MDR vs MSSP: Major Differences to Consider

By Jonathan Nguyen-Duy | March 09, 2022

The increase in remote work initiatives has created new opportunities for MSSPs. Organizations are now relying on service providers more than ever to help manage security across their expanding telework environments. But in order to take advantage of this opportunity, MSSPs require specialized cybersecurity tools and resources. 


What is MDR?

In cybersecurity, managed detection and response (MDR) refers to services that help organizations better understand the risks they face and improve how they identify and react to such threats. However, not all service providers are poised to offer these capabilities. The difference lies in the level of services provided. MSSPs usually provide the monitoring and management services needed to alert customers and help them achieve a better security posture and compliance. MDR services go a step further by providing staff augmentation for detection and incidence response.


What is MDR?

A managed security service provider (MSSP) offers outsourced security device monitoring and management.  As a third party, an MSSP can provide access to technologies and skills - freeing up IT teams to support and expand operations.


MDR vs. MSSP: What is the Difference?

MDR providers’ service offerings are primarily built around threat detection and response. With improved threat-detection times, organizations can respond to security incidents in real-time, limiting the impact of successful attacks. If customers require additional assistance, MDR providers can help with threat remediation by deploying on-premises teams. Conversely, MSSPs have traditionally prioritized security monitoring and asset management. Compared to MDRs, MSSPs are more concerned with the deployment, management, and monitoring of security assets like firewall network access controls.

Providing MDR services will play a vital role in MSSPs’ ability to meet customer security demands. This trend was highlighted in one Gartner study, which found that by 2024, more than 90% of organizations looking to outsource security will focus on detection and response services. Buyers are turning to MDR providers because they are able to provide comprehensive response capabilities across remote business environments. This means that for MSSPs to stay competitive, they will need to incorporate managed detection and response technologies into their service offerings.


Challenges Managed Detection and Response (MDR) Services Can Address

With MDR services, organizations have the ability to overcome the following challenges: 

  • Protecting endpoints from malware: Many times, malware hides its communications with Command and Control (C&C servers). These are used to exfiltrate data and download even more malware on a vulnerable machine. But with MDR, organizations can intercept these communications. Additionally, MDR services can include an endpoint protection platform (EPP) to protect specific endpoints from malware attacks.
  • Halting lateral threat movement: Lateral movement is one of the most common ways attackers compromise a series of machines within a single network. MDR services detect these lateral movements so security teams can take action. 
  • Stopping internal security violations: Employees within organizations, whether accidentally or intentionally, can break internal security policies. When these situations occur, MDR can help to investigate what happened and why, and then report the incident back to the organization's security team. 


Challenges MSSPs Face When Providing Managed Detection & Response Services

MSSPs face several challenges when looking to expand their service offerings to incorporate MDR solutions. These include:

Disparate tools

MDR providers rely on multiple security vendors to provide threat detection and mitigation capabilities to customers. Without a centralized security platform, however, it can be difficult to gain the visibility and integration needed to manage threats properly. This is why MSSPs should work with vendors that provide the combination of tools needed to deliver threat detection and response services. Fortinet works to address this challenge by offering technology solutions integrated via telemetry that work with each other to share threat intelligence and support native automation. This helps to eliminate silos associated with having multiple vendors by providing MSSPs with integrated threat management systems. 

A key component of successful MDR programs is having access to integrated security solutions. This has forced MDR providers to write middleware to get disparate technologies to work together. Solutions that incorporate automation with custom playbooks allow MDR providers to coordinate their detection and remediation efforts, helping them cut down on incident response times. For MSSPs who leverage decentralized tools, it can be difficult to discern false positives from active threats, creating gaps in security. As networks grow in complexity with the addition of endpoint devices and cloud solutions, having access to integrated security services is essential to the success of an MDR offering. Fortinet’s Security Fabric is designed to help address this challenge by providing MSSPs with a set of integrated security tools that work together to expedite threat detection and response. With integrated solutions, service providers can centralize case management and provide a full stack of MDR offerings to customers.

