Evolution of Managed Detection and Response (MDR)

The last few years have seen a massive increase in cyber-attack intensity, volume, and sophistication. This is primarily because organizations and businesses are moving their digital operations into the cloud in order to increase their efficiency. As a result, the challenge for IT has evolved requiring greater focus to detect and respond to cyber threats in the best way possible.

According to a recent Global Risks Report by the World Economic Forum, 68% of organizations believe their cybersecurity risks are on the rise, yet many do not have the capability to manage such risks. Due to the latest threats and emerging IT security challenges, more organizations rely on Managed Detection Response (MDR) providers in 2022.

Managed Detection and Response (MDR)

Managed Detection and Response (MDR) refers to services that identify, analyze, and respond to threats in cyberspace before they wreak havoc on everyday functioning. These services include a wide range of fundamental security activities designed to safeguard an organization’s interests. Unfortunately, cybersecurity threats often go under the radar because of a lack of sufficient in-house security measures. MDRs are designed to detect such threats. They use human and technological expertise to develop security solutions through a range of analytics.

The Top Cybersecurity Incidences Of 2021

2021 was a record-breaking year for cybersecurity incidents. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the total number of publicly reported cybersecurity breaches that occurred in 2021 exceeded the total number of incidents in the entire year of 2020 by 17%. Even more worrisome is the fact that there has been an increasing lack of basic cybersecurity practices among organizations, resulting in the risk of data exposure.

Perhaps the most notable cybersecurity incident of 2021 involved Cognyte. An unprotected database of more than 5 billion records belonging to the cybersecurity analytics firm was discovered in May. The records contained personal information such as names, email addresses, and passwords. The database was secured four days after discovery. However, the exposed data posed a significant risk to end users since malicious actors could use them to break into their accounts.

In the same month, Colonial Pipeline, which operates the most extensive refined oil pipeline system in the US, was a victim of a sophisticated ransomware attack that completely paralyzed its operations for nearly four days, resulting in severe fuel shortages across multiple US states.

2021 also witnessed personal data of 700 million LinkedIn users – about 93% of the social network’s user base – put on sale on the internet. Although the data did not include login information, it contained personal information such as full names, email addresses, and phone numbers that could be used to guess someone’s login details.

Facebook had its records leaked online in 2021 as well. A database containing more than 533 million Facebook accounts was posted online in April. The exposed data included users’ full names, phone numbers, and email addresses. Malicious actors can use such data to carry out social engineering attacks.

Other noteworthy cybersecurity incidents of 2021 include:

  • Bykea’s exposed 400 million records,
  • a leaked database containing 220 million records of Brazilian citizens, and,
  • Socialarks’ leaked database containing more than 214 million profiles.

Growing Expenditure on IT Security

In response to the severe adverse impact and sophistication of today’s cyber threats, organizations and businesses across the globe are stepping up their cyber preparedness. This is apparent in the metrics that make up cybersecurity models and the increased spending in this area.

According to Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report 2021, cyber-attack intensity and sophistication were higher in 2021 than in the previous year. Additionally, the report notes that organizations and businesses were targeted more often in 2021, with 28% of companies that suffered cyber-attacks reporting to have been targeted more than five times.

Furthermore, the report found that the number of organizations that qualify as cyber-ready has doubled from 10% in 2019 to 20% in 2021, and organizations now allocate more than a fifth of their IT budget to cybersecurity.

According to another cyber readiness report by Acronis, “three out of 10 companies report facing a cyberattack at least once a day.” In response, businesses are enhancing their preparedness for the growing threats. The report found that organizations are now devoting more resources to cybersecurity, as seen in the significant increase in demand for threat assessments and patch management.

Moving from MSSP to MDR Providers

With the growth and sophistication of cyber threats, organizations are increasingly adopting managed cybersecurity services as better alternatives to in-house or on-premise cybersecurity implementations. In addition, working with managed cybersecurity service providers allows organizations to benefit from top-notch cybersecurity technologies at a reduced cost.

