Demystifying Managed Security Services: A Comprehensive Guide

May 20, 2024

With cyberattacks reaching an all-time high and showing no sign of slowing down, plus a global shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals estimated at 4 million, organizations are under increased pressure to ensure their security posture is robust enough to safeguard their data and assets. It is clear that relying solely on basic security monitoring and alerts is insufficient for safeguarding your network and data.


Organizations need the expertise, resources and capabilities to proactively identify and mitigate threats using actionable intelligence before they pose any harm. Therefore, it is unsurprising that businesses of all sizes are turning to managed security service providers (MSSPs) to manage their cybersecurity risks.



Understanding Managed Security Services

At its core, managed security services are a specialized offering where businesses entrust their cybersecurity operations to external experts, known as managed security service providers (MSSPs). These entities continuously monitor security infrastructure and employ services designed to detect, address and mitigate potential cyber threats.


MSSPs effectively safeguard businesses by harnessing the power of advanced technologies and threat intelligence, taking a proactive approach to security and allowing companies to focus on growth, innovation and their core competencies.


Operational Mechanisms of MSSPs

MSSPs serve as an extension of an organization's IT team, providing 24/7/365 surveillance of the digital perimeter. Real-time analysis of network traffic, log files and security events is crucial to detect and respond to security incidents promptly.


By leveraging tools such as security information and event management (SIEM) platforms, intrusion detection systems (IDS) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions, MSSPs can identify indicators of compromise (IOCs) and abnormal behavior indicative of potential threats. Vulnerability data can also be referenced to quantify the likelihood and impact of future attacks.


In the event of a security incident, MSSPs provide rapid incident response and remediation services to minimize the impact on organizations' operations and assets. The process involves investigating security breaches, containing the incident and restoring systems to a secure state.


Skilled security analysts carry out this process. They adhere to established incident response procedures and utilize threat intelligence to pinpoint the root causes of incidents and enact suitable remediation measures.


They assist organizations in identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities in their IT infrastructure through comprehensive vulnerability management programs. MSSPs also provide guidance on best practices for secure configuration management and vulnerability remediation to enhance organizations' security posture.


Furthermore, they help organizations achieve and maintain compliance with ever-changing industry regulations and standards by providing expertise in compliance management. The tasks encompass conducting compliance assessments, implementing security controls and policies and preparing for regulatory audits. MSSPs ensure that organizations adhere to regulatory requirements such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI-DSS and others, reducing the risk of non-compliance penalties and reputational damage.


Tracing the Evolution of Managed Security Services

Initially, managed security services emerged as a response to the need for improved perimeter defense mechanisms as internet usage increased and exposed organizations to escalating cyberattacks. Organizations sought solutions to protect their networks from external threats, leading to the development of MSS as a proactive defense strategy.


Over the years, managed security services have undergone a significant transformation, adapting to the changing nature of cyber threats and technological advancements shaping the cybersecurity industry. Thanks to MSSPs, organizations have become more proactive in their approach to cybersecurity. By focusing on threat hunting, they can stay ahead of cyber adversaries and better protect their digital assets.


Furthermore, the evolution of MSS reflects a broader industry trend towards a more holistic and intelligence-driven approach to cybersecurity. MSSPs increasingly focus on providing comprehensive security solutions that address the entire cyber threat lifecycle, encompassing threat detection, response, intelligence and risk management. This comprehensive approach enables organizations to build robust cybersecurity defenses against new and evolving cyber threats.



Types of Managed Security Services

MSS encompasses a broad spectrum of services, addressing various facets of cybersecurity. This diversity allows organizations to tailor their security posture to specific needs and threats. While the distinction between core and specialized services can vary based on an organization's specific security needs and operational context, this categorization helps understand the broad scope of MSS offerings.


Core MSS Services

Managed Extended Detection and Response (MXDR)
Essential for organizations seeking to detect and respond to threats in real time, MXDR services are pivotal in identifying sophisticated cyber threats that bypass traditional defenses. They leverage advanced threat detection technologies and skilled security analysts to identify sophisticated cyber threats that may evade traditional security defenses and provide rapid investigation and mitigation.


