Market Guide for Managed Detection and Response Services

Published: 31 May 2017 ID: G00308991



Managed detection and response improves threat detection monitoring and incident response capabilities via a turnkey approach to detecting threats that have bypassed other controls. Security and risk management leaders need to understand this service and its implications for their environments.


Key Findings

  • Organizations are looking to improve real-time threat detection and incident response capabilities; however, they often struggle to invest limited resources in the required people, processes and technology.

  • The managed detection and response service market is evolving, and vendors take varied approaches to delivering their services, making it challenging for buyers to compare providers.

  • MDR vendors target two primary groups of buyers: (1) small or midsize businesses and small enterprises with minimal investments in security tools/staff; (2) well-invested enterprises that are investing in people and tools, but are looking for partners to augment their capabilities.

  • MDR providers are adding the ability to contain threats to existing remote incident response capabilities, primarily driven by SMB organizations that lack security teams and 24/7 IT.

  • The overlap between managed security services and MDR is increasing, which is adding to the confusion in the market and making it difficult for buyers. MSS and MDR still have distinct characteristics that buyers need to understand.


IT security and risk management leaders involved with security monitoring and operations should:

  • Use MDR services to implement threat detection and incident response capabilities when they don't exist or are immature, or when approaches such as MSS haven't met expectations.

  • Use MDR services when a turnkey service is the goal, and decisions on technologies, expertise and processes are left to the provider. Scrutinize how potential vendors are delivering services to ensure the technology stack will fit the IT environment — e.g., SaaS and infrastructure as a service coverage.

  • Evaluate providers offering MDR-type services that can improve their incident response capabilities now or in the future, when requirements point toward using an MSS provider over an MDR service provider.

Strategic Planning Assumptions

By 2020, 15% of organizations (see Note 1) will be using services such as MDR, which is an increase from fewer than 1% today.

By 2020, 80% of worldwide managed security service providers (MSSPs) will offer MDR-type services.

Market Definition

Managed detection and response (MDR) providers deliver services for buyers looking to improve their threat detection, incident response and continuous-monitoring capabilities (see "Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017: Adaptive Security Architecture" ). These services are delivered by providers using approaches that do not fit the traditional managed security service (MSS) model (see "Magic Quadrant for Managed Security Services, Worldwide" ). Security event monitoring in many organizations is focused on internet and network perimeter, ingress-egress traffic only, rather than lateral (east-west) movement, once an attacker is inside the organization. MDR providers' services leverage two or more of the five styles of advanced threat defense, along with security analytics, which can be expensive, difficult to obtain and hard to sustain for many organizations, especially small or midsize businesses (SMBs) and small enterprises (see "Five Styles of Advanced Threat Defense," "The Fast-Evolving State of Security Analytics, 2016" and "Demystifying Security Analytics: Sources, Methods and Use Cases" ).

MDR services are characterized by the following attributes:

  • A focus on threat-detection-only use cases, especially attacks that have bypassed preventative security controls. Compliance use cases are not a focus, and are not usually addressed.

  • The delivery of services using the provider's curated technology stack, deployed on a customer's premises, which may include one or more tools, usually focused on network- and host-based solutions:

    • These vendor-provided tools are not only positioned at internet gateways, but are inward-facing to detect threats missed by traditional perimeter security technologies.

    • These tools are managed and monitored by the provider.

    • The types of tools and detection methods used by the providers vary in the use of logs, network flows and network traffic (e.g., full packet capture), endpoint activity through the use of endpoint detection and response-type tools (see "Market Guide for Endpoint Detection and Response Solutions" ) and deception technologies (see "Applying Deception Technologies and Techniques to Improve Threat Detection and Response" ). Some vendors rely solely on network security monitoring; others rely on endpoint agents only and many leverage a combination of these technologies in their "stack."

    • Few MDR providers rely solely on logs generated by a customer's security tools to monitor and detect threats. They require some component of their technology stack to deliver the service to curate the type of logs fed into their analytics platform.

  • Security event management and analysis technology that commonly uses threat intelligence and advanced data analytics is at the core of these services. The data management and analytic platforms are fed events from the vendor's technology stack (and, in some cases, customer-owned technologies as well). MDR providers increasingly emphasize the need to curate the data required to ensure that incidents are detected with higher fidelity, and, more importantly, that the right type of event and contextual data is available to the provider's analysts. This is visible to the customer as richer information and targeted, action-oriented advice, when alerted to a potential security incident.

  • 24/7 monitoring, analysis and customer alerting of security events with incident triage performed by a person (e.g., not relying just on automation to add some context to an event). There tends to be more direct communication with security operations center (SOC) analysts and less emphasis on using a portal for alerting, investigation, case management and workflow activities.

