Blog | Feb 10, 2020

A Perfect Match: How MSPs And MDRs Can Work Together

Originally posted in Software Business Growth February 5, 2020

Managed service providers (MSPs) are facing a decision when it comes to the security posture and what services they will offer to their customers. Most of them have started incorporating some element of security into their portfolio by necessity. But “some element” isn’t enough to scale for the future. That’s where MSPs can look to other partners, in the form of Managed Detection and Response (MDR), to help them close the gaps and gain competitive advantage.

Adding Security Into The Mix

MSPs are already making the move into security out of necessity. It’s really difficult today to be a purely IT MSP because customers increasingly need security. However, there’s a minimum standard that must be met in terms of security. Most MSPs implement and manage firewalls, and many are reselling and implementing endpoint and antivirus (AV) or even next-gen antivirus (NGAV). Some have incorporated dual-factor authentication and even identity access management. But none of these technologies or services, in and of themselves, are a truly complete security solution – what’s needed is a Security Operations Center (SOC).

Build Or Buy?

One option at this point is to build a SOC. Building a security operations center is a multi-million-dollar investment, and it’s far riskier than people might think. Today’s distributed IT environment—incorporating IoT, cloud, BYOD and other data sources—leads to a focus on prevention (which is reactive) rather than detection (which is proactive). Both can be far more complicated than they appear to be. Many security technologies are designed to generate alerts but alerting the team to threats is not the same as responding to them.

If designed and operated effectively, a SOC can bring great value. Customers will pay for support from a SOC, and this means the MSP can offer additional managed security solutions. The challenge in building and running a SOC, however, is two-fold. First, recruiting, hiring, and retaining the staff needed to run a SOC can be difficult. In a time when the cybersecurity skills gap has never been wider, recruiting and retention are paramount. Second, as we mentioned before, most security technologies are designed to generate alerts. The output of most SOCs is typically, a tremendous amount of data. Processing all of that data requires people and a well thought out approach to process and technology.

For many MSPs, tackling this on their own represents a huge risk. They are hoping that they’ll be able to generate a return, but there are no guarantees. So, another option is to look to partners for help. But should an MSP go with an MSSP or MDR?

How About MSSPs?

To serve customers well, a SOC is necessary – but an MSSP isn’t necessarily the answer. If executed properly, a SOC can generate strong returns. However, as noted above, this is more difficult than most people realize. In addition, MSSPs have their own security challenges, including constant churn and lack of talent.

MSSPs do represent value, but the idea that they will really conduct threat hunting and protect your customers from breaches isn’t realistic. They are trying to take on the cybersecurity challenge for middle America, but they aren’t able to solve all the issues.

How An MDR Helps

Mitigating risk requires augmented security resources and a swift response. Managed Detection and Response is about simplicity through managing complexity, not adding to it. With MDR, security experts respond at wire-speed to hunt down threats and disrupt attacks before they disrupt business. This new approach has arisen because a purely defensive security posture is no longer enough. Today’s businesses need a strategy that is defensive as well as offensive.

If you’ve made the choice to go with an MDR, there are a few key areas to evaluate:

  • Channel programs: Does the MDR have a mature channel program? Do they have a deal-registration process and a commitment to their partners? Do they have enablement programs designed to help their MSPs sell the solutions?
  • How will it tackle the data problem? With the proliferation of data and incidents that are a challenge for most every company today, it’s just not realistic to think that humans alone can spot everything. Synthesizing and analyzing data from across a wide range of sources throughout the network and systems makes it very difficult for adversaries to hide. And a security solution that just throws alerts at its users without the context – without processing the data – isn’t going to solve the problem. Instead, it’s tantamount to shifting the blame. So, then, understanding and evaluating how a vendor will actually process the data it takes in is an essential part of determining whether to move forward with their offerings. And one way to tackle this is with technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, which can augment human analysts rather than replacing them.

Providing The Best Security

An estimate from analyst firm Canalys puts the worldwide cybersecurity technology spending figure at $37 billion in 2018. It’s clear from ongoing data breach headlines that technology alone is not the answer to modern network security woes. MSPs must adapt to this environment by adding security to their offerings but building a SOC from scratch is risky and expensive. MDR offers a SOC with both the technology and the human expertise to serve the security needs of customers well. However, MSPs need to make sure the provider they choose has answers for the challenges of staffing a SOC and managing a tremendous amount of data, in addition to a strong channel program.

Chris Braden

Chris Braden

Vice President, Global Channels and Alliances