19 min read
Mar 7, 2019

What is MSSP and how it helps small business IT security

What is an MSSP? Read about how MSSPs offer security-as-a-service and support security monitoring. Find out why it matters for small business IT security.

Gitanjali MariaSr. Content Analyst

Many small business owners often select off-the-shelf IT security software installed by one-time vendors. They believe that this secures their systems.

What they forget is that the security threat landscape is constantly changing, with hackers trying new tactics such as using AI to hack smart devices. This means small businesses have to continuously update, manage, and scale their IT security systems.

But with limited security expertise, resources, and budgets, small businesses like yours will be find it tough to strengthen and manage your cyber defenses.

Employing managed security service providers (MSSPs) to monitor IT networks, detect threats, and manage systems ensures up-to-date security infrastructure. Your small business will be better protected from cyber risks than others that manage security in-house with insufficient resources and expertise.

In this article, we talk about MSSPs and how they enhance small business IT security. We also answer all the “why,” “what,” “when,” and “how” queries about MSSPs.

What we'll cover:


  • Why outsourcing IT security could work for small businesses

  • What are MSSPs and security-as-a-service?

  • How MSSPs help small businesses: Benefits and challenges

  • When is the right time to partner with MSSPs?

  • How do I choose an MSSP for my small business?

  • Examples of MSSPs for small businesses

  • Next steps

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Why outsourcing IT security could work for small businesses

Small businesses outsource many functions, such as payroll management, recruiting, and tax filing, to improve their operational efficiency.

But what about IT security? That’s tricky because a drawback of outsourcing this function is that you could potentially face various security risks.

However, many IT experts agree that outsourcing IT security will help small business focus better on their core functions, detect any breaches early, and cut costs. According to Michael Sorokin, Security Solution Architect, CDW:

For many SMBs, outsourcing cybersecurity to a managed service provider is worth considering. Few midsized companies (and hardly any small businesses) have the internal IT security staff necessary to implement and manage a comprehensive cybersecurity program.

For many businesses, the risk of outsourcing security services is lower than the threat of constantly facing cyberattacks. Most small and midsize businesses (SMBs) approach third-party service providers to boost their security due to the lack of expertise and limited budgets for doing it on their own.

Here are more reasons to consider third-party security service providers to manage your security functions:

  • Security isn't your core competence: This is true for most SMBs. Undertaking security operations often distracts you from the core business. Also, small businesses often lack the resources to handle the volume of their IT security needs.

  • Budgets are tight: Security devices and hardware, such as network security appliances, new-gen firewalls, and intrusion detection systems, require heavy investments. Advanced threat detection software costs about $160,000 a year . Small businesses lack such high budgets , so they either ignore or deprioritize these needs.

  • Professionals are in short supply: By 2021, there may be 3.5 million unfulfilled cybersecurity jobs . But cybersecurity professionals expect a median annual pay of $90,000 . With shortage of talent and high pay demands, it will be tough to compete with larger enterprises in hiring and/or retaining your security experts.

In short, having your own security staff isn’t just costly, it’s difficult as well! This is where a dedicated security service provider can help.

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What are MSSPs and security-as-a-service?

Managed security service providers are third-party vendors who help you monitor security events and related-data remotely. They deliver services such as network threat detection, security analysis and reporting, incident response, and vulnerability scanning from their remote security operations centers (SOCs).

Different MSSPs offer different services. The typical functions they support are:

  • Security monitoring, reporting, alerts: Collects logs and other data from the organization's networks and analyzes the data to prepare security review reports. It also alerts you about threats from different channels and offers guidance for responses.

  • Security device management: Updates security device configurations and rules, manages firewalls and network intrusion prevention systems, and mitigates detected incidents.

  • Risk assessments and management: Identifies and analyzes potential threats, assesses vulnerabilities, and takes appropriate measures, such as patching, to reduce exposure to various cyber risks. It also audits your IT and security systems annually/biannually to ensure protection against new threats.

  • Security software management: Deploys, configures, and manages common security technologies such as firewalls, vulnerability scanning , anti-malware , patch management , virtual private network (VPN) , and intrusion detection. MSSPs support this function from their own or third-party SOCs.