  • Incident validation and remote response services, which may include one or more actions, such as identifying indicators of compromise (IOCs), sandboxing and reverse engineering malware, and consulting on containment and remediation are included in the service, without the need for an incident-response-specific retainer or agreement. Retainers are reserved for significant circumstances and may be performed remotely (if feasible and time-critical) or via on-site breach response services.

  • Assistance with remediation actions in bringing the environment back to some form of "known good" is sometimes included or may be available as an additional service. During the past year, containment of a threat has become visible in the offerings from several providers (and is addressed in more detail in the Market Direction section).

Market Direction

MDR is still an emerging market, as Gartner observes new entrants coming into the market (and anticipates additional provides entering the market during the next several years), combined with significant variability across the providers' approaches. MDR services can take a variety of forms, and we continue to see new approaches being introduced. With the introduction of the concept of MDR services, the number of providers that offer services that align to the MDR market definition, rather than the definition of an MSSP (see Table 1), has become more visible during the past 12 months. Several of these MSSPs leaned more toward MDR, while providing only a few elements associated with MSSs. Increasingly, MSSPs, both global and regional, have added MDR-type services to their portfolios.

Table 1.   Differences Between MDR and MSS




Security event log and context sources

Proprietary technology stack provided by the provider and deployed at the customer's premises, which is included in the service price

Event-source-agnostic. Data sent to the provider is determined by the customer.

Remote device management

Only for their own technology stacks

Yes. Vendor-agnostic for most common security controls — e.g., firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDSs), intrusion prevention systems (IPSs) or web gateways — or tools deployed with MDR-type services.

Compliance reporting

Very rarely


Interface to service

Rely on more-direct communication (voice, email) to analysts, rather than portals.

Portal and email acts as the primary interface, with secondary access to analysts provided via chat functions and phone.

Incident response support

Lightweight, remote, incident response support typically included in basic services. On-site incident response provided by retainer.

Both remote and on-site provided by a separate retainer.

Incident containment

Provided using provided technology stack or customer-owned technologies, leveraging scripts and APIs to programmatically make changes.

When remote, full management of security controls is managed for a customer and MDR-type services are offered — e.g., managed endpoint detection and response (EDR).

Provide service-level agreements (SLA) for incident detection and response



Source: Gartner (May 2017)

Demand from the SMB and small-enterprise space has been particularly strong, as MDR services hit a "sweet spot" with these organizations, due to their lack of investment in threat detection capabilities. Within the SMB and small-enterprise buyer space, we see some MDR vendors specifically focusing on the small business and smaller midsize organizations (e.g., up to 300 employees) with small IT teams and minimal investment in security. Other providers are targeting organizations from 500 to 2,000 employees that have some security controls and, possibly, a couple of full-time security analysts.

As anticipated, during the past 12 months, we are seeing buyers demand even more incident response capabilities from the providers, which are becoming visible in the market as "incident containment" capabilities. The SMB and small-enterprise buyers have been driving demand more than enterprise customers. This is expected, as larger enterprises generally have made the investments in security teams that are resourced to perform their own incident validation and coordinate response activities. Larger enterprises tend to be staffed 24/7 and to have more segmented IT responsibilities. Allowing a third party to make changes to security technologies on their behalf may conflict with IT culture, risk tolerance for changes being made that could affect business operations, or even policies and procedures in heavily regulated environments that prevent ad hoc changes from being made. SMB organizations tend to have fewer of these concerns and are more risk-tolerant (e.g., the risk of a business impact from a bad firewall change versus ransomware encrypting critical data).

Containment can take various forms, and there is not one dominant approach in the market. Example containment methods include programmatically changing firewall rules via APIs to block an IP address, isolating a process or a host from the network using an endpoint agent, locking user accounts in Active Directory, integrating with a customer's network access control (NAC) tool, and blocking network activity via DNS requests and TCP resets.

MSSPs are accelerating toward MDR, while MDR service providers are slowly adding more MSSP-type capabilities (see Figure 1). MSSPs have begun to enter the MDR market with offerings that supplement their existing services (see the MSS Portfolio section in "Magic Quadrant for Managed Security Services, Worldwide" ). These offerings tend to be purchased by buyers who have specific MSS requirements that cannot be met by MDR providers (e.g., device management, vulnerability management, compliance reporting) and want more "advanced threat detection," along with traditional MSSs. Accordingly, Gartner has updated the associated Strategic Planning Assumption, based on what has been observed in the market. We believe that 80% of all global MSSPs will have an MDR-type service offering by 2020.

