Managed security service providers (MSSPs) can be an effective addition to your security portfolio, or they can be a real drag on your operations. For most companies, the reality of working with a managed security service provider is somewhere in the middle.
Any managed service provider should lift at least some cost and effort burden from IT professionals' shoulders. In a perfect world, any managed service provider should meet all service-level requirements, follow escalation procedures to the letter, and provide five nines (at least) of uptime. Of course, some of your providers will be better than others at meeting these goals. Should you cut all ties with providers that aren't even close? Perhaps, but sometimes it's hard to tell where they -- and your organization as a result -- stand.
Some security service providers promise the moon to get your business, then disappear after you've signed the contract. Others almost -- but don't quite -- meet service-level agreements (SLAs). Some providers will be up front when they have dropped the ball, while others hope you don't find out, setting the IT department up for a doozy of a blindside.
The reality is that MSSPs can miss a disastrous breach. They can fail you at the most inopportune time. They can miss SLAs, and they may not actually be as cheap as you originally thought. And outsourcing business functions doesn't mean that you're also outsourcing responsibility and oversight. You need to manage a service provider just as you would any IT staff person or vendor.
Although it may not feel this way sometimes, the success or failure of a relationship with any security service provider is very much within your control. And that success or failure is as much about the capabilities of your service provider as it is about your ability to manage that provider. You may have to play the part of a lawyer, an engineer, a quality-assurance pro, and a project manager.
Structurally and contractually speaking, managing a relationship with a security service provider is in some ways like managing a relationship with an ISP. ISPs promise you a certain level of service and uptime, and, as a customer, your expectation for how an ISP will perform comes from the service level you were contractually promised.
But that may be where the similarities end.
It's easy to get a handle on how an ISP is performing. With an ISP, your service is either up or down. With an ISP, you can easily quantify and measure uptime, and you can easily test SLAs and escalation procedures.
With MSSPs, on the other hand, it can be much more difficult to verify that you're getting the service you expect. Whether you're entering into an MSSP relationship for the first time or have been using an MSSP for years, you need to commit to designing a process to ensure that your provider is performing as advertised. So while you may not be actively managing your firewall or scanning IPS logs every day, you need to make sure that your MSSP is doing these jobs effectively on your behalf.
For a list of tests and practices you can use to monitor your MSSP's performance -- and some suggestions on what to do if it isn't up to snuff -- download a free copy of the Dark Reading report on managing MSSPs.
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