What is a managed security service provider (MSSP)?
Explore managed security services (MSS) Get Customer and Employee Experience updates
Illustration of hand moving chess pieces with cloud icon in background

Published: March 5, 2024
Contributors: Matthew Finio, Amanda Downie

What is a managed security service provider?

A managed security service provider (MSSP) offers outsourced monitoring and management of security systems for businesses to enhance their cybersecurity capabilities.

Managed security service providers function as third-party entities, offering businesses outsourced monitoring and management of their security devices and systems. MSSPs provide critical security services such as virtual private networks (VPNs), managed firewalls and antivirus management. Operating from high-availability security operation centers (SOCs)—meaning they can operate at a high level, continuously, without intervention—MSSPs provide ‘always on’ coverage. This coverage significantly reduces the need for enterprises to hire, train, and maintain extensive in-house personnel to effectively uphold security.

Businesses often turn to MSSPs to enhance their internal security capabilities or entirely offload their security operations. MSSPs employ security professionals who conduct real-time monitoring and analysis of security events, offer threat intelligence and provide guidance on security best practices. This strategic partnership allows organizations to concentrate on their core business operations while reassured that their digital assets are under the protection of qualified professionals. Also, reducing the workload of internal IT teams allows for more time and resources to be focused on crucial tasks essential for the organization's growth.

While focused on monitoring and management, MSSPs also handle system upgrades, changes, and modifications. This ensures that security measures remain current and effective. Ultimately, MSSP offerings play a pivotal role in bolstering organizational efficiency, mitigating security risks and safeguarding digital assets against ever-evolving threats.

Put AI to work for HR

This AI Academy guidebook covers how AI-augmented workforces allow human employees to focus on higher-value work and create opportunities to deliver business value and new efficiencies.

Related content

Read the MSS buyer's guide

What is the difference between an MSSP and an MSP?

Managed security service providers (MSSPs) and managed service providers (MSPs) both offer third-party services to organizations, but they differ in their focus. MSPs deliver general network and IT services, including managed telecommunications and software as a service (SaaS) platforms. MSSPs, on the other hand, specialize exclusively in providing security services, focusing on protecting organizations from cybersecurity threats.

A key distinction between MSSPs and MSPs lies in their operational centers. While MSPs typically operate network operations centers (NOCs) for monitoring and managing clients' networks, MSSPs are equipped with security operations centers (SOCs). SOCs are dedicated to round-the-clock security monitoring and incident response, ensuring rapid detection and mitigation of security threats to effectively safeguard organizations' network and digital assets.

Uses of a managed security service provider (MSSP)

MSSPs provide enterprises with a complete outsourced security solution. Enterprise network security monitoring and incident response are their main focus. However, because these networks evolve with new technologies, MSSPs often provide support for other platforms such as apps and cloud-based infrastructure. Common MSSP services include:

Antiviral services: To address the evolving types of viral attacks, MSSPs use threat-hunting resources to target imminent issues and implement protective measures at various levels within the network, safeguarding it against malware and other malicious software.

Endpoint protection: MSSPs offer endpoint protection services to safeguard devices such as laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices from cyberthreats, ensuring comprehensive security across all endpoints within the organization.

Incident response services: If there is a security incident or breach, MSSPs provide rapid incident response services. This can include forensic analysis, incident investigation and remediation to minimize the impact and restore normal operations.

Intrusion detection: Beyond traditional network boundaries, MSSPs safeguard all devices and systems from internal and external threats, investigating all components, people, and software and employing advanced techniques to preemptively identify and mitigate security breaches.

Managed firewall services: MSSPs deploy security experts to continuously monitor the system’s firewall and respond to potential threats. Network traffic is monitored to identify patterns and inconsistencies to ensure robust firewall protection.

Security consulting: MSSPs offer expert guidance and advice on security best practices, risk management strategies and security posture improvement, helping organizations develop and maintain effective security frameworks.

Security information and event management (SIEM): MSSPs deploy SIEM solutions to aggregate and analyze security data from various sources, enabling real-time threat detection, incident response, information security and compliance management.

Threat detection and prevention: MSSPs use advanced threat detection tools and techniques to detect and prevent various types of cyberthreats, including malware, ransomware, phishing attacks, and insider threats. This may involve deploying intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS), managed detection and response (MDR), and endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions, and other security technologies.

