Managed Security Services Ultimate Guide

What is a Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP)?

An MSSP is a specialized cyber security team that provides outsourced monitoring and management of systems, device endpoints, and users. Managed Security Services Providers utilize high-tech centers for security operations to provide 24/7/365 services.

With origins in the mid-1990s, MSSPs evolved from Internet Services Providers into Managed Security Services Providers that offer security-as-a-service. What qualifies a company as an MSSP has grown as much as the sophistication of the threats that pose security challenges to businesses. An MSSP differs from an MSP (Managed Service Provider) via the provision of cybersecurity services. An MSP delivers general IT support and tends to be reactive to cybersecurity incidents, while an MSSP involved in incident response planning is more proactive regarding cybersecurity posture. When considering a provider for managed security services, it is essential to weigh out the benefits or risks of using an MSP that offers security services opposed to an MSSP.

What are the Types of Managed IT Security Services?

Managed Security

Managed security services are, first off, managed. This means that the service is outsourced to a service provider, either an MSSP or an MSP that sells security services. Managed security services are conducted by MSSPs on-premises, in the cloud, or hybrid environments. Managed security services can span everything from third-party security management or administration of security processes to complete outsourcing of a cyber security program.

Managed Backup

Managed backup is a third-party managed service provided by an MSP or MSSP to create and store backups of your company data. Modern businesses rely on data for operations and growth. Any loss of data could severely impact day-to-day processes with long-term business implications. Depending on a do-it-yourself strategy could present challenges as you scale or consider rising levels of bad actors on the digital stage.

Managed Firewall

Firewalls are critical in protecting network traffic, including encrypted and sensitive data. When properly executed by a team of security experts, a managed firewall is a solution that aggregates the administration, operations, monitoring, and maintenance of firewall infrastructure. An MSSP establishes and modifies firewall rules, conducts analysis, monitors the network, and provides reporting and feedback.

Managed Network

A strong differentiator for MSSPs or MSPs that offer security solutions presents itself with managed network services. A range of functions and applications are remotely operated, monitored, and maintained by a managed security service provider. This can include Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS), endpoint security such as antivirus and anti-malware, log management systems such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), behavioral analysis security, and zero trust policies.

Why is Cybersecurity Important?

Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs)

SMBs comprise a vast majority of all commercial enterprises but, until recently, were considered too small a target for criminal cyber activity. In 2020, two in five SMBs were impacted by ransomware, and the most common type of scam was invoice or payment fraud. In 2021, 43% of cyber-attacks targeted small businesses, and 60% of small businesses that fell victim to a cyber-attack went out of business within six months.


Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs), trade associations, and international organizations face advanced cyber threats from known and unknown malicious actors. Hackers are knowledgeable of vulnerabilities for exploiting social and digital entry points into sensitive data. A 2019 report stated that the average cost of a cyberattack came in around $200,000, which could prove devastating compared to the cost of prevention.

Financial Institutions

Cybersecurity is presenting itself as a significant issue for financial institutions. Due to trends in the increasing volume and sophistication of cyber threats, there is an urgent need to identify, assess, and mitigate risks to banks, credit unions, venture capital funds, and other financial institutions. This sector has a growing dependency on IT for service delivery. Disruption to services or data theft on these networks can detrimentally impact operations while undermining confidence.

Government Contractors

Defense contractors and others who do business with the government are targets for bad actors attempting to steal sensitive data. In November 2020, the Department of Defense announced it would require all defense contractors to obtain Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC). A report suggests that 20% of defense contractors are highly susceptible to a ransomware attack, with 42% of those involved in the report facing a data breach in 2020. Biden released an executive order in May 2021 to improve the nation’s security posture. This leads towards a zero-trust environment where companies interested in winning government contracts must demonstrate compliance with the latest regulations and implement proper safeguards.

Professional Service Firms

Firms including architecture, accounting, engineering, public relations, and consulting are at high risk in the current environment from hackers who seek access to their confidential data, financial and personal records, and intellectual properties. According to the Verizon Data Breach Report, phishing attacks have increased by 11%, while attacks using ransomware have risen by 6%. As criminals focus on professional service firms, many mid-size firms must readjust their security posture.

MSSP Terms to Know

VAPT – Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing

VAPT is a term used to describe security testing designed to identify security vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities can be found in applications, networks, endpoints, on-premises, and the cloud. There are two components: the vulnerability assessment and the penetration test. The vulnerability assessment is a process to evaluate the security risks. The penetration test is a security white hat hacking service – where a trained cybersecurity task force simulates an attack – that leverages knowledge learned about the system vulnerabilities during the assessment to simulate an attack to gain access.

