What Are Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs)?

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Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs): A Short Summary

Managed Security Services refer to cybersecurity services for businesses performed by an outsourced team. These services are generally offered by Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs) and can entail the following:

  • Consultation on and design of security strategies and policies
  • Analysis of your system to find (potential) vulnerabilities
  • Advice on and implementation of security measures, such as encryption, authentication, firewalls, and VPN connections
  • Constant monitoring of your IT infrastructure to detect threats
  • Cyberattack remediation and resolution

There are many reasons why a business might consider using an MSSP, including:

  • Lack of financial capacity for an in-house cybersecurity department
  • Not being able to find sufficiently skilled and experienced personnel
  • A need for a specific security service your current personnel can’t offer
  • Lack of budget for advanced security tools
  • A need for constant monitoring of your systems

Check out the full article below to learn everything about managed security services and MSSPs.

The cybersecurity landscape has become a minefield in recent years, especially for businesses. In 2020, we saw a significant rise in cyberattacks during the pandemic, and complex social engineering threats are ever-prevalent. New technologies like Cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) change the way we work and increase the attack surface.

It’s vital, now more than ever, to protect your company, but sometimes you can’t do that all by yourself. We’ll have a look at the role managed security service providers (MSSPs) can play in improving your network security.

What Are Managed Security Services?

Laptop With LockManaged security services (sometimes called “security as a service”) refer to cybersecurity services provided by an external company. These services are a great solution for small or medium-sized businesses that don’t have the resources for their own dedicated cybersecurity personnel.

Just like regular cybersecurity personnel, a managed security service provider (MSSP), not to be mistaken for a managed service provider (MSP), can provide a wide range of services. They can both consult on and help implement security solutions. They can also monitor and respond to threats.

What does an MSSP do?

Services provided by MSSPs might include:

  • Advice on building a cybersecurity strategy: You can work with the managed security service provider to develop your general (network) security strategy.
  • Development of security policies: Work together to design your entire organization’s security policies.
  • Building and maintaining threat intelligence: An MSSP will look at your IT systems, as a whole, to perform threat detection and security audits, mitigation, and ultimately remediation when required.
  • Creation of a robust security infrastructure: An MSSP will have industry knowledge of tips, tricks, and techniques to build a robust and hardened IT infrastructure. An MSSP will be able to advise and configure (if required) areas such as encryption, authentication, and web or network security measures.
  • Threat monitoring and remediation: Ongoing threat monitoring of your IT systems is usually offered by MSSP firms. They will use tools such as intrusion detection and deception solutions to spot malicious activity and prevent the activity from becoming a full-blown incident. If an incident does occur, they will initiate a rapid incident response and often have backups in place to minimize the impact.

Why Would a (Small) Business Hire a Managed Security Service Provider?

Of course, having a dedicated, experienced, in-house cybersecurity team that’s (physically) available at all times is probably a dream come true for any IT department and company. However, there are multiple reasons why this might not be possible or why it’s better to (also) rely on managed security services. We’ll discuss some of these reasons below.

1. Finding experienced cybersecurity personnel is challenging

Because the demand for skilled IT professionals is so high, it can be challenging to find suitable personnel. This is even more extreme in the case of cybersecurity specialists, which are rarer than, say, software developers.

Moreover, this scarcity really drives up the price of good IT security personnel. For instance, the average US salary is about $52,000, while a cybersecurity specialist with a bachelor’s or master’s degree makes $73,000 or $89,000 on average respectively. This brings us to the next point.

2. Hiring a dedicated cybersecurity team in-house is too expensive

Laptop with money on itAlthough many organizations would like to have their own cybersecurity team, it might be too costly. After all, paying multiple wages like the ones specified above is simply not possible for many (small) companies.

The list below gives an indication of which positions you’ll need to fill to have an excellent in-house security team, and how much this will cost you.

These costs don’t include necessary tools and software, making it clear that solid cybersecurity for your business will cost you. Of course, there are always budget options. It’s possible to find IT specialists who offer their services for lower prices. Alternatively, you can purchase some cheap security tools and tinker with them yourself. The question is: do you want to risk leaving your company vulnerable just to save some money?