  • Incident management and response: Supports in developing a systematic approach to handle security incidents such as data breaches and server/network downtime. It'll also help you respond to incidents quickly, mitigate the exploited vulnerabilities, restore services, and minimize financial losses.

Some MSSPs may also offer other services (often on a premium fee) such as security analytics, security governance, and security program design.

Types of MSSPs

The MSSP market is fairly mature and vendors can be categorized into the following types:

  • Network security service providers: They manage network security products and offer services such as remote monitoring.

  • Pure-play security service providers: They are focused on end-to-end security services and offer threat detection, security monitoring, device management, and incident response management capabilities. Pure-play MSSPs often focus on specific industry verticals, regulatory requirements, or analytics services.

  • IT outsourcers: They are broad IT service providers who offer managed security services as part of their outsourcing deals. They also offer basic services around security monitoring, system configuration, and updates.

  • Security consultants: They are the emerging entrants in this market and offer ongoing client consultation services rather than as one-off projects. They conduct risk assessments and provide advice on security solutions that businesses should used.

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How MSSPs help small businesses: Benefits and challenges

Let’s look at the benefits and challenges of employing MSSPs in your small business.

Cost to secure systems and improve compliance are low

There are many advantages to partnering with MSSPs that include the following:

  • Improved protection: MSSPs have best-in-class security experts and systems. You can leverage these resources to improve your data protection and security. They will have the latest updates and information about the latest cyber threats, risk mitigation mechanisms, and security technologies .

  • Better risk and compliance management: It's not easy to keep up with all the latest industry regulations and compliance measures, while running a small business. An MSSP can take these tasks off your shoulders and do a better job at implementing security and compliance controls.

  • Cost savings: This a top priority for most small businesses. An MSSP reduces the costs of hiring in-house security staff, high-end network monitoring , and threat detection tools. Based on our research, small business can reduce their overall security costs by 20 to 30 percent by partnering with an MSSP.

  • Availability: MSSPs ensure round-the-clock availability of their SOCs to monitor your networks, applications, and devices for vulnerabilities and potential cyberattacks.

Standardized solutions and unclear SLAs pose a challenge

While using MSSPs can help save time and costs, there are also some challenges in employing them. Here are the top two issues you could face:

  • Limited understanding of the client's business: Despite their security expertise, MSSPs aren't always successful in understanding the client's business needs. They try to employ a one-size-fits-all approach. This can result in some of their security tools not integrating well with your back-end systems.

  • Unclear division of responsibilities: A well-defined service level agreement (SLA), with clear roles and responsibilities for both parties, will avoid any blame games. Unclear or ambiguous rules can delay risk mitigation and damage a business's reputation. Many managed security service engagements fail due to poor communication of the requirements.

Pro Tip

As the owner, you have prime responsibility of your business' security. Don't forget to practice basic security hygiene even if you work with an MSSP. Continue training your employees on

security awareness

and adopt

data privacy best practices


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When is the right time to partner with MSSPs?

Do you need an MSSP if you’re just a small start-up with two employees, working out of your garage?

Yes! Even the smallest businesses need to seriously focus on security. Just check out this graphic to see how many businesses see the benefit of MSSPs (source):

IT security software if your business has fewer than five devices. But as you recruit more people and your business grows, the number of endpoints on your IT network increases. This, in turn, increases the number of vulnerable points that a hacker can exploit.

You need an MSSP when you can’t make do with pre-installed anti-virus software and firewalls. You need password managers, network monitoring software, threat detection tools, and more tools. But you lack the time and expertise to configure and manage those. Also, you lack the resources to afford a full-time, in-house security expert.

These are some signs of when you need to contract an MSSP. Here are a few more:

You have outdated, incompatible cybersecurity solutions:Sixty-nine percent of IT security practitioners believe that their organization’s existing security tools are inadequate and outdated. Outdated software causes compatibility issues as it may not integrate well with your or other systems. It could even result in the deletion of key files. An MSSP integrates all the essential security solutions, eliminates redundant ones, and creates an organized structure for effective threat detection and remediation.

