Key considerations for a secure and effective MSSP partnership

January 2024 Information Security

Martin Luphai.

he global managed security services provider (MSSP) market was valued at more than $31 billion in 2023 and is anticipated to reach an impressive $64,73 million by 2026. However, despite its solid performance and proven capabilities, the MSSP model can fail. It can become the victim of its own hype, but it has the potential to revolutionise how an organisation approaches, manages and spends on security. The solution is to ensure that an MSSP is the best fit for the company, not just a solution slotted into a problem.

The answer is to ensure that the scope of service fits the MSSP bill. If an organisation already has an existing IT workforce and resources within the company, an MSSP approach may not be the ideal fit, unless the goal is to bolster existing security services and visibility. However, if an organisation does not have a cybersecurity programme or enough IT staff to ensure robust security, then an MSSP is the right step forward.

Deciding the fit lies in the hands of the organisation. If you are confident your staff can handle the work, then an MSSP can guide the direction of your investments and security management, helping you refine your approaches. If not, an MSSP can guide you in the right direction and take on the overall refinement and configuration of the business security ecosystem to ensure it is aligned with best practices and the highest possible standards.

Of course, determining whether or not an MSSP is the right route also comes down to capabilities. Will managing the volume of products be possible for the existing IT workforce? Are they on top of their attack surface area? What are the current security outcomes? If these remain uncertain or the business is falling behind, then finding an MSSP will fit the business and its needs.

That said, the real journey begins once the business has engaged an MSSP. The scope of responsibilities is twofold – how the organisation approaches and manages security from within, and the deliverables promised by the MSSP itself. If there is not a trusted partnership, there is a very real risk of failure. The reality is that security is a shared responsibility. The organisation has to manage its data, the platform, the applications, identities and access management, while the MSSP is responsible for encryption, network and traffic protection, operating systems, networking and firewalls. These responsibilities can shift from one side to the other, depending on the organisation's resources. For example, identity and access management can move from a business responsibility to that of the MSSP.

Taking this relationship further, it is also important to measure the effectiveness of your MSSP consistently. You can use benchmarking tools to assess your MSSP's performance, including competencies, credentials, service offerings, and demonstrable inheritable controls. The latter are key as they demonstrate how competent or safe you are when engaging with your MSSP, and the level of control your provider will have over your production environment. You need to avoid being locked in with a proprietary MSSP and ensure that they have the relevant experience for your particular niche, sector and business. For example, if you are looking at endpoint protection, then you want an MSSP that has many years of experience in this space and the relevance of the experience.

Finally, it is important to ensure that your MSSP prioritises compliance. Where are they storing the data? What are the controls when accessing the data? It is absolutely essential your MSSP aligns with regulations such as GDPR and PoPIA, so you are not held liable for compliance complexities. In the partnership between yourself and your MSSP, you need to both traverse the regulatory landscape with complete visibility and a shared focus on remaining compliant across all touchpoints.

These are just some of the key steps to ensuring that your move towards an MSSP is one guided by shared goals, visibility, proven expertise, relevant capabilities and a realistic view of service delivery. They also ensure that if you opt into an MSSP relationship, it delivers success, not disappointment.

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