What to look for in a managed security service provider?

Turning over computer security to an outside firm makes many managers nervous because they must give up direct control of critical systems. This has long been the central theme which a lot of paranoids use to block outsourcing proponents from getting their way. But beyond the negative impression that comes with losing control is a whole plethora of reasons why outsourcing just makes sense.


And just to be clear: even the biggest enterprises concede that their systems are not 100 per cent foolproof. They spend thousands of dollars to keep the internal security team abreast of the latest in security trends and issues. At the same time, they still turn to external consultants to regularly check that systems, policies and processes are up-to-date, and compliant with regulations.


How much would a security breach cost? Is all the expense paid to keep the internal team up-to-date worth it? A survey by Forrester of 28 companies that had experience a data breach puts this figure between UHKD$90 to UHKD$305 per lost record. It doesn’t sound much when you count your data if you have a handful of customers. However, if your customer database is in the tens of thousands, you are looking at millions in lost opportunity and not to mention the impact of losing your customers’ trust.


“After calculating the expenses of legal fees, call centers, lost employee productivity, regulatory fines, stock plummets, and customer losses, it can be dizzying, if not impossible, to come up with a true number,” said senior analyst Khalid Kark Forrester Research in the report. “Although studies may not be able to determine the exact cost of a security breach in your organization, the loss of sensitive data can have a crippling impact on an organization’s bottom line, especially if it is ill-equipped, and it’s important to be able to make an educated estimate of its cost.”


More recently, the Ponemon Institute LLC, an information security research group, pegged the cost of exposing data such as Social Security and credit-card numbers to UHKD$7.3 million per incident, up 7 percent from last year.


Edward Ferrara, a security and risk analyst at Forrester laments that building your own security is in itself fraught with challenges. “Security is so hot that good people are hard to find, and they’re expensive! So even if you wanted to build your own security organization, it would be hard to do that,” he adds.


This is where outsourcers, such as managed security service providers, come in. These organizations use economies of scale to provide security-related services at what would be a fraction of the cost if you were to do it yourself. You pay for how much service you believe you will need – no more, no less. Your outsourced security expense can scale with your business: up or down. This is very appealing for many SMBs because it gives them the sense of security they need, and allows them to protect their fledgling brand which is an important asset for anyone who has been in business long enough.


Just so I am clear about this again.  There are tens, if not hundreds, of companies willing to sell you their security services for a monthly fee. Choosing the right provider is actually not as difficult as it may seem.


The first thing to do is ask around from friends, business partners or industry groups, for referral. There are bound to be people who have gone the outsourcing way and they can offer you field experience.


When you’ve got the list down, look for a provider with technology and expertise that meets your specific security needs. Ask about response times, the size of the support team, the number of customers they currently service, the type of customers they currently support, and of course, ask for references. If you handle financial or medical data, make sure the provider can help you comply with relevant data-security regulations.


Ask the provider what your options are in terms of the type of services you will likely need. Will they install new equipment at your premises? Will your traffic run through their data centers before it comes to you? If you’ve started using virtual machines in your operation, can your MSSP secure both physical and virtual servers?


You may also want to verify platform compatibility, i.e., will their platform support both your physical and virtual platforms. This is important because it will ensure seamless transition to their platform.


If you have a budding ecommerce business, look for a provider with experience blocking security threats to sites while boosting site speed and performance. Ask them if their platform also supports social networks and is geared towards interactivity. A good benchmark is if they use Parallels Web Presence Builder. Combined with Parallels Plesk, it offers organizations a platform for rapid deployment of websites that serve a business function and work extremely well for visitors.


IT security is a full time, 24×7 pre-occupation! Your customers do not expect you to have your own SWAT team. On the other hand, they expect you to protect their information to the best of your ability. You don’t need to set up your own team to protect your business and your customers. There are plenty of services that can give your company effective protection at a reasonable cost.

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