MDR vs. SOC: Which is The Best Cybersecurity Solution for Your Needs

Orion Cassetto Orion Cassetto

In today’s rapidly evolving cybersecurity landscape, comprehending the differences between  MDR and SOC is essential for ensuring you select the best way to protect your business against digital threats. These two popular approaches, Managed Detection and Response (MDR) and Security Operations Centers (SOC) serve as primary defense mechanisms in safeguarding your digital assets.

Recognizing their roles and their potential customization to suit your specific requirements is paramount in navigating this complex terrain.

Let’s delve deeper into these concepts to unravel what each one entails, how they differ, and what you should consider when deciding on which solution fits your specific needs. 

What is MDR and How Does it Work?

Let’s start with the basics – answering the question of what an MDR solution is. Managed Detection and Response (MDR) service providers extend a spectrum of functionalities tailored to bolster defense mechanisms against cyber threats. These include typically alert management, proactive threat identification, incident resolution, and post-event recovery.

Human involvement remains integral to MDR operations, with skilled analysts tasked with scrutinizing security data, pinpointing vulnerabilities, and orchestrating responses to threats. The efficacy of an MDR solution hinges upon the adeptness and acumen of these analysts, whose expertise supplements automated processes deployed by MDR service providers. While methodologies may vary among vendors, all converge on the utilization of human intellect to navigate the intricate landscape of cybersecurity.

Engagement with an MDR service provider entails giving the provider access to pertinent security systems and data repositories, including logs and alerts sourced from diverse security infrastructures. Employing a fusion of automated algorithms and human discernment, MDR analysts meticulously scrutinize these repositories to unearth potential threats.

Organizations engaging with MDR typically request for a liaison within the provider’s ranks, often a seasoned security analyst or incident response specialist. This liaison serves as a conduit for communication, facilitating dialogue on security concerns, disseminating periodic progress reports, and collaborating on incident response strategies. Concurrently, the organization extends access privileges to its internal systems and networks, enabling MDR operatives to enact prompt countermeasures in response to looming threats.

What Is SOC and How Does It Work?

A Security Operations Center (SOC) stands as the focal point for an organization’s cybersecurity infrastructure, employing a blend of personnel, protocols, and technology to surveil, detect, analyze, and counter potential security threats and incidents. Operational 24/7, the SOC solution relies on a team of adept security analysts who leverage cutting-edge tools to conduct continuous monitoring of the organization’s IT ecosystem. By scrutinizing an array of data sources—including network traffic, system logs, and endpoint devices—the SOC remains vigilant, identifying anomalies and potential malicious activities in real-time to prevent cyber intrusions.

Prior to establishing a Security Operations Center (SOC), companies need to formulate a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that corresponds with their specific business goals and hurdles. While some enterprises choose to maintain an internal SOC, others prefer to entrust SOC responsibilities to third-party managed security service providers.

Operating seamlessly, the SOC solution facilitates rapid response to security incidents by swiftly investigating detected threats, assessing their gravity and implications, and implementing tailored measures to mitigate risks. This includes containment strategies such as isolating compromised systems, alongside remediative actions such as refining security protocols and collaborating with internal teams or external partners for comprehensive incident resolution. 

Moreover, the SOC proactively engages in threat hunting, vulnerability management, and ongoing security training endeavors to bolster the organization’s defenses and cultivate resilience against emergent cyber threats. Today, every SOC employs some level of automation. Learn more about SOC automation.

MDR vs. SOC: 8 Key Differences

When evaluating cybersecurity solutions, organizations often encounter the choice between opting for a Security Operations Center (SOC) or for Managed Detection and Response (MDR) services. Each option presents distinct advantages and considerations, spanning from the scope of services to resource requirements and expertise.

Let’s explore the key differences of SOC vs. MDR:

