and its successful prevention. Take into account the size and operational efficiency of your security personnel – if their hours are swallowed up by manual triaging and investigation, or they’re dogged by endless alerts and product tuning, it could be time to start investigating single-pane-of-glass solutions such as XDR. Steller Cyber’s Open XDR simplifies and unifies sprawling security stacks into a single, holistic approach – regardless of vendor.

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