Cortex XDR: Capabilities, Architecture, and Benefits

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Do you care about your organization’s cybersecurity? Are you worried about the many looming, rapidly increasing threats?

Businesses get attacked every 39 seconds. So you should be (at least a little) worried.

Consider protecting your entire organization from  cyber attacks with an Extended Detection and Response (XDR) strategy. Remember, XDR is just good security.

Originally released in January 2020, Palo Alto Networks’s latest platform Cortex XDR is one of the most popular XDR offerings. So, what is Cortex XDR? How does it work? What are its features and key capabilities?

Read on for an overview and honest review of Cortex XDR.

What Is Cortex XDR?

The value proposition of Cortex XDR is simple: the product serves as an extended detection and response platform. A single tool for all security needs. 

Cortex XDR can help you monitor and respond across all pillars of IT: cloud, network, and endpoint events and data. Then, you can merge signals and logs  to consolidate  incident prevention, detection, analysis, and response in a single centralized platform.

The software has two different versions: Cortex XDR Prevent and Cortex XDR Pro. For a breakdown on their features and differences, see the comparison table below.

Cortex XDR’s advanced capabilities include:

  • Security Agents
  • Alerts
  • Next-generation firewalls
  • Analytics engine.

Features of Cortex XDR: Comparing Prevent and Pro

Cortex XDR Prevent
Cortex XDR Pro
Endpoint protection
Device control, disk encryption, firewall, incident response, threat intelligence feed
30-day archive of security alerts
Network, cloud, and third-party tool monitoring
Behavior analytics, rule-based detection, investigation insights
30-day archive of endpoint and network data

How does it work? Cortex XDR Architecture

Barring some variations between the product versions, Cortex XDR includes several standard components. Designed to correlate log data across your devices, both versions depend on the Cortex Data Lake.

Basic Platform Components

Cortex XDR App is a user interface (UI) providing visibility to your Data Lake that allows you to:

  • Triage and investigate alerts.
  • Take action for remediation.
  • Define your detection and response policies.

Cortex Data Lake is a storage resource for cloud-based logging that allows you to:

  • Hold your log data from all sources.
  • Centralize your data.
  • Correlate events and create alerts.

Advanced Platform Components

Analytics engine is a security service that allows you to:

  • Detect and respond to threats using network and endpoint data.
  • Identify known and unknown using behavioral analytics.

Next-generation firewalls is a virtual or on-premise firewalls that allows you to:

  • Enforce secure traffic policies in your network.
  • Include machine learning technologies to detect known and unknown threats.

Prisma Access and GlobalProtect allow you to:

  • Extend your firewall protections to remote and mobile users.
  • Forward remote traffic logs to your Data Lake for joint correlation with local logs.

You can use external firewalls and alerts with the Cortex XDR API to:

  • Ingest external firewall logs and alerts into your Cortex XDR system through integration.
  • Combine these data points with your Cortex data for a more thorough response.

Cortex XDR agents is a software installed on endpoints that allows you to:

  • Collect and forward data to the Data Lake for joint analysis.
  • Perform local analysis.
  • Integrate WildFire threat intelligence for improved detection of threats.

Key Capabilities

Cortex XDR’s endpoint protection consistently rates superior to alternative products, with 98% or even 100% ratings in performance tests.

Cortex XDR can protect your networks and devices with several key capabilities.

Safeguard Assets With Endpoint Protection

You can use an AI-based analysis engine to scan any downloaded files on your endpoints for malware and other security vulnerabilities.

Securely Manage USB Devices

Cortex XDR can detect any unusual activity within USB access to endpoints.

Limit access and quarantine devices when necessary based on endpoint, type, vendor, or other identities and permissions.

Protect Endpoint Data With Host Firewall and Disk Encryption

Protect endpoints from malicious network traffic with firewalls and disk encryption.

You can manage firewall and encryption settings from the UI console. So you can directly integrate disk encryption with BitLocker, and encrypt or decrypt data on your endpoints.

Hunt For Threats

Detect any security threats across all of your system and event data.

Identify unusual activity by searching based on threat signatures, hashes, addresses, or metadata.

Natively Integrate With Cortex XSOAR

You can directly integrate Cortex XSOAR (security orchestration, automation, and response) into Cortex XDR. SOAR solutions allow automated responses to low-level threats, significantly speeding response time.

Define actions across third-party tools and incorporate incident data or access alerts.

Benefits of Cortex XDR

  1. 8x faster investigations: verify threats and understand the complete scope of attacks with root cause analysis.
  2. 98% reduction in alerts: group related alerts to speed up analysis and threat detection.
  3. 44% lower costs: integrate your tools together in one platform and avoid extra software costs.

Flaws of Cortex XDR

Despite its many benefits, some have mentioned a few cons and limitations of Cortex XDR.

  1. “Rather expensive”: some users complained it was quite costly to install.
  2. “Too many options”: Many Reddit users reported being lost. Another said, “It’s one of the most confusing interfaces I’ve seen.”
  3. “Need more”: One user expressed a need for “additional functionality,” such as “flexible reporting” and “more visibility into agents and their hardening from the solution itself.”


Final Verdict: Is Cortex XDR worth it?

Ultimately, while Cortex XDR is not perfect, it can be an effective platform to protect you from threats.

But XDR is XDR, whether through Palo Alto’s implementation or anyone else’s. Don’t get caught in a vicious cycle of buying the latest, most trendy software. That approach is too expensive and not sustainable, especially now when most companies are slashing budgets for cybersecurity and IT.

Instead, embrace XDR as a methodology independent of tools. To implement XDR, you can use any solution that:

  • Detects security threats everywhere in your system, including networks and cloud
  • Consolidates all of your security information into one clear dashboard. 

Rather than having your different tools and logs all over the place, XDR helps you put all your cybersecurity activities into one coherent, integrated system.

While some dedicated tools are “XDR platforms” you can implement XDR with any tools. So, implement it into the system you already have, and avoid extra costs.

Pareto Cyber: Your Trusted Partner in Cyber Prevention & Defense

How can you implement XDR with the technologies  you already have, you might ask? 

Get in touch with a managed security services provider like Pareto Cyber. Our team can perform a  complementary risk assessment and technology rationalization to understand a better option to replace your full technology stack.. Don’t worry, our approach is completely tool agnostic.

So, what are you waiting for? Implement Cortex—or whatever—XDR, with dedicated security analysts from Pareto Cyber. We will make your tools work for you.