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An MSSP, or Managed Security Service Provider, is an IT service provider that offers security services to small and enterprise businesses. The principal role of an MSSP is to protect an organization’s network and business assets from cybersecurity threats and attacks.

The growing sophistication and aggression of the threat landscape coupled with an ongoing cybersecurity skills shortage has made MSSPs an essential resource for helping organizations improve and maintain the security of their IT environments.

Below we’ll look at what services MSSPs offer, how they help organizations improve their security posture, and how they differ from other IT service providers.

What are MSSPs used for?

Organizations of all sizes use MSSPs to support their in-house security operations. They may outsource some or all of a range of common security tasks such as anti-virus, firewall management, and intrusion prevention and detection. The MSSP typically manages these systems, maintains their health, and provides the security output from them back to the business. It may also provide the business with security recommendations and help develop security policies to improve the protection of the company’s network infrastructure.

MSSPs are a cost-effective and efficient way for businesses to improve and maintain their security posture. They help resource-constrained security teams extend their capabilities while reducing the number of security personnel the business needs to hire and train. The business can tap into the MSSP’s security expertise and resources at a manageable cost, reducing the complexity of protecting the company network.

What services do MSSPs provide?

MSSPs continuously monitor a business’ IT environment to ensure security devices and systems function optimally and don’t show signs of existing or potential cyber threats. This includes configuring and monitoring a range of security technology and performing analysis and reporting of security events. While specific services offered vary by MSSP, some common ones include:

  • Managed firewall — A managed firewall is a service in which a team of security experts oversees the administration, monitoring, and management of the company firewall. Typically, the service includes firewall installation, setting up application control and web content filtering, and managing updates and patching. Managed firewall services improve threat management by establishing security parameters according to the company’s network traffic patterns. When an event outside these parameters is detected, it triggers an alert so the security team can investigate and respond to potential threats.
  • Intrusion detection — The aggressiveness of today’s threat landscape necessitates that networks be continuously monitored for possible cyberattacks. MSSPs use intrusion detection and intrusion prevention systems to identify and block anomalous network traffic that may represent a threat. MSSPs bring expertise in configuring intrusion detection systems to recognize the difference between normal network traffic and traffic that signals malicious activity.
  • Patch management — Patching is an important function in reducing the attack surface that may be exploited by cybercriminals.  Common areas that will need patches include operating systems, applications, network equipment.   MSSP’s will work with the business in creating a patching schedule which minimizes business interruption.
  • Penetration Testing — Penetration testing (also known as pen-testing) entails simulating a cyberattack against the organization’s prevention and detection controls.  This is a form of ethical hacking which is effective in surfacing coverage gaps that may be used by bad actors.
  • Compliance monitoring and management — MSSPs can help organizations in highly regulated industries prove they’re in compliance with government and industry regulations. They stay on top of changes to regulatory mandates such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and assess, track, and document the organization’s security state to show it is in continuous compliance.

What is the difference between an MSP and an MSSP?

MSSPs are easily confused with MSPs, or Managed Service Providers. Though both provide IT services, they have different focuses.

MSPs are third-party organizations that typically work with small and medium businesses performing a variety of IT services. They often provide day-to-day management of the organization’s IT infrastructure and end-user systems through technical support, hardware repair, data storage and backup, help desk support, and more. They may also provide a basic level of cybersecurity. However, an MSP’s emphasis is on facilitating easy and efficient access to information systems.

MSSPs’ primary focus is cybersecurity. They provide highly specialized security expertise and functionality. While MSSPs may improve IT efficiencies in the course of their work, their goal is to provide a high level of security and to detect and respond to security vulnerabilities and threats before they impact the organization.

Another difference between MSPs and MSSPs is how they operate within the organization. MSPs typically establish a Network Operations Center (NOC) within the client company, from which they administrate the company’s IT operations. Conversely, MSSPs establish a Security Operations Center (SOC) from which they monitor, detect, and respond to threats to the company’s IT infrastructure 24/7.

