A Guide to MSSP for Businesses

by | Mar 23, 2023

As the face of digital threats continues to evolve, businesses have been seeking help from MSSPs to guide their managed security services. With 77% of organizations not having a cybersecurity response plan, those who continue to ignore cyber threats are left vulnerable without outsourced help. Knowing which MSSP to use and what services are needed isn’t always easy, though, which has caused some companies to delay their plans. Yet, doing so can cause more damage than good.

Not having a security service plan means risking the financial health of an organization. The average cost of a data breach is $4.35 million globally, far exceeding what many businesses can afford. However, containing a breach within 200 days can greatly cut back that expense, which is one of many reasons having a proactive IT security team is essential. That’s why our guide for this month discusses what an MSSP is, how they can help businesses, what services they provide, and what to look for when hiring one.

What Is a Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP)?

A managed security services provider (MSSP) offers businesses outsourced IT security services such as threat detection, network protection, incident response, vulnerability auditing, and compliance management. Their main role is to provide IT protection at every level, reducing the chance of unauthorized logins, stolen data, and other risks impacting business functions.

What Is the Difference Between an MSP and MSSP?

An MSP develops and maintains all types of IT infrastructure, while an MSSP focuses on security for those systems. There is some overlap between the two types of services, as having experience in one allows an IT company to do the other better. As such, providers commonly can do both at once based on client cybersecurity and management needs.

Why Is an MSSP Important for Cybersecurity?

Digital threats are becoming increasingly bold as hackers develop new ways to access secure systems. However, keeping pace with new threats can be too difficult for in-house IT staff to manage. That’s why MSSPs have become an essential part of cybersecurity. They can detect threats, react to a wide range of attacks, and develop IT strategies to prevent incidents before they happen.

For industries like healthcare, where HIPAA compliance is mandatory, having an MSSP is critical for medical providers to keep patient data safe. Alarmingly, around 93% of healthcare organizations had a breach between 2017 and 2020, showing how valuable of a target they can be. Regardless of industry, MSSPs can help avoid unnecessary costs and risks when managing valuable data. 

For larger businesses and enterprises, managing cybersecurity can be hard at a bigger scale with an in-house team. Outsourcing IT security services give companies access to more IT security experts with experience across many industries. Rather than paying for a full in-house team, MSSPs can offer a team on-demand, so they’re only paying for what they need.

Another benefit to using an MSSP is it can make a company a less attractive target. Cybercriminals are less likely to attack a business that they view as high risk, expensive to breach, or doesn’t offer enough profit in return to be worthwhile. Hackers will probe security to judge those factors. They won’t attempt many attacks in the first place if they bump into a good IT security team and infrastructure that’s resistant to them.

What Services Can an MSSP Provide?

Regarding IT security, every business can have unique needs based on its functions, products, and customer interactions. An MSSP can provide a wide range of cybersecurity-related services that are catered to that. Some examples include:

IT consulting: Most MSSPs offer IT consulting services, allowing businesses to get third-party input into their technology systems without committing to a security service provider. It can be a good way to assess security strengths and weaknesses and get a quote to weigh the cost of making improvements.

Threat detection: A mixture of threat detection tools and strategies are used to track unusual trends and activity in real time. From there, they’re analyzed and referenced with anticipated behaviors, making it easier to uncover activities that are out of the ordinary. When potential threats pass a certain threshold, it automatically triggers alerts and initial safety measures.

Incident response: When a threat is detected, or an incident happens, a quick reaction is vital to minimizing risk and damage to an organization. With 95% of incidents being caused by human error, they often come when least expected. Some security measures can be automated, like locking accounts with suspicious activity. However, higher-level incident requires a direct response from a security expert who can react to the issue, uncover the source, and help prevent it from happening again.

IT compliance management: Many types of IT compliance may be needed depending on payment processing, industry, and legal regulations. Those can require extra steps and integration to ensure they’re being met, especially when handling customer data. An MSSP can assess a business’s security status and ensure they meet all the requirements. They can also help maintain compliance through routine checks.

Security assessments: Businesses use a wide range of software, hardware, devices, and other technology for both operations and customer engagement. The way these interact with each other is not always secure or predictable, making assessments valuable for finding issues before hackers can take advantage of them.

Penetration testing: A penetration test has security experts simulating a cyber attack against different systems and devices. Doing so can help uncover new holes without the risk of an actual attack. Depending on how the test is done, it can also be a good learning opportunity for staff to experience as it can bring company-wide awareness to different threats.

Cybersecurity awareness: While there is a lot an MSSP can do to counter cyber-attacks, cybersecurity awareness is also a crucial part of keeping businesses safe. The IT security team can coordinate with companies to develop communication tactics so employees are more aware of threats. Attackers that use phishing will attempt to bypass cybersecurity by acquiring sensitive information directly from staff through email, phone, or other means.

Network security services: Different types of network traffic may be normal for a company, even with risks. For example, many healthcare facilities offer public wi-fi. Not only is it more vulnerable than private ones, but patients are also more likely to use personal details with health, transportation, and other needs. An MSSP can help lower the risk through encryption, monitoring, traffic isolation, and other network security services.

