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MSPs: 7 Steps to Proper Risk Management, Enhanced Cybersecurity

When it comes to cybersecurity, you can't completely defend every asset from every type of known -- or unknown -- attack. But proper risk measurement and management can vastly improve your overall company defenses, according to SolarWinds VP of Security Tim Brown.

During a keynote at the SolarWinds Empower MSP conference this week in Atlanta, Brown described how MSPs can harden their own networks, while also competing more effectively against full-blown MSSPs in the cybersecurity market.

To compete against large MSSPs, Brown recommended that MSPs focus on (A) letting the good guys do their jobs and (B) keeping the bad guys out. His point: Big MSSPs only focus on item B, but they don’t offer the productivity and user experience services  that help business employees perform their daily jobs.

Brown also identified seven action items for MSPs to tackle in the ongoing journey toward risk mitigation and proper cybersecurity. I've paraphrased a few of the tips here -- though Brown's exact wording may vary just a bit from here.

1. Embrace the journey

  • Measure to show success
  • Be a lifetime learner
  • Kick fear to the curb and trust in what you’ve already done
  • Measure risk and act accordingly

2. Embrace data analytics

  • Start doing basic analytics and automation.
  • Learn from peers who have turned data into action
  • Get in the data/analytics and automation mindset
  • Embrace and consume technology with built-in analytics

3. Lock down those end-points

  • Monitor for indications of compromise and act fast
  • Watch who your endpoints are talking to
  • Segment devices you can’t “see” to limit your attack aperture
  • Only allow devices to communicate as they need to

4. Safeguard Access to Applications 

  • Understand what applications your customers have
  • Understand your customers' access model
  • Understand the benefits of Zero Trust, such as:
    • A realistic look at the environment
    • A true protection model
    • Ability to focus on the applications and people that really matter
    • Reduction in management and increase of security
  • Include identity- and application-centric models to complete the vision

5. Think About Users and Their Access Rights

  • Start with controlling identities, access control models, and user rights for both yourself and your customers
  • Utilize MFA or conditional access whenever possible
  • Work toward a 20/80 model
    • 20 percent of users are special and can do material harm to the business
    • 80 percent of users are are not special and have only basic access to basic services
  • Build processes to manage users and prove access is correct

6. Treat compliance as a business opportunity

  • Understand the regulations your customers face
  • Understand any customer dealing with personal data may face additional regulations
  • You cannot make them compliant, but you can help
  • Many regulations share common IT controls
  • Make regulations part of your normal inspection and monitoring

7. Wrap your arms around risk management

  • Know your customers and the risk they face
  • Focus on risk—not security
  • Implement good cyberhygiene!
  • Understand that one tool will not solve all problems
  • Be proactive and not reactive whenever possible
  • Focus on security architecture and not individual components

SolarWinds MSP: Playing Match Maker

Even as MSPs seek to deepen their risk mitigation and cybersecurity skills, they may need to partner up with full-blown MSSPs for more advanced services -- such as threat monitoring and SOC (security operations center) options.

Amid that reality, Brown and other SolarWinds MSP executives described emerging partner connections between MSSPs and MSPs.

Brown's bottom-line takeaway: Focus on the most critical assets within your own business, and the most critical assets in your customer organizations -- the assets that simply can't be lost or compromised under any circumstances. Then, measure the risks facing those assets. And take proper steps to mitigate those risks.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.