Outsourcing Security: What Small Businesses Need to Know

Posted November 06, 2015

By Ryan Berg

One question that small businesses often grapple with, especially in the early days of their development, is whether or not to outsource at least some aspect of their security. There are many instances when outsourcing computer, data, and network security makes sense:

  • You may lack the appropriate in-house skills and resources
  • You may not be in a position to make a full-time hire, let alone multiple hires
  • You can't find the right person to fill a full-time role (Forbes expects our current cybersecurity workforce shortage to reach 1.5 million unfilled positions by 2019)

As a result, forecasters predict that the booming managed security service provider (MSSP) industry will grow from $8 billion in 2015 to $30 billion by 2020. So does outside security help make sense for you? Possibly. But before you even think about outsourcing, you need to develop your own clear idea of what it is you actually need help with in the first place.

Outsourcing small business security

Outsourcing Cybersecurity 101

The simple truth is that you're not ready to outsource your small business security if any of these three points apply to your company.

  • You can't clearly articulate your problem or goal
  • You don't know where your assets reside or what data or systems you're trying to secure
  • You don't have someone on board to actively own and manage the outsourced relationship

Small business owners must carefully avoid giving managed-security service providers the impression that they don't know what they need. The reality is many security vendors will see nothing but dollar signs; they may guide you to toward solutions that are easiest for them to implement instead of the solutions that best fit your needs.

Think of it this way: if you go to a brake shop because you think your car has a brake problem, you're more than likely going to cough up the cash for new brakes. Meanwhile, you may actually have a bigger issue with the car that remains unaddressed. Your shiny new brakes may work like a charm, but you can still get into an accident if the steering's off. And if you go back to the brake shop angry, they'll simply shrug and say of course they didn't protect you for that.

Advanced thought and planning is the best approach to outsourcing small business security. The worst thing you can say to a managed security service provider is, "I don't know where to start.

Outsourcing small business security works well only when you achieve these states:

  • You have a clearly-defined problem to solve or goal to achieve.
  • You find a vendor you work well with and can trust to deliver on your specific needs

There's no lack of outsourced security vendors from which to choose. But if you have a specific security goal that lends itself to outsourcing, you can whittle down the list to providers that specialize in that area. Then discuss these 10 essential topics with the managed-security service providers on your short list before you sign an agreement.

What to Ask Prospective Managed Security Service Providers

  • Find out whether they've worked with small companies that are similar to yours in size, stage, and industry
  • Get references
  • Review their standards, policies, and procedures carefully
  • Make sure all requirements and responsibilities will be documented in service level agreements (SLA) and/or statements of work
  • Determine who on their side will manage your account and discuss your expected level of interaction (you don't want to enter a partnership expecting access to the Principal only to find out later that's not the case)
  • Ask about reporting (what metrics do they measure, and how often do they report)
  • Go over the game plan for incident response and recovery
  • Ask about systems compatibility
  • Make sure they can scale their protection as your company grows
  • Have an exit strategy should the time come when you want to stop using their services

Small Business Security Caution

Remember, no one outside of your business values your business as much as you do. When you outsource aspects of your company's security you place your safety and success in their hands. You may pay for a level of professionalism, but when it comes down to it, an MSSP will act with its best interests in mind. Outsourcing isn't something you jump into quickly. Success requires a considerable amount of planning, discussion, and trust-building.

Security Resources for Small Business

Ryan Berg is chief scientist at Barkly. A speaker, instructor, and author in the fields of security, risk management, and secure application development, Berg holds multiple patents. Prior to joining Barkly, he was chief security officer at Sonatype and chief scientist and cofounder of Ounce Labs.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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