For organizations with limited resources to set up and run a comprehensive cybersecurity program, cybersecurity managed service providers can bridge this gap by providing best-in-class cybersecurity solutions for a fee. In addition, outsourcing cybersecurity allows organizations to focus on other business areas.

Traditional managed security service providers (MSSP) have long been the backbone of cybersecurity managed services, acting as one-stop providers for all cybersecurity needs.

However, these legacy cybersecurity managed service providers have often spread their wings too broad across the security life-cycle, leaning more towards threat monitoring and detection without proper response mechanisms. As a result, their services have repeatedly proven insufficient for organizations seeking comprehensive threat visibility and remediation support.

As cyber threats evolve and the severity of their impact increases, specialized managed detection and response (MDR) service providers are increasingly replacing traditional managed security service providers (MSSP).

So, what is MDR security?

Virtually every organization needs to protect its systems and network from cyber threats, but a vast majority of them do not have adequate resources to set up an in-house cybersecurity infrastructure. So, they opt to cobble together a set of essential cybersecurity tools and IT personnel. While this might work for a while in addressing primary cyber threats, it cannot hold in the face of today’s emerging threats. This is where MDR comes in.

A managed detection and response (MDR) service provider goes well beyond the scope of a traditionally managed security service provider as it provides businesses with expertise and technological solutions to detect and contain cyber threats before they cause damage.

Managed detection and response service providers have better detection and response capabilities. As a result, more organizations are moving to MDR as a better alternative to traditional MSSP.

According to the 2021 Gartner Market Guide for MDR, “the MDR services market is composed of providers delivering 24/7 threat monitoring, detection, and response outcomes,” and this market will have grown by 2025 to include 50% of global businesses and organizations.

Gartner also notes that MDR providers continue to grow significantly in numbers and expertise, causing a dilemma for organizations looking to identify a suitable provider.

Managed Detection and Response: Filling the Traditional Gaps

This section discusses why MDR is the future of cybersecurity managed services. We will start by looking at the basic process of how MDR responds to threats; we will then examine the use case of MDR and later discuss how it differs from MSSP.

MDR Basic Detection and Response Process

  • Detection – An MDR service continually monitors an organization’s network and systems, conducting threat sweeps for specific intrusion indicators and performing threat prioritization.
  • Analysis – After a threat has been detected and prioritized for containment, the provider’s cybersecurity team conducts threat analysis to understand the origin and scope of the danger. After which, a comprehensive analysis of the threat and its potential impact is determined.
  • Response – After threat analysis is carried out and potential impact identified, the cybersecurity managed service provider notifies the organization and provides them with root cause analysis, mitigation recommendations, and tools to contain similar threats.
  • Remediation – The final process in any incident response is recovery or remediation. Without healing, MDR service is a failure. Remediation involves recovering assets that may have been compromised during a cyber-attack. This process consists of the removal of malware and the cleaning of the registry, among others. Remediation aims to return the compromised system and other assets into their normal state.

MDR Use Case

Here are the top MDR use cases:

  • Malware – Malware is an attack vector used by malicious actors to harvest personal information and gain unauthorized access to systems. Cybercriminals also utilize malware to exfiltrate data out of a compromised system. MDR utilizes behavioral and signature-based threat detection techniques to detect such malware and automated incident response actions to contain them.
  • Compromised Hosts – Virtually every cyber attacker starts by targeting endpoint devices in an attempt to gain entry into a network. MDR closely monitors endpoint hosts in a network to identify potential compromises.
  • Lateral Movements – After gaining initial access, malicious actors often attempt to move laterally through the systems, searching for sensitive data and other valuable assets. MDR uses various tools to detect lateral movements within a system, allowing organizations to stop a threat from spreading.
  • Privilege Escalation – Improper misconfiguration of systems can allow malicious actors to gain elevated access and permissions to a system or network. MDR also uses the latest signature and behavioral-based techniques to identify such misconfigurations and closely monitor the activities of privileged users in order to detect any unusual behavior such as attempts to exfiltrate data.
  • Data Exfiltration – After gaining a foothold in a system and accessing sensitive data, cybercriminals often want to modify, copy, or erase the data. MDR uses a set of tools and techniques to closely monitor privilege accounts and applications that facilitate modification or transfer of data to preserve data confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
  • Cloud-Focuses Threats – As organizations move their operations and data into the cloud, malicious actors are increasingly targeting cloud environments in an attempt to gain access to such assets. MDR can help achieve cloud security by continuously monitoring cloud environments for unusual behaviors.