These services continuously monitor network traffic, endpoints and systems to detect indicators of compromise (IOCs) and abnormal behavior. MXDR services prioritize actionable alerts, allowing organizations to respond promptly to security incidents and minimize potential damage.


Managed Firewall

A fundamental component of any cybersecurity defense strategy is managed firewall services, which are crucial for regulating network traffic and protecting organizational networks from unauthorized access.


MSSPs configure, manage and monitor firewalls to enforce security policies, control access to network resources and block malicious traffic. These services include regular firewall rule updates, configuration management and proactive threat analysis to maintain a strong defense against evolving cyber threats.


Managed Endpoint Security
Given the proliferation of endpoint devices within corporate networks, managed endpoint security is vital for defending against malware and other cyber threats targeting these devices.


MSSPs deploy endpoint protection platforms (EPP) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions to detect and remediate endpoint threats. These services include real-time monitoring, threat hunting, patch management and endpoint encryption to mitigate security risks and ensure endpoint security hygiene.


Managed Vulnerability Assessment

Regular vulnerability assessments are critical to identifying and mitigating weaknesses in an organization's IT infrastructure before attackers exploit them.


MSSPs conduct comprehensive vulnerability scans and assessments to identify network, application and system security vulnerabilities. These services include prioritizing vulnerabilities based on severity, as well as providing remediation guidance and continuous monitoring to ensure ongoing security posture improvement.


At Optiv, vulnerability management involves the continual synergy and assessment of people, process and technology. Read more about how our vulnerability management and remediation teams tackle real-world threats here.


Managed Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)
SIEM services provide a comprehensive overview of an organization's security posture by collecting and analyzing security logs and events, making it a core service for incident detection and response.


MSSPs deploy and manage SIEM solutions to detect security incidents, investigate threats and facilitate incident response. These services include real-time monitoring, threat intelligence integration, customizable dashboards and incident reporting to enhance situational awareness and accelerate incident response efforts.


Read more about Optiv's insights on how MSSPs work with SIEM tools.


Specialized MSS Services

Organizations may prioritize core services to establish a robust cybersecurity foundation while integrating specialized services to address unique challenges and compliance requirements or to enhance their security posture in specific areas.


Managed Identity and Access Management (IAM)
While crucial for many organizations, IAM services manage user identities and access permissions, often tailored to specific regulatory requirements or business processes.


MSSPs offer IAM solutions tailored to specific regulatory requirements, industry standards and business processes. These services include user provisioning, authentication, access control, privileged access management (PAM) and identity governance to enforce least privilege access and strengthen security posture.


Managed Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDPS)
IDPS monitoring and prevention capabilities focus on network-based threats like intrusions, exploits and malware.


MSSPs deploy and manage IDPS solutions tailored to an organization's security vulnerabilities and specific network architecture. These services include real-time threat detection, signature-based and behavioral-based anomaly detection, threat intelligence integration and automated response actions to mitigate security risks and protect network assets.


Managed Public Key Infrastructure and Certificate Lifecycle Management
Public key infrastructure (PKI) and certificate management preserve trust relationships between data infrastructure and users, as well as function as an identity control for machine and service accounts.


MSSPs deploy PKI solutions to automate certificate management and deliver secure cryptographic data transmission. These services include certificate generation and revocation, establishing trust relationships between Certificate Authority and endpoints, and supporting secure end-to-end encryption.


Managed Email Security

Managed email security services targeting the specific threat vectors associated with email communications, such as phishing, malware, spam and business email compromise (BEC), as well as data loss protection.


MSSPs deploy email security solutions to detect and block malicious email content, malicious attachments and suspicious links. These services include email filtering, anti-spam, anti-phishing, email encryption and email continuity to ensure secure and reliable email communication.


Managed Security Awareness Training
Focused on the human aspect of cybersecurity, these services offer specialized training programs designed to educate employees about security best practices, compliance requirements, and threat awareness.


MSSPs offer customized training content, ranging from informational videos to more hands-on phishing simulations and interactive learning modules to raise awareness and foster a security-conscious culture within organizations. These services include ongoing training, assessment and reporting to measure the effectiveness of training programs and address gaps in employee security awareness.