Virtual private network (VPN) configurations: MSSPs configure VPNs to secure organizational operations. A private VPN reduces the attack surface and implements tailored security measures for authorized users, to enhancing network security and confidentiality. 

Vulnerability scanning: MSSPs conduct thorough vulnerability scanning to identify potential threats. Their vulnerability management skills pinpoint issues within the network, including common targets such as workspaces, or sensitive data. Since attackers also identify vulnerabilities that are not directly connected to their intended targets. MSSPs can detect them whether they exist within the immediate attack surface, nearby, or farther away.

Benefits of a managed security service provider (MSSP)

MSSPs offer many advantages to safeguard businesses against the growing array of cyberthreats:

Access to advanced technologies: MSSPs invest in state-of-the-art security technologies and next-generation tools to protect their clients from a wide range of cyberthreats. Businesses that partner with MSSPs can use these technologies without making a significant upfront investment.

Compliance assistance: Many industries require regulatory compliance that is related to data protection and privacy. MSSPs help organizations achieve and maintain compliance with regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS by helping to collect data and generating reports for audits or after incidents.

Core business focus: By outsourcing security management to an MSSP, organizations can focus on their core business functions. Alleviating the burden of cybersecurity allows them to improve productivity and pursue strategic initiatives.

Cost efficiency: Engaging an MSSP eliminates the need for organizations to invest in costly security infrastructure and hire and train internal IT security personnel. MSSPs offer their services with predictable and often subscription-based pricing, allowing businesses to allocate their resources more efficiently. Also, many cybersecurity solutions support multi-tenancy and scalability. This enables an MSSP to use the same solution for multiple clients and spread the cost across them.

Expertise: MSSPs employ security experts with who have deep cybersecurity skills and an understanding of evolving threats, vulnerabilities, and security technologies. This makes them highly capable of providing effective protection for digital assets.

Peace of mind: MSSPs stay abreast of the latest threats and security trends to ensure that their clients can keep ahead of cyber attackers. Partnering with an MSSP gives organizations peace of mind knowing that their digital assets are protected by professionals.

Scalability: MSSPs can scale their services according to their clients’ evolving needs. Whether for an SMB or large enterprise, MSSPs can tailor their offerings to provide the right level of protection and support as the organization grows.

Solution configuration and management: By teaming up with an MSSP, organizations can access optimal cybersecurity services and security expertise and management without the need for on-premises talent. An average organization may have 50+ security tools, but lack the interoperability needed to make a security program efficient. An MSSP could help identify the right balance of technologies and services that would best serve and organization.

‘Always on’ monitoring and response: MSSPs operate security operation centers (SOCs) that provide around-the-clock monitoring and rapid incident response services. This continuous surveillance minimizes potential damage and downtime for businesses.

Related solutions
Managed security services (MSS)

Address security needs with the latest managed security services for today's hybrid cloud world.

Explore managed security services

Cyberthreat management services

Predict, prevent, and respond to modern threats, increasing business resilience.

Explore cyberthreat management services

IBM Security® QRadar® suite

Help your security team outsmart threats with speed, accuracy, and efficiency.

Explore IBM Security QRadar suite
Resources What is penetration testing?

Learn about this security test that launches a mock cyberattack to find vulnerabilities in a computer system.

Cost of data breach report 2023

Learn from the experiences of more than 550 organizations that were hit by a data breach.

IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2024

Learn from the challenges and successes experienced by security teams around the world.

IBM Security is an AWS Level 1 MSSP competency partner

Partner with IBM Security and AWS to securely accelerate your hybrid cloud business and manage risk.

Delivering security and scalability in today’s business landscape

Read how cybersecurity can be a strategic initiative that supports product capability, organizational effectiveness and customer relationships.

IBM and ASUS team up for AI-powered endpoint security pilot program

Learn why ASUS selected IBM Security to provide integrated endpoint security in its business laptops and desktops.

Take the next step

Cybersecurity threats are becoming more advanced, more persistent and are demanding more effort by security analysts to sift through countless alerts and incidents. IBM Security QRadar SIEM helps you remediate threats faster while maintaining your bottom line. QRadar SIEM prioritizes high-fidelity alerts to help you catch threats that others miss.

Explore QRadar SIEM Book a live demo