Managed security services explained: what is an MSSP?

August 3, 2020 | Nick Cavalancia

This blog was written by a third party author

A managed security service provider (MSSP) is an IT service provider that focuses on delivering outsourced cybersecurity monitoring and management services to organizations. Different than a Managed IT Services Provider (MSP) that focuses on managing, maintaining, and servicing an organizations IT environment, MSSPs concern themselves with the continuous state of their customer’s security stance.

What services do MSSPs provide?

Not every MSSP offers identical services to the next. But, in general, there are a few common services MSSPs offer across the board:

  • Continuous security monitoring and management – MSSPs work to ensure security devices and systems are functional and show no existing or eminent threats. The use of continuous monitoring provides the MSSP with real-time visibility into an organization’s current state of security while monitoring for cyberthreats. This includes analysis and reporting of security events from a wide range of solutions and data types, including network traffic, endpoint security solutions, infrastructure logs and/or SIEM solutions.
  • Vulnerability management – MSSPs help organizations identify, prioritize, and remediate known vulnerabilities that can be used by cybercriminals to gain access to applications, systems, and data. Vulnerability Management services can range from simply providing vulnerability assessments of networks, systems, and applications (with the customer organization doing the remediation), to full-blown vulnerability management where discovered vulnerabilities are also remediated through automated patching and system reconfiguration.
  • Intrusion management – Networks need to be continually monitored for possible cyberattack. MSSPs leverage intrusion detection and intrusion prevention systems to look for and block anomalous network traffic that may potentially be malicious in nature.
  • Security technology management – MSSPs handle the daily management of advanced threat defense technologies, unified threat management, security gateways, firewalls, VPNs and more.
  • Threat hunting – This is a service that proactively identifies and eradicates threats in your environment using computer forensics, cyber threat intelligence and malware analysis.
  • Security compliance monitoring and management – Organizations required to prove their state of security is compliance with government and industry regulations rely on MSSPs to assess, track and document the state of an organization’s adherence to compliance mandates such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Why would organizations use an MSSP?

The outsourcing of such a critical aspect of business operations requires that doing so provides an organization with significant benefits. Due to the material impact data breaches and ransomware attacks have had on organizations, with post-attack costs reaching into the tens of millions, the idea of putting the safety of the network into a provider’s hands can be daunting.

Even with such critical levels of importance, organizations choose to leverage MSSPs to manage their security a number of reasons:

1) Expertise – MSSPs maintain a staff that are experts on many aspects of cybersecurity. Organizations concerned with cyberattacks and the fortification of their environment’s security often find they are lacking internal expertise. Outsourcing to an MSSP extends the internal IT team to include security experts or an entire Security Operations Center (SOC), providing an organization with a potentially global security footprint.

2) Focus – Some internal security staff still need to wear a few additional hats, making security not a full-time priority. This puts the organization at risk. MSSPs are 100% focused on providing continuous security monitoring and management services, resulting in better protection for an environment.

3) Cost – Using a MSSP can often offer cost savings to an organization. The budget necessary for an organization to pay for a full range of in-house cybersecurity experts, along with the needed hardware, software, tools, etc. has the potential to be overwhelming. MSSPs can be a cost-effective option, where organizations simply pay a monthly fee, rather than be caught up in capital expenditures, amortization, and shifting internal budgets.

4) Improved response and investigation – when attacks occur and are discovered, MSSPs deliver far-faster response times by security teams dedicated to investigation and remediation. Better response times can equate to a smaller attack scope and even stopping a threat before any real damage is done.

5) Insight & intelligence – Organizations tend to be solution-centric, leveraging one or more security solutions, but not using them in concert to provide a holistic view of their security stance. MSSPs utilize multiple security data sources to gain a comprehensive understanding of how an organization is protected and how effective is that protection, leveraging their expertise across a wide range of customers to help organizations make insightful decisions on how to improve their security stance.

Who should use managed security services?

Every organization needs to be concerned about their ability to secure their environment against cyberattacks. But not every organizations decides to utilize an MSSP. So, who typically uses an MSSP:

Small and mid-sized businesses

Organizations with less than 500 employees that recognize the need for enhanced security but lack the internal expertise or budget are viable candidates for employing an MSSP.

Enterprise organizations typically have one or more IT security specialists on staff, but still often leverage an MSSP for specific services the organization cannot deliver cost-effectively themselves.

Those needing 24 x 7 security

Sure, security software solutions work around the clock, but internal IT teams aren’t necessary able to respond in the same fashion. Competing IT priorities and limited staffing can stifle the organization’s ability to ensure its security. MSSPs have people, process, and technology in place to monitor and manage an organization’s security every day, any time.

Regulated industries

Certain industry verticals – such as healthcare, financial, and insurance – are heavily regulated, which includes establishing and maintaining very specific levels of security. MSSPs can offer industry-specific expertise to ensure these organizations are both secure and compliant.

Those that can’t afford risk

The risk cyberattacks pose to a business is both tangible and measurable. Organizations that understand the realities of cyber-risk also realize how leveraging an MSSP to reduce those risks is a cost-effective choice when compared to the cost of remediating a breach or ransomware attack. 

To learn if your company should invest in an MSSP, benchmark your cybersecurity maturity with this assessment tool.

Nick Cavalancia

About the Author: Nick Cavalancia

Nick Cavalancia is a Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter MVP, has over 25 years of enterprise IT experience, is an accomplished consultant, speaker, trainer, writer, and columnist, and has achieved industry certifications including MCSE, MCT, Master CNE, Master CNI. Nick regularly speaks, writes and blogs for some of the most recognized tech companies today on topics including cybersecurity, cloud adoption, business continuity, and compliance.

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