Managed Cloud Security
Cloud security services protect cloud-based assets by managing access controls, encryption and secure configurations.


MSSPs offer cloud security solutions tailored to various cloud platforms, such as AWS, Azure and Google Cloud. These services include cloud security posture management, cloud workload protection, identity and access management (IAM), data encryption and compliance monitoring to ensure the security and compliance of cloud environments.



Service Delivery Models

MSS offer businesses various service delivery models tailored to their needs, including fully managed services, co-managed IT services and hybrid models. Each model differs in the level of control and responsibility allocated between the service provider and the client.


Fully Managed Services

In this model, the client typically relinquishes control over security tasks to the MSSP, which takes full responsibility for the organization's security infrastructure and operations. Fully managed services offer 24/7/365 monitoring, threat detection, incident response and the ongoing management of security technologies.


MSSPs often leverage advanced tools and expertise to deliver comprehensive security solutions efficiently, allowing the organization to focus entirely on core business activities.


Co-Managed IT Service

This model involves a collaborative approach between the client's in-house IT team and the MSSP. The organization retains control over certain security operations while delegating specific tasks or responsibilities to the service provider. These responsibilities include analyzing threat intelligence, investigating security incidents and managing compliance.


Co-managed services offer flexibility and allow organizations to leverage their internal expertise while benefiting from the specialized knowledge and resources of the MSSP.


Hybrid Models

Hybrid models combine elements of both fully managed and co-managed services and offer a customizable approach to security management. Organizations can outsource certain security functions entirely to the MSSP while retaining control over others.


For example, an organization might manage day-to-day security operations internally while outsourcing specialized tasks such as penetration testing or security consulting. Such flexibility allows businesses to align their security strategies with their unique requirements, budget constraints and internal capabilities.


These service delivery models allow organizations to enhance their security posture while optimizing resource use and operational efficiency. Choosing the suitable model depends on the organization's size, industry regulations, risk tolerance and internal expertise.



Key Considerations When Selecting a MSSP

The deployment of MSS can vary from fully managed to co-managed or hybrid models, depending on the organization's internal capabilities and preferences. This flexibility ensures businesses can scale their security operations efficiently, aligning with their evolving needs and challenges. The choice of MSSP is pivotal, necessitating a thorough assessment of potential partners based on several criteria.


Assessing Your Security Needs

When evaluating your security requirements, it is crucial to delve into the specifics to align them effectively with the services offered by managed security service providers (MSSPs). Begin by comprehensively assessing your security posture and identifying vulnerabilities, compliance requirements and potential risk areas.


Consider factors such as the size and complexity of your infrastructure, the sensitivity of your data, regulatory obligations and industry-specific threats.


Once you clearly understand your security needs, evaluate the capabilities and offerings of various MSSPs to determine which best aligns with your requirements. Look for providers that offer services tailored to your organization's size, industry and unique challenges.


Consider whether they provide 24/7/365 monitoring, threat detection and response capabilities, vulnerability management, incident response services and compliance expertise.


Criteria for Choosing an MSSP

Look for providers with a proven track record of success, industry certifications and a team of skilled security professionals.


Compliance is another crucial consideration, especially for organizations operating in regulated industries. Ensure that the MSSP has experience and expertise in meeting regulatory requirements relevant to your industry, such as GDPR, HIPAA or PCI-DSS.


Scalability is essential, as your security needs may evolve. Choose an MSSP that can scale its services to accommodate your organization's growth and changing requirements.


Technology plays a significant role in effective security operations. Assess the MSSPs technology stack, including its use of advanced threat detection tools, SIEM platforms and other security technologies.


Consider the level of client service and support the MSSP provides. Look for a provider that offers responsive support, clear communication channels and a commitment to understanding your organization's security challenges.


Understanding the Service Level Agreement (SLA)

The SLA is a critical component of your engagement with an MSSP, outlining the terms and expectations of the services provided. It is essential to thoroughly review the SLA to ensure it aligns with your organization's needs and priorities.


