When evaluating managed cybersecurity solutions, you’ll likely come across one primary consideration; MDR vs. MSSP. These two solutions often go head-to-head in the industry, as many perceive them to be relatively similar.

However, upon digging deeper, you’ll find that while each have their own benefits, they also come with some significant differences — differences that can make or break your decision.

In this post, we’ll examine six such differences that you should be aware of when selecting a cybersecurity solution and how to decide which is best suited for your organization.

What Is MDR?

Managed detection and response (MDR) solutions identify active threats and quickly respond to either eliminate, investigate, or contain them. These solutions use a combination of technology and human expertise to monitor your environment, catch emerging and active threats, and respond accordingly.

MDR significantly reduces the time it takes for companies to detect compromised assets. To put this in perspective, in 2023, on average it took 277 days to identify and contain a breach; with an MDR solution, it can take mere hours.

[Related Reading: What Is Managed Detection and Response?]

What Is MSSP?

Managed security service providers (MSSPs) monitor security networks and send alerts when an anomaly is detected.

Taking into account that MDR is often considered a subset of MSSP, you may be wondering how this comparison between the two levels out. While one may be the parent solution, and not necessarily on the same playing field as MDR, the two are brought head-to-head in the industry when comparing security solutions.

In actuality, either one can be effective — the choice depends on the organization and the needs to be met. MSSPs are widespread and offer a bird’s eye view of your security posture. MDR, on the other hand, goes deeper, leveraging the human expertise required to best detect and analyze any threats and respond to vulnerabilities.

Although MSSPs will encompass MDR work, MSSPs alone do not work to eliminate threats — this solution is much more focused on prevention, with the response element left up to the customer. In fact, it’s common for MSSPs to acquire other services to take on that missing, but critical, response element.

[Further Reading: What Is an MSSP?]

MDR vs. MSSP: What’s the Difference?

While MDR and MSSP can both be beneficial, there are a few key differences in their functionality that should influence your decision. To start, it’s important that you understand the concept of Left of Boom (LoB) and Right of Boom (RoB). Boom indicates a successful attack on your systems; LoB speaks to the time prior to the breach, or the prevention period; RoB speaks to the period post-breach, or the response period.

PreBreach Boom Post Breach

Keeping that in mind, let’s jump into the key differences between MDR and MSSP:

  1. MSSPs focus on prevention. MSSP solutions often include firewalls, web gateways, intrusion prevention systems, and a host of other antivirus tools that keep threats out of your network. This is LoB territory, where MSSPs place focus and help to manage your prevention tools.
  2. MDR is driven by intelligence from data AND humans. With a team of cybersecurity professionals at the ready in 24/7 global security operations centers (SOCs), MDR services focus on both detection and response (addressing both sides of boom) and have the ability to actively monitor your network and act when needed. MSSPs rely more on automation to monitor networks and often exclude the response element of cybersecurity — you would only be notified that the threat exists.
  3. MDR works around the clock. Most MDR solutions function on a 24/7 capacity thanks to a well-staffed Security Operations Center (SOC). This way, you can be alerted to new threats and respond to them almost instantaneously. MSSPs usually have much more limited monitoring capabilities.
  4. MDR offers more forensics tools. MSSPs have a basic level of security forensics, adequate for small and mid-sized companies, but MDR often includes forensic tools that can reveal problems hiding in the darkest corners of your network.
  5. MSSPs are cheaper. Since MSSPs offer fewer services than most MDR solutions, they will usually come with a smaller price tag.

Which Is Best for Your Organization?

As companies have different needs and varying levels of existing security expertise and solutions, the MDR vs. MSSP decision can be difficult. Here are a few tips to help you weigh the options and select the best solution to achieve your desired outcomes.

When to Choose MDR

MDR offers advanced monitoring and threat resolution. This solution is best suited for you if:

  • Your company has a regulatory requirement to uphold a high level of security
  • You want to upgrade your current outsourced cybersecurity tools to include 24/7 monitoring and intelligent response, but you are resource constrained

MDR companies are dedicated to researching, analyzing, and detecting threats to be able to address them quickly and efficiently. Although there aren’t as many broad services offered by an MDR company when being compared to MSSPs, they are more heavily focused on keeping everything current and working as it should. MDR has been tried and tested as one of the most effective solutions within the umbrella of MSSP.

When to Choose MSSP

While MSSPs may not offer services as extensive as MDR, you should still consider this solution if:

  • You lack a cybersecurity monitoring system
  • You lack a patching program
  • You have the skillset within your company to manage the tools that you have purchased

MSSPs contain a wide range of services that touch a lot of aspects of cybersecurity, but only at a high level. For instance, they may focus on one set of activities or things, such as web content filtering, patching systems, managing firewall settings, etc. However, these things do not require deep security expertise, nor do they deliver on detection and response. MSSPs seem to find the most success when they can utilize and integrate 3rd party tools for security management and response.

Protect Your Network with Alert Logic

If you’re interested in learning more about managed detection and response vs. MSSP, we invite you to learn how Alert Logic MDR could help your business. Our experts will guide you toward the best cybersecurity for your business, so you don’t have to worry about threats to your network or organization.

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