For many businesses, it makes more sense to procure the necessary managed security services by hiring a company that already has all of the right knowledge, people, equipment, and tools. This way, you can outsource your cybersecurity, saving you time, money, and effort.

3. You need a specific (one-time) service or skill

Even a company that already has (the majority of) its online security sorted out could benefit from managed security services. After all, in a field as complex as cybersecurity, there’s a good chance you’re missing some expertise or manpower in your company.

Also, even if you have great and enough personnel, IT security is such a delicate and important business you might want a second opinion regarding your security strategy. In this case, an MSSP can provide you with an evaluation of your current cybersecurity situation and advice on how to make it (even) better.

Alternatively, your company might face a specific threat your in-house IT security specialist needs help with. Let’s say you only have one cybersecurity specialist. One person, as knowledgeable as they are, can only know so much. With new cyber threats popping up constantly, it’s not unthinkable your in-house cybersecurity specialist will need external help at some point.

4. You need specific equipment and technology

smartphone with screen settings iconRemember that cybersecurity doesn’t just require the right people: it also requires the right tools. Many of these tools have to be bought and aren’t available on a subscription basis. This means that, regardless of how often and how much your security specialist will use the tool, you’ll have to pay a hefty sum to use it.

Moreover, even if you get great use out of the tools you buy, getting all the necessary ones is often a huge investment. This investment might pay off at some point, but many smaller companies might simply not have the funds for such an investment, while still needing adequate security solutions. This is where an MSSP is of benefit as well: they already have these tools.

5. Your business requires constant monitoring

Sometimes a business might require more than what an in-house security specialist can provide. Let’s say you require around-the-clock monitoring. It would be incredibly expensive (and perhaps simply not possible) to have in-house specialists take care of this. However, many MSSPs have the tools and number of personnel to make this a possibility at a more affordable price.

The Importance of Dedicated Cybersecurity

You might wonder whether your company actually needs a dedicated managed security service. After all, what is there to fear? Unfortunately, the answer is a lot.

The number of cyberattacks has grown significantly over the past years. With crafty new techniques popping up on the daily and ransomware running rampant, any business operating online is at risk.

At the same time, many company owners don’t take these threats seriously or don’t take the steps to protect their business adequately, which can have dire consequences. The cyberattack figures below give an indication of the severity of the situation:

  • In 2021 alone, a total of 4,145 confirmed data breaches amounted to 22 billion stolen data records. This was reported by “Security” Magazine.
  • From 2019 to 2020, in the EU, there was a 72% increase in cybercrime, according to EUobserver.
  • Mass cyberattacks, like the 2019 Facebook breach where 533 million accounts were exposed, are contributing to a spike in account takeovers.
  • According to IBM, the average data breach cost increased from $3.86 million in 2020 to $4.24 million in 2021. This is an almost 10% year-on-year increase and the largest increase since 2015. It was also the highest cost IBM had ever measured up until then.

Leaving your business, no matter how big or small, vulnerable to these many dangers can cost you dearly. Here, Managed Security Service Providers provide a solution.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Managed Security Service Provider?

What is Security Awwareness Training iconWe’ve already discussed some important reasons for businesses to consider a managed security service provider. However, with the extensive service offered by many MSSPs, there are many more advantages, some of which you might not have considered yet. We’ll list some of these benefits down below.

1. Improved threat detection

Large MSSPs are often globally-orientated enterprises that deal with all sorts of cyber threats all over the world. With so much exposure to new attacks, it’s likely that a global MSSP will learn about new threats before an in-house cybersecurity specialist or team would. Moreover, the fact that MSSPs have many security experts working together and exchanging information, further improves their knowledge of threat management and security monitoring.

2. Fast incident response

Since many MSSPs offer round-the-clock monitoring of your systems, they can offer fast responses to possible security breaches, whenever these take place. On the contrary, it might not be possible to get a hold of an in-house security specialist after working hours. Many might not even appreciate it. With an MSSP, you can greatly increase your incident response times.

3. Optimized security tools

It’s no secret that people in complex fields such as cybersecurity often have huge workloads. Just their day-to-day responsibilities might prevent them from expanding into other areas, such as finding a way to implement that nice new security tool your company spent thousands of dollars on.  An MSSP can offer relief in these situations and work with your organization to get the most out of your security resources.