It’s not uncommon for organizations to rely on both an MSP and an MSSP to ensure the overall efficiency and security of their IT infrastructure.

What are the benefits of using an MSSP?

Partnering with an MSSP brings several benefits, including:

An expanded security team

While the skills gap in the cybersecurity industry isn’t a new problem, it continues to be a significant one. It’s expected that 3.5 million cybersecurity positions will be left vacant globally by the end of 2021 because there are not enough skilled applicants to fill them. As organizations struggle to attract and retain the security talent they need to protect their IT environments, IT departments feel mounting pressure to get more done with fewer personnel.

Partnering with an MSSP enables an organization’s understaffed IT departments to expand its security team. The company gets access to a bigger pool of skilled security talent at a lower cost than hiring and training them in-house.

Access to greater security expertise

Cybersecurity personnel with specialized skill sets is even tougher for organizations to attract than general security talent. Without an in-house understanding of cloud security concepts such as the shared responsibility model, for example, an organization’s assets may be vulnerable to attacks.

An MSSP provides organizations access to a range of specialized knowledge and experience. They can provide skill-strapped companies with the tools and training to identify and close critical security gaps that would otherwise leave sensitive systems and data exposed to an attack that would harm their customers and damage the organization’s reputation.

More time for core business priorities

Organizations’ in-house IT teams are responsible for ensuring the integrity and availability of business-critical data and applications. Managing security devices, maintaining security policies, and other security duties strains teams’ resources and distracts them from their core responsibilities. This extra burden is a common driver of disengagement and high turnover of IT staff.

Partnering with an MSSP can help companies alleviate the pressure on their IT teams. As the MSSP takes over routine but necessary security tasks, the in-house team gains more time to allocate to core goals like maintaining uptime and providing IT support, while being relieved of the stresses that contribute to high attrition.

Faster incident response

Rapid response to cybersecurity incidents is critical for minimizing the impact on the organization and its customers. The more time an attacker spends inside the company’s network, the more opportunity they have to inflict significant and lasting damage. Unfortunately, most organizations lack the necessary expertise and resources to respond quickly and effectively to security incidents.

MSSPs provide an organization with access to dedicated incident response teams. Through their large client bases, MSSPs deal with many more incidents than any individual organization, giving them deep expertise and experience in-house IT teams can’t match. MSSPs employ professionals with specialized skill sets such as digital forensics, malware analysis, and threat hunting who are uniquely suited to determining the scope of an attack and the most effective way to remediate it.

Cost savings

Perhaps the biggest benefit of working with an MSSP is the cost savings. Once you factor in the salary, overtime, and employee benefits involved in hiring a single security analyst, plus the software and hardware they need to do their job, the costs of maintaining a 3–5-person cybersecurity team quickly becomes prohibitive for many organizations. Partnering with an MSSP, on the other hand, is a more predictable expense and one that is usually just a fraction of what it would cost to maintain an internal cybersecurity team.

MSSPs are an essential ally in the fight against cyberthreats

As cyber threats grow in frequency and sophistication, overburdened security teams are being asked to protect an ever-expanding attack surface. At the same time, they’re being given increasingly complicated tools with which to defend against it. Few organizations have the resources or security expertise to manage this complexity, making protecting their IT environments an uphill struggle. MSSPs are an essential ally in the ongoing battle against malicious actors looking to steal sensitive information or damage an organization’s reputation.

Alert Logic has a strong partner ecosystem that can help you with your security needs. You can find our partners here: https://www.alertlogic.com/partners/our-partners/

Antonio Sanchez
About the Author
Antonio Sanchez
Antonio Sanchez serves on the Product Marketing team at Alert Logic. He has over 20 years of experience in the IT industry focusing on cyber security, information management, and disaster recovery solutions to help organizations of all sizes manage threats and improve their security posture. Antonio is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and has held various leadership roles at Symantec, Forcepoint, and Dell.

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