MDR vs. MSSPs: 6 Key Differences

Orion Cassetto Orion Cassetto

When navigating through managed cybersecurity solutions, a common comparison often arises between MDR (Managed Detection and Response) and MSSP (Managed Security Service Provider). Despite their apparent similarities, a closer examination unveils notable differences that can significantly influence the selection decision-making process.

Below, we’ll discuss each of these solutions, and explore 6 differentiators between MDR and MSSP. Understanding these nuances is paramount for selecting the cybersecurity solution that best suits the distinctive needs and priorities of your organization.

What is MDR and How Does it Work?

MDR (Managed Detection and Response) serves as an integrated solution designed to bolster cybersecurity defenses by leveraging a blend of sophisticated technologies, advanced analytics, and skilled security personnel. By opting for an MDR solution, organizations entrust the intricate tasks of threat detection and response to specialized outsourced service providers, aiming to minimize the probability and impact of cyberattacks. The core components of an MDR solution encompass continuous threat monitoring, comprehensive vulnerability scanning, integrated detection capabilities across endpoints, networks, and cloud environments, as well as log management, automated response mechanisms, guided remediation, and real-time reporting features.

At its essence, MDR operates by seamlessly merging a robust security platform with analytical expertise and expert-led outsourced services, enabling organizations to fortify their security posture across diverse digital landscapes. Through meticulous asset profiling and continuous surveillance of activity logs, and events an MDR solution swiftly identifies potential breaches, thereby facilitating prompt incident response and remediation actions. By harnessing real-time threat intelligence and engaging in proactive threat-hunting activities, MDR analysts remain vigilant against emerging threats, validating incidents round-the-clock and recommending appropriate response actions to effectively mitigate risks.

In summary, an MDR solution, which is, by definition, outsourced, represents a proactive approach to cybersecurity, empowering organizations to defend against evolving cyber threats with agility and efficacy. By embracing MDR, businesses can achieve a heightened level of resilience in safeguarding their digital assets and preserving business continuity amidst a dynamic threat landscape. Follow this link for a deep dive into what MDR is.

What Are MSSPs and What Do They Do?

MSSPs (Managed Security Service Providers) play a vital role in cybersecurity by offering outsourced monitoring and management services. They too aim to safeguard organizations against cyber threats, from a slightly different angle. Acting as trusted advisors, MSSPs provide specialized expertise to manage and bolster an organization’s security posture, alleviating the burden on internal IT teams. This assistance enables companies to redirect their focus towards core business activities, enhancing productivity and growth opportunities. In the digital landscape, characterized by escalating cyber complexities and a scarcity of skilled security professionals, MSSPs have emerged as indispensable allies in fortifying businesses against evolving threats.

Typically, MSSPs initiate their workflow through security information and event management (SIEM) technology, either managed independently or co-managed with the customer. By continuously monitoring security networks, MSSPs swiftly detect anomalies and issue alerts, primarily focusing on firewall management, endpoint security, and patching. While MSSPs offer additional security solutions such as penetration testing, security awareness training, and even MDR (Managed Detection and Response), their primary emphasis lies in preventive measures, with incident response and threat remediation often falling within the customer’s responsibility.

Although MSSPs support various aspects of a security program, their specialization typically lies outside the realm of detecting and responding to advanced threats. Instead, MSSPs excel in proactively fortifying defenses, empowering organizations to mitigate risks and safeguard sensitive data and critical infrastructure from cyber adversaries.

MDR vs MSSPs: 6 Key Differences

When looking at Managed Security Services Providers (MSSP) vs. Managed Detection and Response (MDR) services, the disparities become more evident when expanding the acronyms to their full forms. Doing so clarifies the nature of the services provided: An MSSP is essentially a vendor offering a spectrum of security services, while MDR denotes a distinct service encompassing both threat detection and response functionalities. It’s important to note that all MDR services can be rendered by an MSSP, yet, not all MSSPs include MDR in their service portfolio.

While Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs) offer a wide array of services, Managed Detection and Response (MDR) providers focus on safeguarding organizations against cyber threats by actively identifying and addressing potential breaches within their operational landscapes.

MSSPs predominantly rely on signature and rule-based detection methods, often overlooking sophisticated threats and sometimes even basic attack strategies. In cases of incident discovery, many MSSP clients find themselves still accountable for containment and mitigation efforts, or compelled to incur additional expenses by engaging the provider’s incident response team. Moreover, the expertise of MSSP personnel may not always align with the demands of effective incident response.

In contrast, MDR services are meticulously designed to fortify an organization’s capabilities in advanced threat detection, investigation, and response. They serve to complement and elevate internal defenses, scrutinizing similar datasets as MSSPs—such as network logs and endpoint telemetry—but with a heightened level of scrutiny. Furthermore, MDR solutions leverage cutting-edge technologies including Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), and bespoke security event management platforms, tailored explicitly to meet the evolving demands of cybersecurity.

Now let’s take a closer look at 6 key differences between MSSP vs. MDR:

  1. Service offering:

MSSPs: As comprehensive security services vendors, MSSPs offer a broad spectrum of security solutions encompassing firewall management, intrusion prevention, vulnerability scanning, regulatory compliance, and more. Their focus revolves primarily around maintaining a secure environment through proactive measures.

