Understanding the difference

Nick Hayes - June 16, 2023


A managed service provider (MSP) delivers broad IT operations and infrastructure management services, whereas a managed security service provider (MSSP) focuses exclusively on cybersecurity services normally operating out of a security operations center (SOC). While both MSPs and MSSPs are third-party providers, the primary difference between the two is the scope of their offerings. MSPs can provide security as one of their services, but MSSPs focus solely on providing cybersecurity services. As a result, MSSPs typically provide comprehensive security offerings, whereas MSPs generally provide IT services within additional baseline security services.

Key differences between MSPs and MSSPs

Area of focusIT management services
Cybersecurity services
Goals- Improve day-to-day business efficiency and productivity.

- Enable scaling of client operations.

- Ensure the health and maintenance of the network and systems.

- Stop breaches and decrease risk.

- Ensure systems are up-to-date and meet compliance standards.

- Continuously monitor and protect infrastructure.

- Respond to system intrusions.

CybersecurityTypically provides baseline cybersecurity service offerings such as system and email monitoring and application patching.
Provides comprehensive and advanced cybersecurity services such as endpoint and network protection, threat detection and response, threat intelligence, threat hunting, and other cybersecurity
Operates out of a...Network Operations Center (NOC)
Security Operations Center (SOC)
Common functions- Technical support
Remote work monitoring

- End user management

- Help-desk services

- Cloud migration

- Optimizing business operations

- Automation
- Antivirus, anti-malware, anti-spam

- 24/7 security monitoring

- Threat detection and intelligence

- Reporting, auditing, and compliance

- Access and identity management
- Endpoint security management

- Security awareness training

Understanding MSPs

As business operations and administration have increasingly shifted to high-speed internet and using remote devices, a scalable and well-functioning IT infrastructure has become essential to success. MSPs fulfill a critical need by delivering a wide range of IT services primarily focused on supporting the administration of their client’s systems, databases, and applications to facilitate smooth day-to-day operations. Often, businesses find it more valuable to outsource this function to an MSP instead of creating and staffing their own internal IT team given budgets, resources, and expertise. Small businesses in particular that lack the ability to staff large and experienced IT departments can benefit from the instant scale MSPs enable. While MSPs can and generally do provide baseline cybersecurity services, it is only one of many IT services they provide and typically lacks the depth of offering an MSSP delivers.

Common services MSPs provide include:

  • Managing IT infrastructure such as network routing, network rules, and web proxy configurations.
  • Managing the access, sustainment, and use of applications and databases.
  • Providing help desk support to staff.
  • Managing user access accounts on customers’ systems (e.g., Active Directory management).
  • Provisioning software (e.g., deployment, maintenance, or upgrades).

Understanding MSSPs

Just as the rapid shift to the internet and remote work has increased the need for a well-functioning IT service, so too has grown the need for effective cybersecurity. The vast digital attack surface businesses are now intertwined, presenting numerous vulnerabilities for cyber criminals to exploit. More than ever before, sensitive and critical business information is vulnerable to theft, and the consequences of such an intrusion can include monetary loss, reputation damage, and business failure if a catastrophic breach occurs. These conditions have caused cybersecurity to become an essential business function, but one that is difficult to staff and execute. A recent workforce study by (ISC) found a global cybersecurity workforce gap of 3.4 million people. With such scarcity and demand, many businesses struggle to find and competitively bid for these professionals. It is this problem that MSSPs solve.

As third-party providers, MSSPs bring instant cybersecurity expertise and technology. They keep pace with the ever-evolving state of cybersecurity and avoid the hassle of hiring, training, and maintaining a cybersecurity program. The quality and scope of their services varies from vendor to vendor. Some MSSPs may only offer baseline system monitoring and alerting, while premium providers will deliver comprehensive protection through security monitoring and management, endpoint protection, threat detection, and incident response.

Common offerings MSSPs provide include:

  • Security event monitoring and alerting.
  • Planning and testing scenarios such as penetration testing (pentests) and tabletop exercises to evaluate a customer’s environment and procedures for intrusion response.
  • Preventative solutions such as antivirus, firewalls, web gateways, and other tools that limit vulnerabilities and access.
  • Monitoring, assessing, and identifying vulnerabilities across a client’s endpoints, workloads, and systems.
  • Cybersecurity training and compliance requirements.

Learn More

What is the CrowdStrike Tabletop Exercise?