Other Services Provided by an MSSP

So far, we have mentioned some key services that MSSPs can fulfill, such as consulting on a cybersecurity strategy, implementing and configuring security solutions, and monitoring and resolving threats. However, apart from these “standard” security services, there are some more services that MSSPs can offer. We’ll discuss these below.

Penetration testing

Something that’s very important in security but is often overlooked, is penetration testing of a client’s network. This refers to periodically, or on a one-time basis, thoroughly scanning your cyber defense mechanisms or actually trying to hack into your own network. This is done to detect specific threats that jeopardize your company’s cybersecurity.

Generally, as a part of this service, the MSSP conducting the test will send you a report of their findings. Of course, this service fits perfectly alongside consultation: they can tell you how to resolve the problem(s) they encountered. Of course, you can also opt to have the MSSP implement the security solutions they propose. This leads us to the next point.

Perimeter management

In military terms, a perimeter refers to a specific safe area belonging to one party in a conflict or one party involved in a military mission. The border of this perimeter obviously requires defending. This is exactly what perimeter management means, but just in a virtual sense: it refers to managing your network’s security features that are aimed at preventing threats from infiltrating your network.

These security features can be anything from your firewall and VPN (Virtual Private Network), to breach detection hardware and software and your email protection settings. Managing these features entails actually installing them, but also making configuration changes if required, making sure the software is up-to-date, and regularly checking whether they still work as they should. An example of this would be making sure that firewall permissions are not (accidentally) changed for the worse.

Compliance monitoring

Compliance monitoring refers more to monitoring the way people behave. Specific programs like Security Awareness Training can help you protect your network by teaching all the people involved in your business what to look out for, but even then, mistakes can happen and hackers might attempt to get access to your system. This is where compliance monitoring steps in.

Let’s say an impersonator actor hacked into your company’s network and grants themselves a bunch of permissions that do not fit their role in the company. A red flag like this can actually help identify a threat.

How to Choose an MSSP: a Checklist

Since there are so many MSSPs out there, it’s wise to ask yourself some questions to find out which providers might best suit your company. We’ve made a checklist of some of the most important criteria and characteristics to consider to help you along in your search:

  • Do they need to be local or have an office close to you or is a “remote solution” sufficient?
  • What is the cost of their services and what is their pricing model like?
  • What do their typical customers look like?
  • Do they have a good reputation and have they been around for some time?
  • Do they offer specialized services you might need (in the future)?

Below, we’ll discuss these points in more detail.

1. Location

The first question to ask is whether or not you want a local MSSP. Although it can be convenient to be able to contact your security team in person, it isn’t necessary in many cases. Many Managed Security Service Providers offer remote services, meaning it doesn’t matter where they are located as you can handle everything online. Some of the larger companies even have offices in many global locations. If you use one of those, you may be able to get on-site visits too.

In short, it might not be necessary to choose an MSSP that’s located in the same city or even the same country where your company is located. Nevertheless, if you prefer to discuss security matters face-to-face, you should obviously take the MSSP’s office(s) into consideration.

2. Price and pricing models

You obviously want an MSSP’s security services to fit into your budget. Moreover, a provider offering great value is always a huge plus. Pricing can vary greatly depending on the expertise the MSSP offers, the services they provide, the companies they cater to, and many other factors.

Pricing models can also differ between providers. For instance, some MSSPs offer a few monthly packages and that’s it. Others might offer a standard service and (many) different add-ons to choose from. The latter might be a great option for organizations that want a more customizable security service. We recommend choosing a pricing model that suits your company’s current and future needs and ambitions.

3. Type and size of clients

Some MSSPs specialize in specific industries or companies of a certain size. For instance, well-known MSSPs IBM and Crowdstrike are known for helping out some of the largest enterprises with their security.

While it is not always necessary to choose a company specialized in the niche that your company occupies, it can be very helpful. Especially with things such as compliance monitoring, it’s useful if your chosen MSSP is highly knowledgeable about your industry. For instance, they might be more proficient at dealing with the specific threats your organization faces.

More and more MSSPs are offering services for smaller companies as small to medium-sized firms are being targeted by cybercriminals. These MSSPs will often offer a reduced service for smaller organizations at a more affordable price.

