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Alex Tray
Alex Tray

Posted on • Originally published at

MSP Cybersecurity: What You Should Know

Many small and medium businesses today rely on managed service providers (MSPs) with support for IT services and processes due to having limited budgets and fully loaded environments. MSP solutions can be integrated with client infrastructures to enable proper service delivery, thus bringing certain disadvantages along with functional benefits.

In this post, we focus on MSP cyber security, including main challenges, threats and practices. Read on to find out:

Why an MSP should care about cyber security
Which threats you need to counter the most
How to protect your and clients’ data and infrastructures from possible failures
MSP Security: Why Is It Important?
Managed service providers (MSPs) are usually connected to the environments of multiple clients. This fact alone makes an MSP a desired target for hackers. The opportunity to rapidly develop a cyberattack and spread the infections across a large number of organizations makes MSP security risks difficult to overestimate. A single vulnerability in an MSP solution can become a reason for failures in numerous infrastructures resulting in data leakage or loss. Apart from the loss of valuable assets, serious noncompliance fines can be applied to organizations that become victims of cyberattacks.

An MSP that fails to build and support proper security can not only be forced to pay significant funds. The main point here is the reputational loss that you usually cannot recover. Thus, the risk is not only financial: failed cybersecurity can cost you future profits and the very existence of your organization.
Main MSP Cyber Security Threats in 2023
Although the types of online cybersecurity threats for MSPs are countless, some threats are more frequent than others. Below is the list of most common threats that an MSP security system should be able to identify and counter.
Phishing can be considered an outdated cyberattack method, especially when you pay attention to the competences and possibilities of contemporary hackers. However, phishing is still remaining among the top data threats for individuals and organizations worldwide.

Simplicity is key here: a phishing email is easy to construct and then send to thousands of potential victims, including MSPs. And even if a hacker has a more thorough approach and creates individual, targeted emails to trick organizations’ employees or clients, the phishing tactics still do not require much effort to conduct an attack.
With hundreds of millions of attacks occurring every year, ransomware has been an emerging threat for SMBs and enterprise organizations throughout at least a decade. Ransomware is malware that sneakily infiltrates an organization’s environment and then starts encrypting all the data at reach. After the significant number of files is encrypted, ransomware displays a notification about that fact along with a ransom demand. Many organizations have fallen victim to ransomware. The Colonial Pipeline incident in the US was also a ransomware case.

A Managed Service Provider must pay special attention to this threat as the connection between an MSP and clients can cause rapid strain spreading and global data loss inside the entire client network.
Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks
Denial of Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are also “old-school” simple and effective hacking tactics used since the mid 90’s. The point of a DoS or DDoS attack is to cause an abnormal load on an organization’s infrastructure (a website, a network, a data center, etc.) resulting in a system failure. A DoS attack most probably won’t be the reason for data loss or damage, but the service downtime can become a source for operational discomfort, financial and reputational losses posing risks for the future of an organization.

A DoS attack is conducted with the use of hacker-controlled devices (bot network) that send enormous data amounts to a target organization’s nodes and overload processing performance capabilities and/or bandwidth. Again, a DoS attack on an MSP can then be spread on clients’ environments and result in a system-wide failure.
Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attacks
This type of cyber threats is a bit trickier and more complicated to conduct than direct infrastructure strikes. A man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack involves a hacker intruding, for example, into a network router or a computer, aiming to intercept traffic. After successful malware intrusion, a hacker can monitor data traffic going through the compromised node and steal sensitive data, such as personal information, credentials, payment or credit card information, etc. This can also be a tactic suitable for corporate espionage and theft of business know-how’s or commercial secrets.

Risky zones for becoming a victim of MITM attacks are, for example, public Wi-Fi networks. A public network rarely has an adequate level of protection, thus becoming an easy nut to crack for a hacker. The data stolen from the traffic of careless users can then be sold or used in other cyberattacks.
Cryptojacking is a relatively new cyberthreat type that emerged along with the crypto mining boom. Willing to increase profits from crypto mining, cybercriminals came up with malicious agents that intrude computers, and then start using CPU and/or GPU processing power to mine cryptocurrencies, which then get transferred directly to anonymous wallets. Cybercriminals can get increased profits because they don’t need to pay electricity bills for their mining equipment in this illegal case.

MSP solutions are desired targets for cryptojackers. Such a solution can be a single point of access to the networks of multiple organizations with all the servers and other computing devices at their disposal. Thus, one cyberattack can bring a lot of resources for cryptojacking to a hacker.
8 Practices Cybersecurity MSP Organizations Should Use
Regarding the frequency and progressing level of threats, an MSP must have an up-to-date reliable cybersecurity system. The 8 MSP cyber security practices below can help you reduce the risk of protection failures.
Credential Compromise and Targeted Attacks Prevention
A managed service provider should know that their infrastructure will be among the priority targets for cyberattacks and build security systems appropriately. Hardening vulnerable nodes and tools for remote access (for example, virtual private networks) is the first step to prevent compromising credentials and the entire environment as a result.