  1. Deployment model: SOCs can run either in-house, managed internally by the organization, or outsourced to a third-party provider. MDR services are by definition outsourced to specialized third-party providers.
  2. Cost: Building and sustaining a robust SOC necessitates substantial investment in infrastructure, software tools, and proficient staff. MDR offers organizations the opportunity to utilize the specialized knowledge and resources of an external provider without the need for initial capital outlay.
  3. Monitoring Capabilities: SOC provides comprehensive visibility into security events occurring both inside and outside an organization. It integrates multiple sources of data, including logs from firewalls, switches, routers, access points, printers, IoT devices, OT devices (such as PLCs, Scada Servers, HMIs), access gates, and application logs (e.g., web servers, database queries). This broad monitoring capability allows for a holistic view of the security landscape. On the other hand, an MDR service typically lacks visibility into the broader network infrastructure. This limitation excludes crucial security event data from various devices and services within the organization.
  4. Human involvement: Even with an MDR in place, the necessity for analysts remains evident, albeit not necessarily in a full-fledged SOC capacity. Analysts are indispensable for managing the detections generated by an MDR. Hence, it’s customary to have both an MDR solution and a scaled-down internal SOC.
  5. False positives and triage: A well-structured SOC service with human analysts ensures detailed and in-depth analysis of generated alerts. This human touch enables the elimination of false positives and facilitates a focused response to genuine security threats. MDR services often rely on automated triage processes. Consequently, if the EDR software generates numerous false positives, the MDR service customer may be overwhelmed with a high number of tickets to manage, which can divert resources and attention away from legitimate security incidents.
  6. Threat intelligence: Within a SOC service, there’s typically integration of threat awareness mechanisms, delivering current insights into evolving threats, weaknesses, and attack methodologies. This intelligence serves as a cornerstone for proactive threat identification and enhancing the broader cybersecurity framework. Conversely, an MDR service frequently operates without a specialized threat awareness provision. The absence of this critical element may lead organizations towards a more reactive cybersecurity stance, potentially overlooking early threat identification and containment.
  7. Vulnerability assessment: In the realm of SOC services, there’s often inclusion of vulnerability evaluation procedures within their holistic cybersecurity strategy. These evaluations serve to pinpoint shortcomings in infrastructure, systems, and applications, facilitating preemptive rectification of vulnerabilities before potential exploitation. MDR services prioritize detection and response over proactive vulnerability assessment. Although it might flag certain compromise indicators, it may lack the extensive analysis and identification of vulnerabilities offered by a specialized vulnerability evaluation service.
  8. Incident response and mitigation: When an incident occurs, a SOC service is adept at executing a comprehensive response. It can swiftly isolate affected clients, conduct a thorough assessment of the incident’s network-wide impact, and potentially implement deny rules on firewall devices to halt further propagation. This proactive strategy aids in effectively containing and mitigating the repercussions of security incidents. An MDR service may encounter constraints in incident handling. Its capacity to isolate affected clients and contain the incident is often confined to systems equipped with the EDR agent. Should the infection spread to endpoints lacking the agent, the MDR service may encounter challenges in visibility and control, potentially leaving these systems vulnerable to additional exploitation.
CapacityVaries. Based on contractVaries. Based on analyst capacity
AccuracyMixed. Based on both vendor and analystsMixed. Based on analysts
ConsistencyLow. Every analyst is differentLow. Every analyst is different
ScopeTriage onlyFull incident lifecycle
Institutional knowledgeLowHigh. But depends on analysts

In conclusion, the choice between a Security Operations Center (SOC) and Managed Detection and Response (MDR) services hinges on several critical factors, including deployment model, cost considerations, monitoring capabilities, human involvement, handling of false positives, threat intelligence provision, vulnerability assessment, and incident response capabilities. While MDR offers outsourced expertise and cost-effective solutions, SOC presents comprehensive visibility and control over security incidents, backed by a dedicated team of analysts. Ultimately, organizations must weigh these factors against their specific needs and resources to determine the most suitable cybersecurity approach.

Which Solution Is the Best Fit for Your Company?

When weighing the merits of MDR vs. SOC, making the right choice for your organization depends on a thorough understanding of your unique cybersecurity requirements and capabilities. While both SOC and MDR services boast individual strengths, they address distinct facets of cybersecurity administration.

MDR offers several notable benefits. One of its key strengths is its ability to offload the burden of managing security alerts and incidents from internal teams, allowing them to focus on other critical tasks. However, MDR also has its drawbacks. One significant limitation is the potential variability in the quality of service depending on the expertise of the analysts involved. Additionally, MDR services may require a significant investment, particularly for organizations with complex IT environments or regulatory compliance requirements.

On the other hand, SOC offers its own set of advantages. One of the primary strengths of SOC is its comprehensive approach to cybersecurity, which involves analyzing every alert to determine its potential threat level. This meticulous scrutiny helps minimize the risk of overlooking critical security incidents. 

Important to note that with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation cybersecurity solutions (be it MDR or SOC) utilize them to enhance threat detection and response capabilities. One such example is AI-powered SOC platform, which can provide rapid response times, with many incidents addressed within a matter of hours or even minutes. 

Ultimately, the decision between MDR and SOC will depend on various factors, including your organization’s size, budget, industry, and specific security requirements. It’s essential to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of each solution and consider factors such as scalability, expertise, cost, and responsiveness. 

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