Blog | Apr 16, 2020

How MSPs Can Serve Customers’ Security Needs

Originally posted in Techerati April 8, 2020

Managed service providers (MSPs) are at a crossroads in terms of what security services they are going to offer their customers.

The dynamic digital landscape has required them to include some kind of security. At the same time, they know what they are currently offering isn’t going to serve them or their customers in the long term. Fortunately, MSPs don’t have to go it alone; they can partner with Managed Detection and Response (MDR) providers to fill in the gaps in their security portfolios and give them a superior competitive position.

What does it mean to offer security?

It’s difficult to be a purely IT-focused MSP today because customers increasingly need security. In fact, 66% of UK organisations reported that their security budgets had risen in the last year. So, MSPs are already making the move into security. However, there’s a minimum standard that must be met. Most MSPs implement and manage firewalls, and many are reselling and implementing endpoint and anti-virus (AV) or even next-generation anti-virus (NGAV). Some have incorporated dual-factor authentication and even identity and access management (IAM). But none of these technologies or services, in and of themselves, are a truly complete security solution – what’s needed is a Security Operations Centre (SOC).

In-house or outsourced?

MSPs may choose to build their own SOC, but this is a project not to be undertaken lightly.

Building a security operations centre can be a multi-million-pound 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.

A SOC has the potential to deliver significant value if designed and operated effectively. 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 previously mentioned, most security technologies are designed to generate alerts. The output of most security technology is typically, a tremendous amount of data. Processing all of that data requires people and a well thought out approach to process and technology.

This is a significant risk to take on for many MSPs. They want and need to 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 a managed security service provider (MSSP) or an MDR provider?

The MSSP question

MSPs need a SOC in order to provide the security their customers are demanding. However, 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 realise. In addition, MSSPs have their own security challenges, including constant churn and lack of skilled workers.

Though MSSPs have a lot to offer, it’s not reasonable to believe that they will actually hunt for threats and protect your customers from breaches. It’s simply not in their DNA.

The MDR option

It takes heightened security resources and quick response time to mitigate risks. 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.

Like all providers, MDRs need vetting. Here are three criteria to consider:

Processing and contextualizing data. As organisations face a daily deluge of data and incidents, it’s not realistic to think that humans alone can spot everything. Synthesizing and analysing 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.

What is actually included in the service that is offered? As the market has begun to understand the challenges traditional approaches to managing security bring with them, there are many organisations that claim to deliver Managed Detection and Response. What service is being delivered and what am I paying for? Are all levels of Response between providers comparable? Is my business expecting 24×7 forensic investigation and SOC support, or am I prepared to pay additional hidden charges which may be part of an Incident Response retainer package? As with all fast-growing and emerging categories, it’s important to be well informed. Gartner’s Market Guide to Managed Detection and Response is always a good starting point.

A robust channel: Is a strong channel program in place? Does the MDR have a deal-registration process and a commitment to their partners? Do they have enablement programs designed to help their MSPs sell the solutions?

Finding the right mix

Though security budgets continue to rise, so does the number of data breaches. Clearly, technology in and of itself cannot address security issues. Instead, MSPs are learning to read the writing on the wall and are adding security options for their customers. Yet SOCs are expensive to build and difficult to staff and manage. An alternative for MSPs is MDR, which provides a SOC combining human expertise and technology. Use the criteria noted above to determine which providers might be the best fit.

Chris Braden

Chris Braden

Vice President, Global Channels and Alliances