You’ve never invested in security solutions: Many small businesses lack knowledge about cybersecurity. With 43 percent of all cyberattacks targeting small businesses and 60 percent of them shutting down as a result, you can’t ignore security. That’s why you should partner with security experts to improve your cyber defenses.

Your security sends alerts but you don’t know what to do:Seventy-two percent of IT security professionals admit that their teams face alert fatigue-a situation where they receive numerous alerts, many of which are false positives. Smaller IT teams like yours tend to ignore alerts because it puts tremendous pressure on their few resources. Therefore, partnering with an MSSP will let you dig deeper into the alerts and ensure that you don’t inadvertently ignore the true positives.

Other small businesses have faced cyberattacks: Are neighboring businesses and your competitors falling prey to cyberattacks such as DDoS or ransomware? Don’t wait for it to happen to you too. Partner with an MSSP before it’s too late to protect your business.

Your investors and business partners prioritize IT security: Sometimes your investors and business partners will push you to adopt stronger IT security practices. Heed to their advice and consult with MSSPs if you or your team members don’t have ample experience in handling cybersecurity.

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How do I choose an MSSP for my small business?

There are many things to consider when you’re choosing an MSSP. Here are some important tips that you must keep in mind when shortlisting MSSPs:

Validate MSSP capabilities and expertise: Different MSSPs offer different features. While some provide only security monitoring, others offer security device management, vulnerability management, and threat detection-or a combination of all these services. Before engaging MSSPs, identify the help you need from them.

For small businesses, the key functions are mostly security monitoring, security systems configuration and management, alerting, reporting/dashboards, and risk assessments. You must also ensure that the MSSP has experience running remote SOCs and handling cloud technologies.

Choose providers who commit to written SLAs: Sign formal SLAs with your MSSP to ensure that you agree to the service standards for reporting, alerting, and security incident management. The SLAs also help you decide and fix availability hours, data storage terms, and contract termination conditions.

Check for customized services, relevant industry exposure: Identify MSSPs that have worked with clients in your industry. This would ensure that they understand industry-specific regulations and compliance requirements.

You may also want the MSSP to customize their offerings as per your specific needs. This way, you avoid paying for services you don’t need. Opt for customized packages that meet your specific requirements of reporting, alerts, log management, or risk assessments.

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Examples of MSSPs for small businesses

Now, let’s look at this list of some leading MSSPs, which feature in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, and offer security-as-a-service. This isn’t an exhaustive list and we recommend that you search for more options before you choose an MSSP.

  • IBM : Its managed security services offer technology and expertise to help clients secure their information assets. Services include firewall management, log management, intrusion detection, unified threat management, endpoint security services, and dedicated security intelligence analysis.

  • Secureworks: It offers managed firewall, intrusion detection and prevention, malware protection, endpoint protection, vulnerability management, monitoring, and reporting services.

  • Symantec : Its managed security services offer continuous security monitoring and real-time security analytics services. It also provides log management, reporting, and customizations.

  • Trustwave: It offers managed threat detection, security technology management, and threat hunting services. The tool helps SMBs implement PCI DSS regulatory compliance requirements.

  • Verizon: Its managed security services is customizable and supports continuous security monitoring, incident management, log management, security device management, and analytics.

MSP versus MSSP: Key differences

Managed service providers (MSP) are third-party vendors who manage your IT infrastructure and operations. They deliver network, application, and e-management services. Some MSPs also offer security monitoring and management services.Unlike MSSPs that solely focus on security services, MSPs provide it as an additional feature. You can opt for an MSP to manage your security operations provided they have the necessary expertise, your security requirements are less complex, and you find engaging with an MSP for both IT and security needs easier and cost-effective.

If you want an MSP to provide both IT management and security services, check out this long list of managed service providers. Use the filter options to shortlist vendors who provide security features such as SSL, access controls, and reporting.

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Next steps

Before engaging with MSSPs, do a security assessment of your business to identify vulnerabilities and potential threats. You could use internal resources or engage a third-party to assess your security status. Conducting a security assessment will also help you clearly define the services you require from an MSSP.

Security assessment template for small businesses

" to download the template and learn how to use it. If you want a complete guide on security assessment, also check out "

Everything you need to know about security assessments to safeguard your data


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