Figure 1. MDR Service Providers in Relation to MSSPs
Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (May 2017)

The overlap between most MSSPs and MDR providers is still limited to a couple of services — e.g., managed EDR and threat hunting. Clients should be wary of claims from traditional MSSPs on their ability to deliver MDR-like services. Delivering these services requires technologies not traditionally in scope for MSS, such as endpoint threat detection and response, network behavior analysis and network forensic tools. Those exploring MSSPs for these services should assess the MSSPs' expertise in running the technologies, using them to effectively identify and respond to breaches. They need to understand how MSSP incident response services that may provide some of these capabilities are integrated.

Many MSSPs won't be viewed as competition against MDR services. Leading MSSPs will close the gap, but many won't, and those that try it may require a couple of years. Operating inside the network and doing response work is not the "traditional" mode of operation for most MSSPs. Thus, SOC staff skills and processes will need to be updated to bridge this gap. The difference between MSSPs and leading MDR providers is expected to continue to favor MDR-specific players for at least another five years, or perhaps longer.

Market Analysis

When Gartner defined MDR services in 2016, there was an expectation that the market was broader than what was visible on the surface. This turned out to be true (See the Representative Vendors section). Three elements of the MDR market best define its current state:

  • It is a dynamic market that is witnessing new vendors entering and trying to differentiate themselves against existing vendors, who themselves are adjusting their branding and offerings.

  • Although the promised outcomes are usually the same (e.g., detect threats), the methods to deliver the service to customers, the level of incident response services provided and the target customers vary.

  • There is some overlap with MSSPs, with an expectation that the MSSPs will react to these new MDR services providers by adjusting their offerings and adding new ones to compete.

MDR providers generally target two types of buyers:

  • Those with minimal investments in security-monitoring expertise and tools

  • Well-invested buyers that have reached a specific level of maturity, or have started investing, in people and tools, but are looking for a provider to augment current capabilities (e.g., fill a gap, while an internal SOC is being implemented)

The latter group is looking to provide a "second set of eyes" on internal security monitoring services, and to augment existing internal capabilities focused on detecting advanced threats against an organization.

The technology stacks employed by the MDR providers continue to evolve. The two primary approaches used — network and endpoint agent — remain the most common, but we continue to see more-comprehensive technology stacks that cover the gamut of the monitoring options being deployed. Providers that were oriented toward a single approach (e.g., internet ingress/egress network traffic monitoring only, or identified improvements in their technology stacks) have begun plugging those gaps:

  • EDR agents are a common technology — especially those offering active response capabilities. Most providers are aligned with a single EDR vendor (especially if it's their own technology), but we increasingly see MDR providers adopt several providers, adjusting to customer demand.

  • Increasingly network-monitoring capabilities using on-premises deployed sensors (physical or virtual) that already perform signature-based detections, full packet capture and deep packet inspection, are being extended to include other vectors, such as DNS traffic and netflow data.

  • Email monitoring is slowly being incorporated to move monitoring up the cyber kill chain — e.g., to the delivery phase, rather than focusing solely on the command and control (C2) phase (see "Addressing the Cyber Kill Chain" ).

  • Deception technologies are being offered by a few vendors to address such challenges as accelerating service implementation and concerns about deploying EDR agents onto endpoints in challenging geographies, such as Europe (due to privacy and user-monitoring concerns).

Another critical component observed with MDR services is reliance on advanced analytics in log analysis platforms. MDR providers have entered this market with the ability to leverage commodity big data analytics platforms, such as Hadoop, Elastic and NoSQL, along with a growing pool of data science talent. There are also many options available on the market for curated threat intelligence that can be purchased from third parties, if the intelligence is not generated in-house. This big data analytics approach takes the curated data out of the provider's technology stack and enables them to do more-precise, real-time threat detection, using advanced analytics (e.g., machine learning), supported by higher-fidelity threat intelligence.

The ability to collect large volumes of data also helps the MDR providers' incident investigation and response activities. Investment in log and data capture and analysis capabilities enables MDR providers to invest in smaller teams of experienced analysts focused on incident investigation and response. It also allows many vendors to perform automated and manual threat hunting through their customers' logs and data, looking for IOCs.

However, some MDR providers have not invested in these analytic platforms and may leverage commercial, off-the-shelf systems, including traditional security information and event management (SIEM) solutions. This does not necessarily imply that a lack of advanced analytics and machine learning is an impediment to doing more-precise threat detection; however, buyers should ask potential vendors how they perform analytics, what tools and methods they employ, and how they differentiate their services from those of their competitors.

