In-depth

What is an MSSP?

Why appointing an MSSP is becoming the norm for SMBs

Unfortunately, cyber attacks and security risks have become quite the norm in both small and big organisations. Not only have they become more common, but they're also getting more sophisticated and that means it's getting harder for businesses to protect their infrastructure from potential threats.

Although it's likely large businesses will have a bigger budget for security protection, this doesn't mean they're any less likely to be attacked than smaller firms with a lower budget. In fact, if they're more well-known, they're more likely to be the subject of an attack.

So what's the answer? Making sure you're prepared and protected, across the board. This includes having a monitoring system set up to keep tabs on potential attacks, resisting known threats and patching all software and infrastructure whenever a new vulnerability is discovered.

But all this can be time-consuming and if you find you don't have the resource to keep tabs on your security policies, it's time to consider appointing a Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) to come on board and help you out.

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Sure, this is an investment (and sometimes, a heavy one at that), but the rewards are worth it. You'll know your business is protected around the clock, giving you peace of mind too.

MSSPs are becoming increasingly popular for small and bigger businesses, with a report by McAfee revealing almost two-thirds of businesses are employing them.

But before you take the jump, what are the key things to consider?

What is an MSSP?

MSSPs are outsourced security specialists that can handle an organisation's security outlay from either on-site, or externally. They can manage the infrastructure and monitor the systems for any threats - even remotely via the cloud - and can implement their own tools to ensure an organisation is protected as well as it can be. These tools range from simple antivirus software to VPN management.

Upgrades and system changes also fall under the remit of MSSPs, who have changed in few ways over the years to suit the demands of their customers, and the heightened prioritisation of security.

Services an MSSP will provide

MSSPs can provide a valuable service before, during and after a cyber attack. Before an attack, their focus is on hardening IT infrastructure and enforcing solid security policies. But building up defences won't prevent online criminals from attempting to penetrate your systems, so MSSPs can help to detect an attack as it is happening and block it from doing any damage to targeted systems.

MSSPs serving multiple clients may see many attacks over the course of a single year, and will be well-placed to understand and contain any damage caused. They can also use this experience and wider knowledge to further harden your systems.

A typical MSSP will provide a number of services relating to your system security and infrastructure, which include:

  • An analysis of your current security to identify gaps and vulnerabilities, taking the necessary action required to rectify these.
  • The installation of an authentication regime. This is to ensure that only users who need access to sensitive data, networks and computer systems will be granted access.
  • The implementation and monitoring of intrusion detection systems and firewalls. This is typically on a full time, 24/7 basis.
  • The collection and analysis of event monitoring data, in order to identify and prevent possible intrusion attempts.
  • The monitoring of network traffic in order to detect anomalies that may reveal a new or evolved threat to your systems.
  • The rapid and effective response to any threats identified.
  • Backup and recovery options in the event of an attack.

For a small to medium-sized business, a good MSSP should function as a seamless extension of the firm's own IT employees.

Why use an MSSP?

The main reason why a business may enlist an MSSP is to take the strain of having to build and maintain security away from its core IT team. Not only will an MSSP take away the brunt of the day-to-day monitoring, it will also take on responsibility for maintaining 100% uptime, responding to sudden security breaches, and do a lot of the upgrading legwork if required.

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The alternative is for a business to create its own security strategy, install all the necessary software, maintain that suite, train its staff in its use, and have resources dedicated entirely to its smooth operation.

Given that threats like ransomware do not differentiate between large and small businesses, smaller IT teams can find themselves without the skills, equipment and manpower necessary to defend their estate. Even if a small business was able to direct its IT team towards security management, it would be entirely consumed by that task and unable to deliver other benefits, such as the installation of new hardware, fixing of software issues, and various other digital transformation upgrades.

And that's before we consider the wider cyber security landscape itself. A small IT team may be able to react to cyber threats as they happen to some degree, but it's rarely a replacement for the specialism you will hopefully receive from an MSSP. The best providers will be cyber security experts, able to monitor for new threats, assess a businesses' current security posture and advise accordingly, and implement a range of support services that help keep the rest of the business informed.

Partnering with an MSSP neatly sidesteps the issue of talent, too. One of the most common complaints CISOs have is that it's increasingly hard to recruit and retain skilled security workers, and this is even harder when you're a small firm or located outside a major metropolitan area. MSSPs can offer a wealth of security talent that you can take advantage of, without having to worry about recruitment issues.

Service providers in this category offer comprehensive security services delivered remotely, and fees are typically highly affordable to reflect financial constraints. Most fees are charged monthly on a flat rate basis, enabling businesses to ensure predictability of costs.

With the constant technological evolutions that MSSPs can manage, systems can grow and evolve along with your business. MSSPs can deliver this seamlessly for you through regular assessments and audits, delivering analysis to determine how best to move forward in a way that allows you to focus on business.

MSSPs can work in-house or remotely, but when working in-house, are able to integrate well with a company's existing IT teams. It also means your IT staff are free to work on other projects rather than being bothered with technology breaches. And lastly, MSSPs can help deliver a better customer experience, increasing satisfaction and improving responses times.

The criteria for engaging an MSSP are much the same as outsourcing any other service - factors include whether it is more cost-effective to outsource compared to a comparable in-house set-up, if you've focused on core competencies, whether it will be easy to remain up-to-date on what has been going on. The client of an MSSP is still responsible, ultimately, for its own security and must be prepared to manage the MSSP, holding the provider accountable for contracted services.

MSP vs. MSSP

A managed service provider (MSP) delivers a service which is slightly more restrictive than that of an MSSP. They deliver network, application, system and e-management solutions across a network to multiple businesses, usually on a pay-as-you-go basis. As such, management services are its core offering and are fairly limited. MSSPs, as we have discovered, incorporate a range of 24/7 services designed to protect against intrusions and scamming.

MSSPs are well-placed to be the strategic partner that businesses and companies need to secure their corporate networks. As cyber attacks grow in number and become more high-profile, MSPs who don't offer security services risk losing business to those who do. It is possible for an MSP to become an MSSP by offering services such as antivirus, patch management and web protection, as well as backup and recovery in the event of a cyber attack.

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