Firewall management: A managed security service provider can handle everything related to a firewall. That means assessing a business’s security needs, which helps determine the correct permissions and settings to serve its clients best. Besides setup and configuration, they can also manage firmware updates, monitoring, analytics, and develop a threat response plan.

Flexible pricing: Many MSSPs offer different pricing structures to give the most value for each price point. Security as a service (SECaaS) is a popular approach that offers cloud-based cybersecurity on a subscription plan, which is usually cheaper than what businesses would pay to set up the same thing on their own.

What Types of Cyber Threats Do MSSPs Help Against?

Cyber threats can come in many forms and from any direction. That can make them both hard to detect and tricky to counter, which is why businesses need managed security services to protect against them. MSSPs are able to help against a wide range of cyber threats and can help keep clients informed of what they look like. Here are some examples of those:

Data Breaches

The largest risk to most organizations is data breaches, where attackers will take a large amount of information that may include the private data of customers, staff, and associates. They can be so damaging that 60% of small businesses go out of business within six months after discovering one. When looking to improve cybersecurity, preventing data breaches and having a response plan are vital to staying in business.

Social Engineering

One of the more challenging threats to detect and counter is social engineering. It’s a tactic that involves targeting an employee and pretending to be someone in a secure and trustworthy way. Attackers do enough research ahead of time to appear well enough informed that they’re less likely to be doubted. Two common goals are to obtain private information or gain access to accounts that are otherwise already secure. Teaching clients cybersecurity awareness is one of the best defenses against it, as extra safety checks can help authenticate someone’s identity, even through phone calls.


As a more hands-off alternative to social engineering, phishing also pretends to be someone they’re not. They often come by email and pretend to be from a real company. Fortunately, IT security providers can set up email filters to help detect and prevent them. When set up correctly, most phishing emails should never reach a staff member’s inbox in the first place. For the small number that can bypass a filter, teaching people how to spot a phishing attempt can reduce their chance of falling for it.

Internal Threats

Whether intentional or a mistake, MSSPs can track internal activity to know what information is being accessed. Security experts can help assess account permissions to ensure people only have access to what they need while restricting visibility to what they aren’t using. However, that’s easier said than done, as many information systems are interconnected. That makes a lot of non-essential data visible to people who don’t need it. With an average of 11,000,000 files accessible by employees, MSSPs can help lower that risk.


Malware is a type of malicious software that can do everything from lock vital systems to quietly tracking and sending information in the background. Much like phishing, 94% of malware is sent by email, making email security a key part of keeping businesses safe. While malware can be easier to detect and block when sent as attachments, it can be much more damaging. Some types aren’t activated immediately, either. Sleeper malware may sit idle for months or even years, only to be activated months or years later.

Software and Hardware Exploits

Outdated software and hardware can be vulnerable. The older it is, the more likely someone has discovered and spread methods to bypass built-in security. The IT team should schedule routine patching to ensure old holes are filled, making exploits less likely. However, some businesses run legacy software or hardware for specific functions that can’t be touched. An MSSP can consult with the company and develop a strategy to better protect the technology that can’t be updated.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

A DDoS attack is meant to overwhelm a service, network, or server host by flooding it with more traffic than it can handle. It’s sometimes combined with other tactics, calling on malware-infected computers to create seemingly real traffic. Unlike some threats, it’s usually short-term and only happens when the cybercriminal thinks it’ll be most damaging. Even short-term downtime can be expensive for businesses, especially if it’s a service that’s regularly used during peak hours. A security service provider can set up countermeasures to help prevent fake traffic from disrupting services while allowing real customers through.

Brute-force Attacks

Brute-force attacks are like DDoS attacks, but instead of denying services, the goal is to access protected data or accounts. This method is commonly used for cracking passwords, which can be effective against ones that are easy to guess or reused from elsewhere. The process is automated, with one computer setting a record by guessing 100 billion passwords per second. While hackers may not have access to that hardware level, short and simple passwords are no longer enough to protect an account. MSSPs can set up multiple layers of security, including multi-factor authentication (MFA), to help prevent these types of attacks.

Is Using an MSSP or In-House IT Security Better?

Knowing whether to use an MSSP or in-house IT security often comes down to a business’s size, the data’s value, and how the systems work.

The Advantages of an MSSP

Most organizations with higher-value data or running a more extensive operation can benefit from using MSSP. 24/7 threat monitoring with on-demand response teams is important for staying on top of any security risk. It also allows access to more IT security experts since they’re used for smaller blocks of time and specific services rather than paid full-time hours for blocks of work. That can make them more effective use of a limited budget.

MSSPs also have more industry experience, making them better at detecting threats and having more knowledge to solve them. The goal is to be proactive in protecting digital assets, as once a breach happens, it can cost time, money, and reputation. However, with 42% of companies suffering from cybersecurity fatigue, some have entirely given up on defending themselves. With the burden outsourced, an MSSP can help reduce security pressure by handling it in its entirety.