Major Differences between MDR and MSSP

When evaluating managed cybersecurity services, organizations are often faced with two considerations; MDR and MSSP. While both solutions can be beneficial, their functionalities have critical differences. Here are the differences between MDR and MSSP:

  • MSSP focuses on prevention – MSSP utilizes firewalls, antivirus tools, and intrusion detection systems to detect and keep cyber threats at bay. Compared to MSSP, which aims to manage prevention, MDR focuses on prevention and response. MDR uses signature and behavioral-based tools to detect and contain cyber threats.
  • MDR is driven by automation – MDR relies on automation to monitor, detect, and respond to cyber threats. As a result, victims will only be notified of the existence of a threat, and no hands-on skills are required in response to the attacks.
  • Faster Response Times – Compared to MSSP, MDR works around the clock, meaning network enterprises have 24/7 monitoring and response capabilities. This way, organizations can be alerted to incoming threats and allowed to respond appropriately.
  • Easy Deployment – With many organizations migrating from in-house implementations to cloud services and others adopting a combination of private and public cloud services, there is a need for cybersecurity services that can quickly deploy in a wide variety of environments. This is an area MSSP falls short of. In contrast, MDR is a new solution that incorporates new technologies in any domain.
  • MDR Offers More Capable Tools – MSSP has essential cybersecurity tools and techniques, adequate for small businesses and existing threats. In comparison, MDR utilizes the latest behavioral analytics and up-to-date intelligence to hunt and contain existing and emerging threats proactively.
  • Integrated Incidence Response – With no high-level support on how one should respond to cybersecurity incidents, organizations using MSSP often find themselves in a lurch, unable to contain attacks and mitigate their damage. In comparison, MDR is an integrated incident response service that includes essential features such as remediation guidelines to enable organizations to respond to threats on a timely basis appropriately.

Why is Managed Detection and Response Important?

In the face of seemingly frequent and sophisticated cyber threats, many organizations are also dealing with budget constraints and a challenging job market that lacks enough skilled personnel. Having a comprehensive cybersecurity program without spending too many resources is the ultimate goal of these organizations. MDR providers can provide necessary cybersecurity needs at an affordable price.

One of the reasons why MDR is important is that it is a better alternative to an in-house cybersecurity team, especially for organizations with budget constraints. Managed detection and response are labor-intensive services that require a highly-skilled full-time professional team. Setting up and managing such a team is a costly affair. Therefore, for small and mid-size organizations operating under tight budgets, MDR is important as it conveniently allows them to outsource such essential services.

Furthermore, MDR offers comprehensive 24/7 support and monitoring. Unlike most detection and response units, MDR providers have enough infrastructure and personnel to conduct 24/7 monitoring and provide the necessary support. This is essential considering that most cyber threats occur during off-hours. Therefore, an MDR will monitor security incidences and respond accordingly.

MDR is also important as it incorporates the best-in-class technology. Compared to other detection and response services, MDR is a new solution that integrates new technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and first-rate threat detection and response techniques. These capabilities put MDR as the best and most essential detection and response service.

