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Expert Intel

Getting Under the Hood of Microsoft Defender XDR

Published: June 20, 2024
Expert: SOC Team
Role: Security Operations Analysts
Specialises in: 24/7 Defence and Protection
What you will learn:
Following the recent publication of the Forrester Wave™ XDR report, Microsoft emerges as the top contender. Want to find out why? In this intel, hear directly from our experts and learn why this toolset is setting the standard for cybersecurity solutions.
"Microsoft Defender XDR isn't just a tool, it's a game-changer,". Dive into our detailed analysis as we uncover the top 5 features our analysts rely on to protect against evolving threats.

Our Top 5 Defender Toolsets

The Forrester Wave™: Extended Detection and Response (XDR) Platforms Q2 2024 Report has been released, and it’s making noise in the IT and cyber security community.
For those that might be unfamiliar, this report is a vendor-agnostic evaluation of 22 XDR platform providers. Household names like Microsoft, CrowdStrike, Palo Alto Networks and more are researched, analysed and scored depending on how well they perform.
And guess who came out on top? That’s right — Microsoft.
As part of their evaluation, Forrester states:
“Microsoft has the most data-rich endpoint information in this evaluation. Reference customers cite unique features like a full timeline of activity that occurs on each endpoint as useful for investigation. The suite enables users to respond to alerts across integrated native tools (Defender for Cloud and Cloud Apps), search over the data, and build user-generated detections. References note the comprehensiveness and value of the suite, though prospects’ biggest frustration is how the licensing model all but forces practitioners to adopt with the rest of the business.
 
The offering has a thorough sandboxing capability and provides built-in forensics and remote shell. Its analyst experience gives significant context within alerts while using progressive disclosure to surface relevant information based on the analyst workflow. The vendor has online and in-person training resources, some included and some for a fee, which references cite as valuable. Organizations that require massive-scale deployments are best suited to Microsoft.”

So, let’s explore that a little further.

Our SOC team use Microsoft Defender XDR technologies because they provide an integrated solution that consolidates security data from multiple sources, providing a holistic view of security threats across an organisation’s endpoints, servers, networks, and cloud applications.
Crucially, however, Microsoft Defender XDR isn’t just one solution, it’s a combination of many Defender apps, all with varying capabilities. For our SOC team, some of these toolsets carry more weight than others (although some have said choosing a favourite is like choosing a favourite child…). The XDR solutions each carry different capabilities, and in their own way, each adds something unique to the ecosystem.
So, for those who want to know which Microsoft Defender XDR toolsets are worth delving further into, keep reading for our SOC analyst’s top 5 features.

Introducing our SOC team’s Top 5 Microsoft Defender XDR toolsets.

5

In fifth place
Microsoft Defender for IoT

This toolset is great for: Monitoring and securing IoT devices.
Our SOC team says: As IoT devices become more prevalent, Defender for IoT’s ability to monitor and secure these devices is increasingly important. Its asset discovery feature ensures we have visibility into all IoT devices connected to our network.
What we’d love to see in the future: Whilst Defender for IoT provides robust monitoring, there is room for improvement in integrating more advanced anomaly detection capabilities specific to IoT protocols. Don’t get us wrong, we still think it’s great, but there’s always room for improvement…
Defender for IOT Dashboard
4

Up in forth
Microsoft Defender for Office 365

This toolset is great for: Protecting communication channels and preventing phishing attacks.
Our SOC team says: The integration with Office 365 makes Defender for Office 365 indispensable for protecting our communication channels, and its robust phishing protection is particularly effective in preventing social engineering attacks.
What we’d love to see in the future: One area for improvement? Potentially Defender for Office 365 could benefit from more granular reporting features to help us tailor training programs.
Defender for Office 365 Dashboard
3

Taking third
Microsoft Defender for Identity

This toolset is great for: Maintaining the integrity of authentication systems and detecting insider threats.
Our SOC team says: Defender for Identity is crucial to help us maintain the integrity of our authentication systems. Its ability to detect compromised identities and insider threats helps prevent breaches that could lead to significant data loss or unauthorised access.
What we’d love to see in the future: To be honest, Defender for Identities’ protection features are strong, although if we had to pick one improvement, integrating more real-time alerting mechanisms could enhance responsiveness, but there are ways around this using automation.
2