SIEM – Security Information and Event Management

SIEM provides organizations with next-generation detection, monitoring, analysis, and response tools. This solution supports compliance, threat detection, and security incident management by collecting and analyzing events and data gathered from many disparate sources. Near-real time and historical analysis of log events allow for behavior monitoring by experts. To draw a comparison, VAPT is akin to a snapshot of what is going on in an environment, while SIEM is a live stream with on-demand play capabilities.

CSM – Continuous Security Monitoring

Continuous security monitoring is a methodology-based service provided by MSSPs where security professionals use automation and AI-enabled technologies to detect compliance and security risk issues in near real-time. A strong CSM program is defined by automation and analysis and serves as a threat intelligence technology that provides real-time visibility into IT environments. Increased visibility of early suspicious network activities leads to better early warning systems and rapid reaction times to breaches.

Zero Trust Architecture

Zero trust is a strategic approach to cybersecurity that serves as a framework for eliminating implicit or inherent trust. This removal of trust between human and machine communication systems leads to continuous validation of users on the networks. The main three components in a zero-trust network are user and application authentication, device authentication, and trust. This methodology fosters a much more secure environment with protections against authorized access to sensitive data.

SOC – Security Operations Center

A SOC is a team of experts that monitor an organization’s ability to operate security. These certified, trained information security experts analyze behavior using tools such as SIEM to provide services such as continuous security monitoring. Often centralized, this unit deals with security issues on both organizational and technical levels. SOCs manage and improve an organization’s security posture through people, processes, and technology.

MFA – Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-Factor authentication is a layered approach to securing data, applications, and authorized users. The system introduces a new depth of security by requiring a user to present a combination of two or more credentials to verify identification for login. These credentials are commonly email login with text or authenticator app verification. When adopting MFA, prioritize identifying the most robust and most user-friendly MFA method possible.

Security Consulting

There is a delicate balance between managing systems, reducing risk, and keeping up with digital transformation impacts. A cybersecurity consultant could serve as a replacement to your in-house department, especially if it is an MSSP that can holistically customize a plan to your needs. American Technology Services provides cybersecurity consulting services for governance, risk, compliance, strategic security advisory, cloud security consulting, security assessments, and regulatory compliance.

Security Awareness Training

As phishing, ransomware, and social engineering attacks increase scope and frequency, organizations must educate their employees to act as a front-line defense through security awareness training. Managed Security Service Providers equip members of an organization with the information they need to protect themselves through coursework, assessments, and simulated attacks. The three steps to implementing security awareness are establishing a behavior baseline, implementing security initiatives, and securing behavior by design.

Why do I need an MSSP?

Working with a Managed Security Service Provider results in a vastly improved information security posture while providing significant cost savings on training. You benefit directly from the expertise and experience of the MSSP when you extend your team through staff augmentation or hire a SOC to serve as your outsourced cybersecurity team. This model allows for increased business focus as IT staffing can be done on-demand, allowing for rapid agility and scalability at a fraction of the cost of hiring and training in-house.

Another significant benefit of having an MSSP is access to unique expertise and tools. ATS has a 24/7/365 SOC staffed by top-notch security engineers that provide protection through services such as VAPT and CSM and with tools such as SIEM.

When facing questions about the budget it’s best to approach it by quantifying the value of what you are trying to protect and plainly asking, “How secure is it for what we spend?”

What Should You Look for in a Managed Security Services Provider?

The founding date, location, and size of the MSSP or MSP are critical first takes. It’s prudent to go with established providers with decades of experience that are constantly improving their processes and upskilling their people. It would help if you also looked at the MSSP’s focus. Some MSSPs only provide core cybersecurity services, while others can provide IT staff on-demand. Therefore, choosing an MSSP could include performing a gap analysis of general IT needs and realizing you need additional IT support beyond cybersecurity.

Another consideration is the industries that the MSP or MSSP has experience serving. American Technology Services is a Washington DC Metro and NYC-based MSSP with more than 25 years of experience that serves associations, nonprofits, financial institutions, government contractors, professional service firms, and SMBs.

Lastly, other considerations are the extensiveness of the VAPT vulnerability analysis – you can’t find weaknesses to exploit if the assessment is not thorough and expertly conducted. This standard also applies to the tech stack used by the MSSP. The services and solutions offered should offer advanced monitoring systems and automation features. The same standard holds for integration with other systems and processes, especially communication. Rapid response requires a healthy communications standard with a swift vendor response mechanism. Your MSSP should integrate seamlessly into your cybersecurity posture and meet your IT needs.

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