MDR: In contrast, MDR providers specialize explicitly in detecting and responding to threats. Their service entails real-time monitoring, advanced threat detection techniques, and swift incident response capabilities, ensuring proactive threat mitigation.

  1. Operating Models:

MSSPs: MSSPs typically operate on a shared responsibility model, collaborating with clients who retain control over their security operations. MSSPs provide the necessary tools, support, and expertise, while clients manage and interpret security outputs, often requiring a relatively high level of internal involvement.

MDR: On the other hand, MDR operates on a turnkey model, assuming full responsibility for both threat detection and response. MDR providers take the lead in monitoring, analyzing, and responding to security incidents, relieving clients of the operational burden and ensuring comprehensive threat management.

  1. Outcomes: Proactive vs Reactive Approach:

MSSPs: MSSPs typically adopt a preventive approach, aiming to prevent security incidents through robust security controls and configurations. While they focus on preemptive measures, their capacity to respond to active threats may be limited.

MDR: Conversely, MDR providers adopt a proactive approach, continuously monitoring the network for suspicious activities and anomalies. By swiftly detecting and responding to threats in real-time, MDR ensures a proactive threat management strategy, minimizing the impact of security incidents.

  1. Pricing and Costs:

MSSPs: MSSPs often employ a pricing model based on the number of devices or users, offering scalability, but sometimes resulting in complex cost structures.

MDR: MDR providers typically offer a subscription-based pricing model, charging clients based on the level of service required. Factors such as the complexity of the network, the number of endpoints monitored, and the reporting frequency influence the cost, resulting in a tailored and transparent pricing structure.

  1. Depth of Analysis:

MSSPs: MSSPs provide a broad but often shallower scope of security services, monitoring a wide range of security events and alerts. While they offer comprehensive coverage, the depth of analysis may vary, impacting the accuracy and efficacy of threat detection.

MDR: MDR services involve a deeper analysis of security events, conducted by skilled security analysts. Through meticulous examination of suspicious activities, forensic investigations, and threat intelligence analysis, MDR ensures faster threat detection and more accurate incident response, enhancing overall security posture.

  1. Response Capabilities:

MSSPs: MSSPs typically rely on alert-based approaches, generating alerts when predefined thresholds or rules are triggered. While they provide timely notifications, response actions often need to be initiated by the organization’s internal IT or security teams.

MDR: MDR service providers are typically actively involved in investigating, containing, and mitigating security incidents. By taking a hands-on approach to incident response, MDR ensures swift and effective threat mitigation, minimizing the impact of security breaches.

Human supervisionYesLimited
Always-on monitoringYesLimited monitoring
Response servicesYesNo
Reactive/ProactiveProactive and reactiveProactive and preventive 
Range of solutionsBoth detection and response capabilitiesSolutions are largely preventive

In summary, while both MSSPs and MDR play critical roles in cybersecurity, their outcomes, operational methodologies, focus areas, and pricing models significantly differ. Understanding these distinctions is essential for organizations to make informed decisions and adopt the most suitable cybersecurity approach tailored to their unique requirements and priorities.

Which Managed Security Solution Best Fits Your Organization?

When contemplating the choice between MSSP and MDR, there are several pragmatic considerations that organizations should carefully weigh – particularly small businesses with limited IT budgets and evolving technological infrastructures.

MDR services may be the preferable option if your business:

  • Lacks an internal Security Operations Center (SOC) or dedicated cybersecurity team to promptly and effectively handle alerts.
  • Finds it impractical to recruit and train cybersecurity personnel or manage cybersecurity tools internally.
  • Demands continuous monitoring and swift incident response to uphold uninterrupted business operations.
  • Is legally obligated to uphold stringent security standards to safeguard customer data.

On the other hand, MSSP could be the more suitable choice if your organization:

  • Already maintains a comprehensive SOC or possesses a highly proficient in-house incident response team.
  • Exhibits a relatively low-risk profile, meaning it has a modest digital footprint, relies minimally on digital assets for operations, or stores less sensitive customer data or intellectual property.
  • Faces significant budgetary constraints that render MDR financially unfeasible.
  • Simply seeks to outsource fundamental security responsibilities like software patching and system upgrades.

Important note – there is an additional option worth considering—an alternative to both MDR and MSSPs. This innovative, novel solution may not yet be that widely known. This AI-driven alternative offers the reinforcement of your Security Operations Center (SOC) through a Gen AI assistant. What does this mean exactly? 

  • Firstly, it enables the automation of alert triage, ensuring every alert receives attention and thereby minimizing potential security loopholes. 
  • Furthermore, it facilitates a thorough investigation of each alert, identifying genuine incidents, pinpointing their root causes, and tracking the trajectory of attacks to prevent oversight. 
  • Additionally, it facilitates quicker responses by intelligently automating containment and remediation of all identified security issues in accordance with established security protocols.

This is a very high-level overview of this AI-based option. If you find this option interesting and worth exploring, check out our Gen AI SOC Co-pilot

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