Just missing the top spot in second
Microsoft Defender for Cloud

This toolset is great for: Providing consistent security management and threat detection across different cloud platforms.
Our SOC team says: Defender for Cloud’s ability to provide consistent security management and threat detection across different cloud platforms (including Azure, AWS and Google Cloud) is crucial to helping our clients maintain a strong security posture. Its unified approach allows our team to manage security more efficiently, reducing the complexity of handling multiple cloud environments. The continuous security assessment and automated threat protection features ensure that potential threats are identified and addressed swiftly, minimising the risk of security breaches.
What we’d love to see in the future: Whilst Defender for IoT provides robust monitoring, there is room for improvement in integrating more advanced anomaly detection capabilities specific to IoT protocols. Don’t get us wrong, we still think it’s great, but there’s always room for improvement…
Defender for Cloud Dashboard

An honourable mention before we introduce our number one.
Microsoft 365 Defender

This toolset is great for: Advanced threat hunting and automated investigation.
Our SOC team says: The advanced hunting capabilities are a game-changer for our SOC team, enabling us to proactively search for threats and address them before they can cause significant harm. The automated investigation and response features also save valuable time and resources. We can correlate signals from endpoints, email, identities, and applications to deliver coordinated defence and automated response.
Defender for Defender Dashboard
1

In the first place, it’s a toolset we couldn’t live without
Microsoft Defender for Endpoint

This toolset is great for: Real-time endpoint protection and comprehensive threat response. Because this toolset really is one we couldn’t live without, we want to delve a bit deeper into this one…
It provides a Full Timeline of Activity
One of the standout features of Microsoft Defender for Endpoint is the full timeline of activity for each endpoint. This feature allows analysts to trace the steps leading up to a security incident, providing crucial context for understanding and mitigating threats. The ability to view a complete history of endpoint activity helps in identifying patterns and behaviours that may indicate a compromise, making it easier to respond effectively.
 It has great Sandboxing Capabilities
Built-in sandboxing allows for the safe analysis of suspicious files and behaviours without risking the broader environment. This feature is essential for understanding sophisticated malware and crafting effective countermeasures. The sandboxing capability in Microsoft Defender XDR is robust, offering detailed analysis and reporting on the behaviour of potentially malicious files. This helps in identifying advanced threats that may not be detectable through traditional methods.
Automated Investigation and Response
Automation in threat investigation and response reduces the manual workload on analysts, allowing them to focus on more complex and strategic tasks. This feature accelerates the overall incident response process, improving our ability to mitigate threats swiftly. The automated workflows in Microsoft Defender XDR are customizable, enabling organizations to tailor the response actions to their specific needs and processes.
Integration with Native Tools
The seamless integration of Defender XDR with other Microsoft security tools, such as Defender for Cloud and Cloud Apps, enhances our ability to manage security across different environments from a single pane of glass. This integration simplifies workflows and improves the efficiency of our security operations. By consolidating security data and alerts from various sources, analysts can gain a comprehensive view of the threat landscape, enabling more informed decision-making.
Indicators of Attack (IOA) and Indicators of Compromise (IOC)
The use of IOAs and IOCs in Microsoft Defender for Endpoint is crucial for detecting and responding to threats. IOAs focus on detecting malicious behaviours and patterns, while IOCs identify known malicious artefacts. This dual approach ensures that both new and existing threats can be detected and mitigated effectively. The extensive library of IOAs and IOCs in Microsoft Defender is regularly updated, ensuring that the latest threats are covered.
Real-time Insights and Threat Intelligence
Microsoft Defender XDR leverages real-time insights and threat intelligence to enhance detection and response capabilities. The platform continuously monitors the threat landscape and updates its detection algorithms based on the latest intelligence. This ensures that the SOC team is always equipped with the most up-to-date information to defend against emerging threats. The integration of threat intelligence feeds from various sources provides a comprehensive view of the threat environment.
Defender for Endpoint Dashboard

In Conclusion

Realistically, all of the above is only just touching the surface in terms of capability and the recognition of Microsoft as a leader in The Forrester Wave XDR report highlights the robustness and innovation of its XDR offerings.
Our SOC team can attest to the significant benefits Microsoft Defender XDR brings to our security operations. – with its advanced detection capabilities, comprehensive threat response features, and seamless integration across various security tools make it an indispensable part of our cybersecurity arsenal.
For those looking to enhance their cybersecurity posture, leveraging the capabilities of Microsoft Defender XDR, get in touch today, or take a look at our managed cyber security operations centre offerings.

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