Key elements to consider within the SLA include response times for security incidents and alerts, escalation procedures and communication protocols. Ensure that the SLA provides clear guidelines for incident response, including how quickly the MSSP will respond to security incidents and the steps to mitigate threats.


Reporting is another crucial aspect of the SLA. Look for provisions detailing the frequency and format of security reports and the level of detail provided. Regular reporting is essential for maintaining visibility into your organization's security posture and understanding the effectiveness of the MSSPs services.


Communication protocols are vital for effective collaboration between your organization and the MSSP. Ensure the SLA defines clear communication channels, points of contact and escalation procedures to facilitate timely and effective communication during security incidents and other critical events.


By carefully evaluating and understanding the service level agreement, you ensure your engagement with the MSSP is founded on clear expectations and mutually beneficial terms. This approach significantly enhances the effectiveness of your security operations.



The Role of MSS in Enhancing Cybersecurity Posture

Amidst the relentless onslaught of cyber threats, organizations must amplify their security resilience to effectively withstand and mitigate potential attacks. Leveraging managed security services can significantly fortify an organization's cyber defenses and bolster overall security posture, providing immediate strategic benefits.


Our 2023 survey involving cybersecurity leaders indicates that partnerships with MSS and MDR providers have led to a 73% reduction in the impact of disruptive cyber incidents for organizations.


Strengthening Security Infrastructure

Managed security services are a cornerstone in this function, offering proactive monitoring, threat detection and incident response capabilities. MSSPs utilize advanced technology and deep expertise to help organizations detect and neutralize cyber threats in real-time. This approach strengthens their defenses against sophisticated attacks, minimizing the impact on critical assets and operations.


Strategic Advantages of MSS

Beyond immediate threat mitigation, MSSPs contribute to the strategic planning of an organization's cybersecurity posture, tailoring long-term strategies that address specific risks and compliance requirements. Engaging with an MSSP offers scalability to organizations, allowing the provider to customize solutions according to business growth and evolving needs.


Ensuring cybersecurity measures can adapt as the organization expands without significant restructuring or additional investments. Partnering with an MSSP represents a cost-saving advantage, especially for smaller or midsize businesses needing help maintaining an in-house cybersecurity team due to resource constraints.


By outsourcing security needs to an MSSP, organizations can access comprehensive cybersecurity services at a fraction of the cost of building and managing an internal team, allowing them to allocate resources more efficiently and focus on core business priorities.



Future Trends and Evolutions in Managed Security Services

Managed security services continue to evolve rapidly in response to increasing cyber threats and the complexity of IT environments. As organizations face new challenges in securing their digital assets and data, managed security service providers are leading innovation. They adopt advanced technologies and strategies to address the evolving needs of their clients, with several key trends expected to shape the future of managed security services.


One of the most significant trends in MSS is the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies. These capabilities enable MSSPs to improve threat detection, automate response actions and analyze vast amounts of security data quickly and in real-time, reducing response times and minimizing the impact of security incidents.


The AI in CybersecurityMarket Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report by Grand View Research estimates the global AI in cybersecurity market size at USD 16.48 billion in 2022. It anticipates a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.3% from 2023 to 2030, expected to reach USD 93.75 billion by 2030.


With the rise of remote and distributed workforces, organizations have increasingly adopted – the zero trust security architecture, a model that assumes that no entity, whether inside or outside the organization's network, should be trusted by default. Resource access is granted based on strict identity verification and least privilege principles.


MSSPs are adjusting their service offerings to deliver comprehensive security solutions aligned with this model. This involves implementing robust identity and access management (IAM) controls, micro-segmentation of network environments and continuous monitoring and authentication of user activity.


A SOAR Market report by Markets and Markets predicts that the integration of security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) platforms market will reach $2.3 billion by 2027. SOARs are becoming increasingly integral to MSSPs' operations, streamlining security workflows, automating repetitive tasks and improving incident response efficiency.


By integrating SOAR capabilities into their service offerings, MSSPs can orchestrate complex security processes, correlate threat intelligence data and automate response actions across clients' environments.


