IT Operations

MSP vs. MSSP: detailed comparative analysis

Get a clear understanding of MSPs and MSSPs, their services, and the difference between them to make an informed decision for your company's IT needs.

February 15, 2023

Cybersecurity is a term that is thrown around on a daily basis for good reason — any company with an online presence or networked devices needs to be aware of possible threats to their business. Every organization, from behemoths like Lockheed Martin, Disney, and Walmart that receive thousands of intrusion attempts a day to your local take-out restaurant that now offers online ordering, needs protection from online criminals.  

But larger organizations have the financial and human capital to manage cybersecurity methods in-house, whereas small to midsize companies have to decide on other, more affordable approaches, like MSPs and MSSPs, that work best for them. 

MSP stands for managed service provider and can provide a lot for an organization regarding IT system operations. A managed security service provider, or MSSP, offers cyber security as a service, ensuring personnel and systems are safe, secure, and compliant. Both of these services can be very valuable to an organization’s IT components and services — even SME and EDU institutions can benefit due to the low cost and high reward of using providers like these.

So, how do you choose an MSP or MSSP for your business? Learn more about each in this quick guide.

Defining MSP and MSSP

The need for third-party security is becoming increasingly prevalent for smaller businesses that don’t have large IT departments who can monitor and manage threats and processes on their own. Depending on the specific needs of an organization, a company may need an MSP, MSSP, or both.

Some companies may need an MSP for certain general management and technical support needs and an MSSP specifically for cybersecurity and company or government security compliance protocols. However, not all businesses will need both, so it’s important to look holistically at your information technology landscape and what you will need to keep it in the best shape possible.

What is an MSP?

An MSP, which again stands for "managed service provider", is an information technology manager that focuses on managing an enterprise’s overall IT operations. 

Specifically, an MSP:

  • Manages a defined set of services (like IT support and device management)
  • Ensures that the network is updated and maintained
  • Monitors the health of the system to keep IT systems running smoothly
  • It is designed to meet business objectives

What is an MSSP?

An MSSP, or managed security service provider, on the other hand, is a manager that monitors security devices and systems. An MSSP is first and foremost focused on managing an enterprise’s IT security. 

Specifically, an MSSP:

  • Protects against continually evolving threats
  • Constantly oversees security systems
  • Monitors security to make sure that the system is guarded at all times
  • It is designed to meet compliance and security goals

Imagine that an MSP is your auto mechanic who gives your car tune-ups and makes sure it stays drivable on the road. The MSSP is the set of cameras, motion-detector lights, and locks that make sure no unauthorized person can take the car out of the garage. MSSPs exist (and are becoming increasingly popular) because cybersecurity has become such a concern to modern businesses. IT service providers now deem it necessary to offer security as a dedicated managed service to small and midsize businesses. 


The role of MSPs and MSSPs in the future of cybersecurity

Like everything else in the world of information technology, MSPs and MSSPs have both had to evolve in order to provide the needed operational support and security for companies across a wide spectrum of industries.  

No matter whether you choose MSP or MSSP protection for your company, each service needs to properly protect your organization’s people and assets.  For example, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, recommends that MSPs do the following and should continue to improve in these areas:

  • Improve the security of vulnerable devices
  • Protect internet-facing services
  • Defend against brute force and password spraying
  • Defend against phishing

Specific to the evolution of MSSPs, SecurityWeek took a broader look ahead and pointed to the following: 

  • Speed: accelerating the time to detect an attack is the true indicator of security effectiveness
  • Accuracy: to consistently detect serious threats requires ongoing visibility, additional data and context, and rapid analysis
  • Focus: instead of focusing on generating tickets, MDR service providers focus on finding high-fidelity tickets that reduce false positives and correspond to evidence of malfeasance

MSPs and MSSPs must be well-equipped to handle various types of attacks and intrusions, including but not limited to:

  • Ransomware threats
  • Social engineering
  • Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks
  • Risks associated with remote work
  • Data breaches

Note that DDoS attacks can occur outside of cloud computing, and although IoT may not be a commonly recognized threat in the enterprise world, it's still a potential risk that should be considered.

MSP and MSSP providers should offer products and services that address the increasing adoption and use of various technologies, including:

  • Cloud-based computing services
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) solutions that are specifically tailored for IT infrastructure and security purposes
  • Machine learning tools that can help automate threat detection and response
  • Digital supply chain solutions that can protect the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive data
  • WiFi-based business networks that require specialized security measures

Additionally, MSPs should provide a range of IT management software, such as cloud management, enterprise architecture software, EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management), UEM (Unified Endpoint Management), and service desk software, among others.

