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Keys for Working with Modern MSSPs

How to determine what an MSSP can do for your organization, and the questions to ask before signing a contract.

Managed security service providers (MSSPs) are critical elements of a cybersecurity infrastructure for many organizations large and small. So what are some best practices for working with MSSPs?

As with the rest of the security industry, MSSPs are constantly evolving the services they offer and the way they work with their customers.

The first step in working with an MSSP is understanding what you need from the partnership. Maxine Holt, research director of security at Ovum, says the three basic steps in cybersecurity — prevent, detect, and respond — are where the discussion begins. In a presentation during the Cybersecurity Crash Course at Interop last week in Las Vegas, she recommended applying those three security processes to the seven stages of the Mitre ATT&CK kill chain to answer a critical question: Where do I have gaps in my coverage?

When it comes to filling those gaps, MSSPs tend to promise a lot, according to Fred Kwong, CISO at Delta Dental Plans Association, who also discussed MSSPs in a presentation at the Interop Cybersecurity Crash Course. Among the features an MSSP might offer to potential customers, he said, are 24 x 7 monitoring, qualified security pros watching your network full-time, advanced correlation between behaviors and incidents, and reduced time to detect intrusions — all at a lower cost to organizations than performing those tasks in-house.

When those features are broken into their individual functional components, the result is a significant laundry list of possible services. Kwong said that figuring out which of those tasks to contract out, and how deliverables on each are defined, are critical for defining the customer/MSSP partnership and who "owns" which part of the total cybersecurity process.

Holt said that two words should be at the top of the list during the discussion over ownership: integrate and automate. Integration is critical, she said, because even in those cases in which an MSSP will take over essentially all of a company's security functions, effective cybersecurity has to be integrated into the overall IT infrastructure.

And when a company looks for an MSSP to take over a portion of the cybersecurity function, then task can't have any functional or visibility gaps between it and the customer-owned parts of the infrastructure if it's to remain effective.

Ensure there are no functional or visibility gaps between the MSSP's duties and the customer-owned, on-premise infrastructure to ensure the outsourced function is doing the job required with the necessary level of integration with other security functions -- and at the price agreed upon in the contract.

No matter how the MSSP's services are integrated into the customer infrastructure, you can't outsource accountability, Kwong said. Regardless of the the contract language, the MSSP customer is ultimately responsible for making sure that their IT infrastructure is secure, both Kwong and Holt warned.

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

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