The Advantages of In-House IT Security

Smaller businesses with little technology or security needs are easier to manage with fewer IT staff. They’re also less at risk due to the size of their operation and how they function. Additionally, if the needs are minor, an in-house employee can take a more flexible role and assist with other business needs outside of IT security.

Some organizations also have intellectual properties to protect from competitors. While outsourced IT teams can sign NDAs, some SEOs might be wary of trusting vital technology secrets to a third party. Even if it’s not a concern, maintaining security in-house can give businesses more control over how cybersecurity is integrated with the rest of their processes. As long as the staff is taught good cybersecurity habits, staying in-house is an option for some.

Co-managing IT Security Services

While there are different advantages to using an MSSP or staying in-house, there’s a third option: co-managed IT security services. Doing so requires careful coordination on both sides to ensure it doesn’t create additional weak points by involving too many different moving parts. An MSSP can be hired to fill a particular need, such as managing threat detection and reporting. From there, they’re able to pass on information to in-house teams who can take action based on the discovered risk.

How Do You Choose Which MSSP to Hire?

When hiring an MSSP, choosing the right one is a step of the process that businesses shouldn’t rush. There are a number of factors involved that can impact the type and quality of services received. Here are a few things to consider:

Security experience: Having a history of quality security services can go a long way in establishing trust. Be upfront and request referrals from other clients. That can give a better look at their experience and what industries they’ve supported.

Compliance integration: There are many types of compliance that are vital to different lines of business, including NIST-800, CMMC, SOC-2, HIPAA, and PCI. Make sure the MSSP you choose is certified to handle the ones needed.

Industry knowledge: While it’s not always a deal-breaker, having experience with the industry can allow an MSSP to onboard with an organization more quickly. It also allows them to offer higher security and support services from the get-go. That being said, a quality MSSP will be able to get up to speed even if it’s a newer industry for them.

Technology: Ask about what kind of software and other tools they use to monitor and react to threats. Also, discuss their strategy for keeping your business safe, how the process can impact your employees, and what they do to keep up with the latest risks.

Reporting and communication: Awareness of ongoing threats can help reduce the chance of incidents. Many MSSPs will offer routine incident and status reports, which keep the client informed and can help discover vulnerabilities to get them fixed faster.

Service Cost: The services an MSSP offers can seem priceless to many types of businesses, but budgets can create limitations on choosing one. Find a company that provides the right blend of experience, compliance, tools, and reporting to ensure the best value for the cost.

What Are Some MSSP Pricing Models? 

MSSP pricing models can vary greatly depending on the provider, services offered, and an organization’s specific needs. Businesses that want fully managed security services will have higher costs and greater safety than those only after a particular role. There are some common pricing structures that you can compare when evaluating which IT company to partner with:

Fixed-fee Subscription Pricing

With a fixed-fee subscription plan, IT companies will charge a flat monthly or yearly cost for the requested services regardless of the number of users, devices, data, or work hours used. The plan’s flexibility usually means a higher base rate, but it can be a good choice for growing businesses as the rate will remain the same until the contract is up for review.

Tiered Pricing

Tiered pricing models are comparable to some types of fixed-fee subscriptions. The main difference is that services are bundled into different tiers, providing more flexibility in cost and features. That also allows businesses to trial services at a lower price, letting them later change their tier based on their satisfaction and needs.

Per-device Pricing

A per-device pricing model applies a monthly cost for each piece of device that’s covered by the contract. Extending coverage to more devices or adding additional services will increase the plan’s overall cost. That is most economical for businesses that have a lower number of devices that are used by a higher number of employees.

Per-user Pricing

Using a per-user pricing model estimates the monthly cost for each user rather than each device used. That means for organizations that need protection for multiple devices per staff member, it can come out cheaper than using a per-device payment plan. 

Usage-based Pricing

A usage-based plan is good for businesses with a lot of major changes in data or traffic needs. That ensures they’re only paying for what they’re using rather than paying extra for services they don’t always need. Due to the month-to-month changes, the biggest challenge is budgeting. Most MSSPs will provide consultations that can help determine an anticipated budget range based on anticipated usage.

Custom Pricing Plan

Since every business is different and may have unique needs that don’t align with any one plan, many MSSPs will also offer custom pricing plans. That requires good communication by both sides to ensure the custom plan is cost-effective, fills all IT security needs, and doesn’t charge for unneeded services. While custom plans aren’t always listed, most managed service providers offer them.

ITonDemand: An MSSP You Can Trust

With threats changing and attacks becoming increasingly hard to predict, having an IT security partner is more critical than ever. At ITonDemand, we’ve provided industry-leading managed security services for over 20 years. As a trusted MSSP, we take a proactive and innovative approach to cybersecurity to give businesses a safe workplace and ongoing peace of mind. Regardless of your needs and goals, we’re here to support your growth and success every step of the way.

If you need a cybersecurity consultation or are looking to hire an MSSP, feel free to reach out via our contact form or call us at: +1 (800) 297-8293

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