To wrap it up, MDR is important as it monitors and contains harmful content that may be downloaded into the systems. Since employees often freely surf the internet and can download anything of interest, malicious actors have found a way to lure internet users into executing malicious programs embedded in digital content. Therefore, an MDR service always closely monitors and detects users’ attempts to access such content so that appropriate preventive actions can be taken to prevent the spread of such programs.

Adapting to BYOD and Remote Work Model

Today’s digital world is changing, and organizations face more sophisticated challenges than before. As a result, new challenges surround keeping data secure, especially with the emergence of new dynamic threats. Some of the significant challenges emanate from the heavy reliance on technology, including the increasing desire to simplify operations in organizations.

The current tide on the Internet of Things is a critical accelerating factor where more devices are now connected. As a result, the scope of devices capable of connecting to organizations’ networks has increased. Therefore, it is a clear call for organizations to develop measures of significant security steps to tame the new threat landscape.

One of the primary initiatives could integrate a paramount approach to streamline user and device management, aligning with the organization’s overall security strategy.

The measures organizations should have must trickle down to basic procedures such as employee termination, which should be in the picture. Then, they should be carefully crafted and effectively enforced.

There should be sufficient emphasis on identity systems and user provisioning with the BYOD concept and the remote working model. This perspective could be achieved through user provisioning and identity systems with virtual private network administration.

However, the most effective measure that organizations should adopt is field integrity monitoring. This is one of the most effective security measures whose approach is to test and check operating systems, databases, and application software when there is a need to determine whether they have been corrupted or compromised.

File integrity monitoring is essentially focused on conducting audits, verification, and validation of files by making comparisons of the latest versions to versions that are often referred to as the trusted versions.

When FIM detects those changes that may have been made, an alert is generated to create room for investigation. The best part about file integrity monitoring is integrating reactive and proactive techniques to detect changes.

File integrity monitoring is one of the most effective tools employed when securing computing environments in organizations. Therefore, it is a consideration that should be integrated into an organization’s security, especially with the new trends in the use of technology.

COVID-19 pandemic is among the key eye-openers that presented the need to revise the traditional security measures. New threats emerged due to the sudden change in conducting operations.

The pandemic presented the need to develop new approaches to conducting business while minimizing disruptions to operations. As a result, the remote working model was embraced more, a move that introduced a new attack vector that could compromise an organization’s security posture.

BYOD is also another new emerging technique organizations are embracing. This is where users are allowed to use their own devices to carry out business tasks. But unfortunately, it is also a new opportunity for adversaries to evade enterprise networks.

The new attack vectors present the importance of File Integrity monitoring as a critical tool that would enhance detection and response. Furthermore, FIM is an approach that should complement other techniques such as behavioral monitoring, among other measures.

Final Words

MDR is an outsourced service whose focus is providing organizations with threat monitoring, detection, and response. However, the significant aspect that stands out with MDR is the personal aspect that gives it an upper hand in addressing the current challenges in cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity is often overlooked by most organizations, a characteristic that broadens attack vectors that adversaries could leverage.

It is pretty prevalent that cybersecurity continues to attract new dynamic attack vectors. Therefore, organizations must put measures to mitigate the broadening scope of these risks. Managed Detection and Response is a practical approach that would guarantee advanced security solutions.

It is also prevalent that most organizations do not have sufficient resources and expertise to manage security risks effectively. Managed Detection and Response presents a significant partnership opportunity that could transform security operations in an organization.

As a result, organizations would not have to worry about similar security threats. In addition, MDR comes with a 24/7 security operations center and ensures organizations have proactive mitigation measures. From incident investigation, alert triage, remediation to proactive threat hunting, MDR proves to be the ideal mitigation approach organizations should employ to address the dynamic nature of threat attacks today.

Furthermore, MDR addresses personnel limitations, limited access to expertise, advanced threat identification, slow threat detection, and security immaturity making it an ideal solution to fix multiple security challenges organizations face.

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