Scan the system for potential vulnerabilities regularly even when your daily production software and web apps are online. Additionally, consider setting standard protection measures for remote desktop (RDP) services connected to the web. That is how you can reduce the impact of phishing campaigns, password brute forcing and other targeted attacks.
Cyber Hygiene
Promoting cyber hygiene among staff members and clients is an efficient yet frequently underestimated way to enhance MSP cybersecurity. Although users and even admins tend to assume that relying on usual IT protection measures is enough, a Global Risks Report of World Economic Forum states that by 2022, 95% of all cyber security issues involve human error. An employee or a user that simply remains unaware of a threat is themselves the most significant threat for digital environments.

Ensuring that staff and clients know which emails not to open, which links not to click and which credentials not to give out regardless of reasons is one of the most efficient cybersecurity measures for any organization, including MSPs. Staff education and promotion of a thorough approach towards cyberspace among clients requires much less investment compared to other protection measures and solutions but can alone noticeably boost an organization’s cybersecurity level.
Anti-Malware and Anti-Ransomware Software
The need for specialized software that can prevent malware from infiltrating the IT environment (and hunt malicious agents out of the system as well) may seem inevitable. However, organizations sometimes tend to postpone integrating such solutions in their systems. That’s not an option for an MSP.

A managed service provider is the first line of defense for clients, and software for tracking malware and ransomware must be integrated and properly updated in an MSP cybersecurity circuit. The corporate license for such software can be costly but this is when the investment pays off in safe data, stable production availability and clean reputation among the worldwide IT community.
Networks Separation
Like any SMB or enterprise organization, an MSP should care about internal network security not less than about the external perimeter. Configuring internal firewalls and separating virtual spaces of departments can require time and effort but a protected internal network poses a serious challenge for an intruder to go through the barriers undetected. Additionally, even if internal firewalls fail to stop a hacker at once, early threat detection can give an organization more time to react and successfully counter a cyberattack.
Thorough Offboarding Workflows
To ensure stable production and provide appropriate performance, MSPs use third-party software solutions. Whenever a solution is no longer required due to, for example, a workflow optimization, that outdated solution should be properly excluded from an organization’s environment. To avoid leaving undetected backdoors, the offboarding process must be set up to completely wipe the solution’s elements out of the infrastructure.

The same recommendation is relevant for the accounts of former employees and clients. Such an unused account can remain below the radar of an IT team, giving a hacker additional space to maneuver both when planning and conducting a cyberattack.

Zero Trust and Principle of Least Privilege
Zero trust and principle of least privilege (aka PoLP) are two cybersecurity methods that an MSP should apply. Both methods are called to limit access to critical data and system elements as much as possible.

PoLP prescribes granting every user inside an environment only the access that is required to do their job well. In other words, any access that can be prohibited without harming an employee’s efficiency or a client’s comfort should be prohibited.

The zero trust method is in turn focused on authorization. Here, every user and machine must authenticate before getting access to known resources and actions. Additionally, zero trust can help increase network segmentation efficiency.

These two methods don’t exclude or replace each other and can be used simultaneously to boost MSP cybersecurity even further.
Multi-Factor Authentication
Nowadays, a password that is considered reliable may still not be enough to protect accounts and data from unauthorized access. Adding a two-factor authentication to an MSP infrastructure can strengthen protection of the entire environment, as the password alone won’t be enough to log in. Two-factor authentication (2FA) requires a user to confirm a login with an SMS code or another authorization phrase before they can access their account, change data and manipulate functions. The additional code is generated randomly at the moment of login and has a limited relevance period, thus becoming challenging for a hacker to retrieve and use on time.
Non-Stop Threat Monitoring
Threats are evolving to become more sophisticated and to break through security layers more efficiently. Thus, 24/7 active monitoring of the environment can help you detect breaches and vulnerabilities before they cause unfixable failures. With up-to-date monitoring software you can have more control over your IT environment and more time to appropriately react to cyberattacks.

Backup for MSP: Your Safety Net When All Else Fails
The non-stop intense development of cyberthreats means that sooner or later a hacker can find a key to any security system. The only solution that can help you save your organization’s data and infrastructure after a major data loss incident is backup.

A backup is a copy of data that is stored independently. In case the original data at the main site is lost after a breach, a backup can be used for recovery. The amount of data to generate, process and store to ensure proper functioning of an organization makes manual and legacy backups unsuitable for the MSP reality.

In 2023 and beyond, managed service providers are bound to remain desired targets for cyberattacks from phishing and DoS-attack attempts to ransomware infection and cryptojacking. To ensure MSP cybersecurity, such organizations should:

Create protection systems working against targeted attacks and malware,
Promote cyber hygiene among employees and clients,
Apply network segmentation, PoLP and non-stop monitoring to the entire environment.

Additionally, MSPs might want to consider integrating multi-factor authentication and thorough offboarding workflows for solutions and employees. However, a functional MSP backup is the only solid way to maintain control over an organization’s data in case of a major data loss incident.

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