"Response" is the key element of the MDR. Many MSSPs offer basic detection and alerting services, and the customer's security team (which needs to have adequate resources) is responsible for providing additional incident, analysis and associated response activities. Gartner clients want more-comprehensive services than are typically provided by many MSSPs — customers often receive an alert of a suspected incident that has minimal information, and are then left to fend for themselves using the MSSP's portal capabilities. MDR services include varying degrees of "lightweight," remote incident response services as part of the core services. MDR providers favor dedicated incident response experts to man their SOCs, who validate potential incidents, assemble the appropriate context, investigate as much as is feasible about the scope and severity given the information and tools available, and make recommendations, so the customer can quickly start containment and remediation activities (if not done by the MDR provider).

MDR service providers, by virtue of their delivery approach (e.g., using their own technology stacks and machine-learning-driven analytic platforms) do not have to adapt to the technologies or data sources deployed by the customer. However, this often means customers have little input on refining the detection methods used by the MDR providers. For many customers, this is acceptable, because they want to rely on the provider's expertise to detect threats.

Gartner has seen pricing models that are based solely on the size of an organization, which is a common approach. However, there are also models that are based on a variety of factors, usually related to the technology stack employed, such as a combination of organization size, number of network appliances and EDR agents required. Some providers are more closely aligned with some MSSP pricing models, based on the volume or velocity of events generated and forwarded for analysis. Finally, some providers are employing approaches based on the number of incidents generated by a customer.

Representative Vendors

The vendors listed in this Market Guide do not imply an exhaustive list. This section is intended to provide more understanding of the market and its offerings.

  • Alert Logic

  • Arctic Wolf Networks

  • Cisco

  • CrowdStrike

  • CSIS

  • Cybereason

  • Cynet Systems

  • Datashield

  • eSentire

  • F-Secure

  • FireEye

  • Ingalls Information Security

  • IronNet Cybersecurity

  • K2 Intelligence

  • Kudelski Security

  • Mnemonic

  • MWR InfoSecurity

  • Morphick

  • NCC Group

  • Netswitch

  • NetWatcher

  • Paladion

  • Proficio

  • Rapid7

  • Raytheon Foreground Security

  • Red Canary

  • Rook Security

  • SecureLink

  • UnitedLex

  • Vigilant

Market Recommendations

  • MDR buyers should tread carefully. The MDR services market is still new, in comparison with MSS. It lacks broad visibility with end-user buyers and does not yet have the battle scars other security monitoring approaches (e.g., SIEMs and MSSs) have collected as part of the assessment, use and validation by customers.

  • Do not assume that all MDR vendors are the same. Choose a vendor that is oriented toward your organization's size, security maturity level, specific requirements, and existing threat detection and response capabilities. There is sufficient variability across offerings, delivery models, vertical expertise and pricing that can make direct comparisons challenging. Having a strong set of requirements at the beginning will ease the analysis and selection process.

  • SMB and enterprise buyers should evaluate providers based on security technologies deployed and expertise in your organization, looking for those vendors who best meet requirements, while filling the gaps in tools and expertise coverage.

  • Organizations that have not yet invested in detection and response technologies and internal capabilities should focus on MDR providers with comprehensive technology stacks that cover real-time threat detection and historic/forensic capabilities across networks and hosts.

  • Enterprises considering implementing an SOC should not go it alone. Look to an MDR service provider as a partner that can augment your SOC as it is being implemented and matured. This allows you to quickly implement mature threat detection and response capabilities, rather than having to build from scratch. This can mean an SOC is operating at a greater maturity level in several months, rather than several years.

  • Use proofs of concept to your advantage to validate claims and fit for purpose with your organization's requirements. Most MDR providers lack the vetting and decades of competition that MSSPs have faced. Therefore, there is an increased burden on the customer to perform sufficient due diligence on the MDR providers before signing a contract.

  • If you have data residency and strong privacy or other compliance requirements, validate that the MDR providers can comply with them. For example, by operating within your geographic region or those using a data collection architecture in which your data remains on-premises and only metadata or event data is sent back to a central SOC, and by leveraging deception technologies, rather than deploying EDR agents across an organization.

Note 1
Organization Size Definitions

Gartner defines an enterprise business as one with more than 1,000 employees and more than $1 billion in annual revenue. Gartner defines a midsize business as "[a] business that, due to its size, has different IT requirements — and often faces different IT challenges — than do large enterprises, and whose IT resources (usually budget and staff) are often highly constrained." Midsize enterprises have 100 to 999 employees, with $50 million to $1 billion in annual revenue.