The CrowdStrike® Tabletop Exercise is discussion-based and provides an incident scenario that has been tailored to your unique environment and operational needs. The Services team facilitates a discussion with your response team that includes the actions that are required, who is responsible for them, who needs to be notified and how to coordinate these multiple moving parts.

MSP vs. MSSP vs. MDR

Another common cybersecurity acronym that is regularly confused with MSPs and MSSPs is managed detection and response (MDR). MDR is a specialized cybersecurity service that employs advanced technology and human experts to conduct continuous monitoring, threat hunting, and remediation. MDR is a specific service that only the top MSSPs provide. Just as the primary difference between MSPs and MSSPs is scope, so too is it between MSSPs and MDR.

Can an MSP be an MSSP?

Once again, the key difference between an MSP and an MSSP is the scope of their services. In theory, an MSP could provide more robust security services under the umbrella of their offerings, but it’s unlikely they will competitively match the quality of a true MSSP. Most MSPs provide a baseline level of cybersecurity but may not always have the skill, capability, and depth of knowledge an MSSP provides. Think of it like a restaurant that offers ice cream as a dessert. While they have the item on their menu, it’s not their main focus and probably lacks the quality and variety that an ice cream shop offers.

Choosing between an MSP and an MSSP

Both MSPs and MSSPs enable rapid scale and speed in delivering their respective services to your business, but the key to choosing between the two is understanding what they do best. If your business needs broad or basic IT services, then an MSP is the way to go. But if your business has IT staff and resources and your chief concern is security, then an MSSP is ideal. If you’re a small business looking to scale, hiring both an MSP and MSSP could be an ideal way to maximize your budget, grow your business, and stay secure.

Use Cases for hiring an MSP vs. MSSP

Consider an MSP
Consider an MSSP
I have minimal IT staff or resources in my company.
I have an IT team but we don’t have a cybersecurity program.
I need to scale my IT systems and equipment to meet growing business demands.My industry is vulnerable to a cybersecurity attack. Many of the top names in my line of business have had a breach.
I don’t want to go through the hassle of hiring and staffing an IT department.
I’m having a hard time finding cybersecurity professionals to hire.
I want a 24/7 help desk I can call to support me when I run into an IT system or application issue.
I want 24/7 security monitoring that will alert me when suspicious activity has occurred on our systems.

How CrowdStrike empowers MSSPs

MSSPs are challenged to provide adaptable and effective security at scale to multiple customers simultaneously. Added to this problem is the ever-evolving nature of cybersecurity where MSSPs must keep pace with the latest adversary tactics and techniques. With such demands on their attention, MSSPs don’t have time for cumbersome technology solutions that require constant maintenance and upkeep. They need easy to manage cybersecurity technology that works. The CrowdStrike Falcon® platform minimizes the burden of operationalizing, maintaining, and configuring security solutions with the world’s most advanced cloud-native platform that protects and enables the people, processes, and technologies that drive modern enterprise. CrowdStrike delivers endpoint, cloud, identity, and data security protection that is easy to deploy and manage at scale for hyper-accurate detections, automated protection and remediation, and prioritized observability of vulnerabilities.

Key benefits of the Falcon platform for MSSP partners include:

  • Self-service portal and custom deployment groups to meet your unique client needs.
  • Immediate and effective prevention against and detection of all types of attacks — both malware and malware-free — regardless of whether endpoints are online or offline.
  • Cloud protection across three major cloud providers: AWS, Google, and Red Hat.
  • Immediate and effective prevention and detection of threats.
  • Simple to deploy, configure and maintain — all via a single, lightweight agent.
  • Takes quick action to triage and remediate across an entire environment.

CrowdStrike for MSSPs

The CrowdStrike Powered Service Provider program enables MSSPs to leverage the CrowdStrike Falcon® platform to deliver endpoint, cloud, identity and data security solutions with the highest level of protection for customers.

Become a Partner


Nick Hayes is the Senior Manager of Product Marketing for CrowdStrike’s managed detection and response (MDR) and proactive threat hunting solutions, Falcon Complete and Falcon OverWatch. Prior to joining CrowdStrike, Nick led product and content marketing at cybersecurity and threat intelligence startups. He also spent 10 years at Forrester as a security industry analyst and thought leader focused on digital risk, threat intelligence, and security analytics technology markets. He’s spoken at industry conferences worldwide, including RSA Conference, Black Hat, and Infosecurity Europe.