Competition from MDR service providers

With the growing demand for threat detection and response, traditional MSSPs are threatened by MDR providers competing for the same customer base that MSSPs have pursued. For this reason, it can be difficult for an MSSP to compete with established MDR providers without having access to the necessary tools and a detection and response service. This is why MSSPs must be able to differentiate their MDR capabilities in order to generate business. With Fortinet’s acquisition of EnSilo and Cybersponse for EDR and SOAR, which is fully integrated with FortiSIEM, service providers can build full-stack MDR offerings through a single vendor. This level of integration is unmatched in the current market, helping MSSPs to stand out from the crowd and attract new business prospects.

SOC skills shortage and lack of opportunity for training 

The effectiveness of SOC teams plays a significant role in an MSSP’s ability to manage security on customer networks. Currently, there is a serious lack of available SOC talent. This leads many MSSPs to train staff internally, something which comes with its own set of challenges. SOC training involves learning how to leverage multiple technologies which not only can be time-consuming but also requires a considerable monetary investment. And once SOC analysts are trained, MSSPs run the risk of them leaving for another organization as their newly acquired skills will be in high demand. Fortinet developed the SOC Lifecycle Strategy to help MSSPs tackle this challenge. The lifecycle strategy is composed of four stages, each of which provides MSSPs with the resources and guidance they need to establish the required infrastructure to provide MDR services to customers. 

MSSPs should strive to offer MDR services 

Organizations have placed an increased emphasis on threat detection and response services. With integrated MDR capabilities, MSSPs can take advantage of this emerging market by providing customers with solutions that ensure ongoing security. And with Fortinet, MSSPs are able to expand service offerings and deliver comprehensive MDR solutions to customers with a single security vendor.


MDR vs. MSSP: Which is Best for Your Organization?

When to choose MDR

MDR services allow security teams to improve their cyber resilience, quickly mitigate damage, and solve important problems such as:

●      Accurately identifying threats and prioritizing them based on severity is vital to maintaining an organization's cybersecurity environment. MDR technology helps by detecting critical threats and reducing the number of alerts that require no remediation.

●      Automated advanced threat detection with endpoint protection creates a managed security service. It does the work of several IT professionals, freeing up resources across the board.

●      Security alerts are common, but how you handle threat detection and response at the highest priority level is what really matters. MDR security uses threat intelligence, which relies on machine learning, to proactively hunt threats. With its constant scanning, MDR technology remains up-to-date so it can identify the latest threats.

●      Delayed security threat notifications can result in significant damage. The quicker you identify and respond to threats, the less impact your organization experiences. MDR helps minimize the effects of security events by immediately notifying you of threats.

●      Maintaining a cybersecurity environment requires proper talent who is constantly available - unless you use MDR. This service removes the need for extra staffing and can take the guesswork out of your cybersecurity approach.

When to choose MSSP

MSSPs minimize the impact of cyberattacks by providing managed security and monitoring technologies to protect enterprise data, infrastructure, and users. With an MSSP, the management and monitoring of security systems are outsourced. With critical security systems in the hands of an external entity, IT teams have more time to engage in other projects to further organizational objectives. Common services include:

●      A managed firewall that provides stronger threat management through the implementation of security experts. These professionals constantly monitor your firewall, as well as respond to potential threats.

●      Modern intrusion detection involves second-guessing all components, people, and software, whether they are inside or outside the “castle.” Intrusion detection by a capable MSSP involves protecting all devices and systems, as well as making sure they are not used by bad actors.

●      In the hands of an MSSP, a VPN can be configured to securely shelter your organization’s operations. Because it is shielded from intrusion by other users, a private VPN minimizes the attack surface significantly.

●      MSSPs also scan for vulnerabilities in your network. These include obvious targets for cybercriminals, such as workspaces and sensitive data.

●      MSSPs can design a portfolio of antiviral services that takes aim at the most salient threats. In addition, general antiviral measures can be implemented at various levels and locations within the network. For example, antiviral solutions can be arranged to meet the protection needs of in-house servers, while different solutions can be designed for cloud servers


Learn more about how managed detection and response service focuses on monitoring the alerts and suspicious threats detected by FortiEDR.

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