Finally, an MSP or MSSP should assist a client company with new cybersecurity regulations, which means not only working within the IT parameters, protocols, and regulations for that industry but also adjusting to changes made at different levels of governance for cybersecurity down the road. 

Which one is right for your business?

Despite the fact that both MSPs and MSSPs offer third-party services to organizations, their objectives are different. An MSSP is solely focused on offering cybersecurity services whereas an MSP offers network, application, database, and other basic IT maintenance and services. 

To choose which is right for your organization, consider the following: 

  • Current IT infrastructure and the need for customer support from a third-party service provider
  • Size and complexity of the organization
  • Cybersecurity maturity level 

The following criteria can be used to not only help decide whether an MSP or MSSP is right for an organization; but also which provider to go with when it comes to choosing a specific product. Types of product offerings include:

  • Customized solutions
  • Stability
  • UX – user experience
  • Responsiveness
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Organizational effectiveness
  • Technology
  • Expertise

As you are evaluating outside providers, take a look at their certifications and credentials. For MSPs, those might involve partner certifications from manufacturers (say Cisco or VMware) who offer credentials for their specific environments, or from a group such as MSP Alliance, which offers certifications such as “Cloud Verify,” “GDPR Verify,” and so on. For MSSPs, organizations such as ISACA (formerly the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, but now known only by its acronym) offer credentialing.

MSSPs are specifically for security, so if you have other needs outside of security you may need an MSP to manage a wide range of IT operational areas.

MSPs can manage any of the following (and more):

  • Network and Infrastructure: WANs, LANs, managed gateways, and automated network support
  • Security Services: antivirus, malware protection, patch management, and security updates
  • Support Services: help centers, IT operations management, diagnostics, and remediation
  • Data Analytics: data acquisition and analysis as well as AI/ML technologies to provide insights
  • Software-as-a-Service: anything from SalesForce to Zoom
  • Cloud Infrastructure: cloud-based computing, networks, operating systems, and storage
  • Communication and Collaboration: data, video, and voice services over the IP network
  • Mobile Communications and Computing: mobile software services that allow your entire team to connect to the network from any location

MSSP implementation, on the other hand, can provide the following: 

  • automated tasks for existing IT teams, which frees up time for new clients and projects
  • compliance monitoring for enterprises in terms of insurance and governmental regulatory requirements, so that layers of protection can kick in if there is a subsequent problem
  • selling points to their internal teams, which makes hiring and employee retention easier

Both MSP and MSSP providers service every industry, from national retail brands to leading payment provider services to smaller firms in the medical, manufacturing, hospitality, and automotive supplier industries. 

Case studies vary, but specific benefits from MSP implementation often include the removal of pain points and hard cost savings from standardization. With the need for remote workers to access centralized office files, an MSSP can also provide a level of cybersecurity that is unattainable in-house through enhanced security protocols. 

How do we help MSPs and MSSPs

Prey is a device security & management SaaS that provides a subscription-based service with location tracking, data protection, and multi-platform management. It's easy to use and ideal for securing devices for individuals and organizations, regardless of fleet size. For an organization, this type of added capability can help reinforce the work of both MSPs and MSSPs, especially with:

  • Device Location and Recovery: Prey can track your inventory, perform bulk tasks, and view your device's information globally
  • Compliance Monitoring: Prey’s dashboard shows the location of every company asset, which can help assist with tracking and recovery of lost or stolen devices and aids MSPs and MSSPs in meeting compliance requirements
  • Remote Management: MSPs and MSSPs typically need to manage devices that are not physically located on the same network; Prey’s dashboard monitors all company devices in one place for easier safety and remote management
  • Device Breach Alerts: MSPs and MSSPs can receive early warning of potential threats via Prey, which gives the providers the opportunity to respond before significant damage is done 


Both MSPs and MSSPs can offer your organization professional help with your IT and cybersecurity needs. The primary focus of an MSP is IT administration while MSSPs focus on IT security. That’s why some companies who already have an MSP in place are also adding MSSPs in order to specifically address cybersecurity threats. Companies can evaluate their size, locations (including any remote workers), response needs, and industry compliance protocols they have to adhere to when looking at MSP or MSSP solutions.

At Prey, our goal is to help companies manage and secure their IT environment so that they can concentrate on their core business practices. Contact us today to find out how Prey can help your organization increase the effectiveness of cybersecurity measures and implementations.

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