MSP vs MSSP: Understanding the Differences

Driven by rising numbers of cyberattacks and growing infrastructural complexity, businesses of all sizes across many different sectors increasingly recognize the value of managed IT and security services. Whether you want to extend your in-house teams or avail of more advanced capabilities, managed service providers (MSP) and managed security service providers (MSSP) are two outsourced services you’ll hear a lot about.

Given the similarity of these acronyms, it’s easy to confuse the two offerings and end up with something that’s not right for your company’s needs. Read on to find out the differences in MSP vs MSSP services.

What is an MSP?

A managed service provider is a third-party company that organizations hire to ensure their IT infrastructure operates smoothly. Regular support and administration are key tenets of MSP services. These support and admin tasks cover networks, endpoints, applications and servers. Many MSPs also offer consulting services that provide advice on IT investment decisions, such as purchasing new hardware or migrating to the cloud.

The history of the MSP market goes as far back as when broadband internet started becoming widespread in the early 2000s. Accessibility to fast internet speeds made it possible to log in remotely to networks and fix various IT issues or streamline performance.

Today, some examples of the typical workloads MSPs handle are:

  • Onboarding your employees with a new application
  • Assessing your company’s readiness for migrating to the cloud
  • Managing backup of your data so that it’s available and recoverable in case someone deletes it
  • Managing the configuration of your networks and firewalls
  • Monitoring servers and apps for performance or availability issues
  • Installing security solutions on endpoints connected to the network
  • Helpdesk services, such as password resets

MSPs use a number of different pricing models for customers. Some MSPs quote a flat fee per device for their services, which makes it very clear what the cost is going to be. Others price the services on a per-user basis. With increased IT complexity and businesses wanting to outsource varying levels of IT workloads, perhaps the most popular option these days is a tiered pricing model, where each tier gets progressively more expensive because it includes more services than the previous one.

What is an MSSP?

A managed security services provider is a third-party company that businesses hire to help monitor and manage the security of their IT environment, including the network, applications, and the infrastructure (devices, servers, workstations). Some cybersecurity services you’ll see MSSPs offering are:

  • Incident management, including triaging alerts so any in-house security personnel don’t get overwhelmed by alert fatigue
  • Managed firewall services to more closely control traffic flow in and out of your network
  • Intrusion detection services to help spot when a malicious actor gets inside a system they shouldn’t have access to
  • The secure configuration and management of a virtual private network to limit your attack surface
  • Taking responsibility for identity access management (IAM) and ensuring users have the right levels of access at the right times without compromising security
  • Vulnerability scanning on devices and applications and patch management to help mitigate these weaknesses before threat actors exploit them

Increasing reliance on digital infrastructure combined with a proliferation in the number and sophistication of cyberattacks created a pressing need for dedicated managed security services during the early 21st century. The emergence of MSSPs happened around the same time as MSPs. A recent report predicted the managed security services market to grow from $22.8 billion in 2021 to $43.7 billion by 2026, no doubt reflecting the increased priority given to cybersecurity by businesses of all sizes and the difficulty in staffing a sufficient on-premise dedicated security team.

MSP vs MSSP: Differences


The focus of an MSP revolves around the operations of normal IT services, while an MSSP homes in on security as the singular priority. This distinction is important if cybersecurity is your number one concern because MSPs, which lack cybersecurity expertise, may unintentionally make your IT environment more vulnerable to attack during their operations.

It’s not that MSPs are inherently insecure; in fact, some of their tasks might provide baseline security to endpoint systems. But since the MSP’s prime focus is on various administrative tasks that keep your IT systems operational, security might not enter the equation as much as it should.


IT ticketing software is a crucial tool powering the services of an MSP. These solutions help automate tickets and manage IT assets, among other tasks. Another critical tool in the arsenal of an MSP is remote monitoring and management (RMM) software. RMM solutions help managed service providers oversee multi-platform endpoint devices, automate repeatable tasks with scripts, and take control of endpoints to troubleshoot.

Leading MSSPs use a slew of advanced tools and technologies to monitor the security of your environment. Chief among the MSSP’s tools are managed security services (MSS), managed detection and response (MDR) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions that help manage and respond to threats detected on any of a company’s potential attack vectors. MSSPs also leverage a security information and event management (SIEM) solution that helps analyze alerts and other data from a range of disparate sources, including apps and network hardware. Additional solutions MSSPs can offer include incident response, digital forensics, patch/vulnerability management, firewall management and virtual CISO.

Operations Centers

The IT teams at MSPs often monitor and manage the health and performance of a company’s network to ensure minimum downtime at one or more network operations centers (NOC). At MSSPs, there is usually a security operations center (SOC), in which a team of security experts works together to coordinate the monitoring, detection and analysis of security alerts and incidents. A 24x7x365 SOC is vital in helping to assist with IT security in today’s complex environments.

What to Choose?

The message from understanding the difference between MSP vs. MSSP is clear: if you want to improve your cybersecurity posture using outsourced expertise, an MSSP is your best bet. And to help you find the right MSSP for you, check out our top 10 tips.

Talk to us today to learn more.

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