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What Matters in a Managed Detection and Response (MDR) Provider?

Seven critical MDR functions and the questions you can ask to make informed MDR buying decisions

BY eSentire

March 21, 2021 | 5 MINS READ

Managed Detection and Response

Cybersecurity Strategy

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As early as 2019, Gartner made note of the fact that there were well over 100 vendors claiming to offer Managed Detection and Response (MDR) services. In Gartner’s 2020 Market Guide for Managed Detection and Response Services1, the crowded marketplace received additional focus, with two of Gartner’s key findings touching on the issue:

In a market characterized by a relatively small number of true leaders, dozens of peripheral players and a long list of new entrants, copycat messaging abounds. As a result, it can be legitimately challenging for IT and security leaders—who have enough to deal with already—to try to separate the wheat from the chaff, let alone find the time to do a thorough evaluation between the real solutions.

From our two decades of experience leading the evolution of MDR, from conversations with more than 900 customers, from answering countless RFPs and from external research—including primary research we commissioned—we know what really matters to CISOs and their teams when it comes to making a purchase decision.

Modern MDR forms a virtuous, ever-evolving cycle that efficiently combines proactive and reactive elements to create effective security outcomes

Modern MDR manifests as a virtuous cycle in which risk management and security insights create an ever-evolving implementation customized for each and every client. The figure below captures the different functions and some of their constituent elements:

Evaluating MDR vendors

The functions introduced on the previous page inform questions that must be asked of every MDR vendor; the table below provides examples.



Risk Management

To what degree—and how—do you perform proactive risk identification and remediation (e.g., penetration testing and vulnerability management)?

How are the findings used to improve the services delivered?

Management & Support

How do you alleviate the security workload from my organization?

How do you continually tune the services delivered to meet my organization’s specific—and evolving—security needs?


What parts of my technology footprint do you cover (e.g., on-premises, cloud providers)?

Within the coverage environment, what signal sources is your technology able to digest, correlate and analyze (e.g., endpoint, network, cloud, log, behavioral)?

What depth of information are you using from the signals for detection and investigation?

Detection & Blocking

What is your security platform? (e.g., an advanced, multi-signal XDR platform or a collection of open-source tools)

How are you developing detections that exceed commodity threat intelligence?

How do you detect advanced, unknown threats that require multi-signal correlation?

What enforcement points can you use to contain attacks?


To what degree are you investigating potential threats and confirming presence?

How and where are you able to contain threats on our behalf?

How quickly are you triaging, investigating, alerting and responding?

To what degree do you support the IR lifecycle?

Insights & Portal

What general security insights do you provide to us and how do you provide them?

How do your security analysts keep us informed and engage with us so we are kept up-to-date about the threats they are investigating and upon which they are acting on our behalf?

What communication channels are available to us when an investigation is underway?

What metrics do you provide to show the value we are getting from your MDR service?

Threat Hunting

How much triage and investigation do you perform on the customers’ behalf as part of the reactive threat hunting portion of your MDR Service?

Do you provide proactive threat hunting, as a part of your MDR service, and with what frequency is the threat hunting performed?

A few words about weighting

Of course, every organization has a unique environment, with different security priorities and in-house capabilities. Making the right choice, therefore, requires first understanding your organization’s desired outcomes and resources—and then evaluating prospective vendors to see if they meet your requirements.

In practice, this approach leads to giving more importance to some areas than others. For example, an independent study we commissioned found that the three most important requirements organizations are looking for from their MDR vendor are (in this order):

  1. Ability to isolate, contain and eliminate threats
  2. Threat identification and response times/SLAs
  3. Completeness of service

The respondents went on to say that they are looking for an MDR provider who will be a security partner who acts as an extension of their internal security team—taking action on their behalf to isolate, contain and eliminate the threat, ensuring that their IT environment is not breached.

Taken together, these insights suggest that a vendor’s threat Response capabilities will generally exert the largest influence in a purchase decision. Of course, each organization has its own set of priorities which will ultimately determine its buying decision.

In subsequent blogs, we will dive more deeply into the seven functions outlined above to demonstrate how you make sense of the confusing marketplace when you’re searching for an MDR partner.

In the meantime, you might find these additional resources to be of use:

[1] Gartner Market Guide for Managed Detection and Response Services, Toby Bussa, Kelly Kavanagh, Pete Shoard, John Collins, Craig Lawson, Mitchell Schneider, 26 August 2020


eSentire, Inc., the Authority in Managed Detection and Response (MDR), protects the critical data and applications of 2000+ organizations in 80+ countries, across 35 industries from known and unknown cyber threats by providing Exposure Management, Managed Detection and Response and Incident Response services designed to build an organization’s cyber resilience & prevent business disruption. Founded in 2001, eSentire protects the world’s most targeted organizations with 65% of its global base recognized as critical infrastructure, vital to economic health and stability. By combining open XDR platform technology, 24/7 threat hunting, and proven security operations leadership, eSentire's award-winning MDR services and team of experts help organizations anticipate, withstand and recover from cyberattacks. For more information, visit: www.esentire.com and follow @eSentire.

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