4. History and reputation

Cyber threats are ever-evolving. However, this doesn’t mean experience doesn’t count in the cybersecurity field. It’s still very, very important. After all, experienced cybersecurity experts will often be able to draw from past experiences to recognize threats and decide how to deal with them effectively.

It’s also important to consider how others judge an MSSP’s services. When an MSSP has been around for a long time, it doesn’t always mean they do a good job. These days you can read opinions on many companies online on (tech)blogs, Google Reviews, and other pages. The same goes for MSSPs. A great option to read up on different MSSPs and find out which ones are the best is Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, which ranks tech providers in different sectors, among which MSSPs.

5. Specialized services

Throughout this article, we’ve already discussed many services that MSSPs can provide. Some of these services are more specific and rare than others. It’s important to consider if your company requires any specific security services. If so, you should make sure the MSSP you’re eying offers these services.

This service can be anything from monitoring compliance with very strict and specific security regulations to addressing particular threats that mainly target your industry or type of company.

Outsourcing Security Might Be Your Best Bet

The number of attacks and the cost of the damage of these attacks pose a gigantic risk to many firms. This is where outsourcing security comes in. The use of a managed security service provider (MSSP) offers a way to mitigate the risks of our connected world and partake in vulnerability management. Moreover, it can help to alleviate cybersecurity incidents.

Managed Security Services Providers (MSSPs): Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a specific question about managed security services (providers)? Check out our FAQ below. If you can’t find your answer there, feel free to leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

Managed security services are security services provided by an external cybersecurity team (so a team that isn’t part of your organization). There are several security services that these companies offer, ranging from consulting services to implementing security solutions, such as monitoring your IT infrastructure and addressing threats.

The benefits of using managed security services (MSS) include the following:

  • Your company will likely spend (significantly) less on managed security services than an in-house cybersecurity team.
  • MSS providers (MSSPs) generally already have a lot of security tools, meaning you don’t have to invest in those.
  • Thanks to their global presence, MSSPs often are the first to know about new threats.

Should your company use MSS? Read our full article about managed security services to find out.

Managed security services (MSS) can include many different security-related tasks, such as the following:

  • Consulting on your security strategy and (co-)designing security policies
  • Scanning your IT infrastructure to find vulnerabilities
  • Giving advice on or implementing security measures, such as encryption, firewalls, and VPN connections
  • (24/7) monitoring of your systems to detect threats
  • Cyber attack remediation and resolution

MSP stands for “managed service provider.” These are companies that offer general IT support and services to businesses, such as setting up their network.

MSSP, meanwhile, stands for “managed security services provider.” These companies specialize in providing cybersecurity services, such as consulting on an organization’s security strategy and policies and implementing security tools.

MDR focuses more on actively looking for threats and responding to these threats (as some sort of “cyber attack hunter”), whereas MSSPs will focus on creating or improving your overall security strategy and implementing security solutions. Nevertheless, many MSSPs do also provide monitoring and threat remediation services, so there is some overlap.

There are many different reasons your company might need managed security services. Some common reasons to consider these services are:

  • You want to save money on a full-time in-house cybersecurity team.
  • It’s hard or not possible to find personnel with the right expertise and/or enough experience.
  • You can’t or don’t want to invest a lot of resources in cybersecurity tools.

When choosing your MSSP, these are some essential factors to consider:

  • Do they need to be a local company?
  • What are their prices and pricing model like?
  • What do their typical customers look like, industry- and size-wise?
  • Does the provider have a good reputation and enough experience?
  • Do they offer specific services your organization requires?

The costs of MSSPs vary greatly, depending on factors such as the expertise of the company and its members, the services they provide, the organizations they cater to, and many other factors. Moreover, different companies use different pricing models, like monthly subscriptions, a standard service with many add-ons, or a combination of those two.

Tech journalist
Nathan is an internationally trained journalist and has a special interest in the prevention of cybercrime, especially where vulnerable groups are concerned. For VPNoverview.com he conducts research in the field of cybersecurity, internet censorship, and online privacy. He also contributed to developing our rigorous VPN testing and reviewing procedures using evidence-based best practices.