Organizations' widespread adoption of cloud computing has introduced new security challenges, including data breaches, misconfigurations and unauthorized access. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to the cloud, forcing workforces to operate remotely. Consequently, industries have increasingly relied on cloud-based infrastructure and services to support their digital transformation initiatives.


In response, MSSPs continue to expand offerings to include specialized cloud security services tailored to the unique requirements of cloud environments. Implementing cloud-native security controls, configuring secure access policies and conducting regular cloud infrastructure audits and assessments are essential.


The evolving nature of cyber threats necessitates that MSSPs innovate and adapt to address the security challenges organizations face in an increasingly digital world. By staying ahead of these trends, MSSPs can continue to provide their clients with robust and effective cybersecurity solutions to protect against emerging threats and safeguard their digital assets.



The Ascending Reliance on MSS

As cyber threats grow in complexity and pervasiveness, organizations across all sectors increasingly rely on MSSPs to safeguard against cyberattacks. This reliance underscores the crucial role MSSPs play in executing comprehensive cybersecurity strategies.


Findings in the Security Services Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis report by Grand View Research cited the following findings:


  1. Revenue share and market size: MSS held a significant revenue share of 32.4% in 2022. This figure underscores the substantial portion of the security services market that MSS occupies, indicating its importance to both providers and consumers of security services.
  2. Growth rate of the security services market: The security services market is projected to experience a growth rate of 6.2% CAGR from 2023 to 2030. This growth indicates the escalating demand for outsourced security services as organizations seek specialized expertise to combat evolving threats.


As previously discussed, one reason is the shortage of cybersecurity professionals, making MSS an attractive alternative for organizations to access specialized talent and resources. MSSPs offer 24/7/365 monitoring, threat detection and incident response capabilities, leveraging sophisticated tools and expertise to mitigate risks effectively.


The regulatory compliance requirements, such as GDPR, HIPAA and PCI DSS, compel organizations to prioritize cybersecurity initiatives. MSSPs assist businesses in navigating complex compliance requirements by implementing customized security measures and providing documentation to demonstrate adherence to regulations.


The upward trajectory of reliance on MSSPs to handle an organization's cybersecurity reflects the pace at which the IT security environment changes, characterized by escalating threats, talent shortages and regulatory pressures. Partnering with MSSPs can enhance security, mitigate risks, safeguard assets and ensure compliance with regulations and standards.



Navigating the Future of Managed Security Services with Optiv

With a global shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals, organizations often need more in-house expertise and resources to manage cybersecurity risks effectively. MSSPs provide access to a dedicated team of skilled security analysts, leveraging their knowledge and advanced technologies to fortify your cybersecurity defenses.


Outsourcing your cybersecurity needs can be more cost-effective than building and maintaining an in-house cybersecurity team. Organizations can access comprehensive security services at a fraction of the cost, enabling efficient allocation of resources and budget optimization.


At Optiv, we understand the criticality of robust cybersecurity measures. We offer comprehensive managed security services, backed by a team of experienced professionals and industry-leading technologies. Our tailored solutions ensure your organization receives the highest protection against emerging threats and vulnerabilities. Trust us to be your MSSP partner, empowering your business to thrive securely in today's digital world – contact us today!

John Pelton
Senior Director of Cyber Operations | Optiv
John Pelton is Optiv’s Sr. Director of Detection in Response within Managed Services and leads a team in safeguarding clients’ environments comprised of engineers, analysts and hunters. John has previously led client success organizations and has a heavy emphasis on client satisfaction, process optimizations and effective risk management.
Ben Radcliff
Director, Cyber Operations | Optiv
Ben Radcliff is a security practitioner with over a decade of experience in security and IT operations. As Director of Security Operations within Optiv’s Cyber Defense and Applied Security group Ben currently supports a large team of security professionals across a wide array of sub disciplines including Identity and Access Management, Vulnerability Analysis, Public Key Infrastructure, and perimeter security. Ben joined Optiv in 2019 to lead Optiv’s nascent Managed Identity Practice, where he helped develop and mature Optiv’s Privileged Access and Identity Governance managed service capabilities. He holds a Master of Science degree in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance from Western Governors University.