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Office 365, Google Drive, Sharepoint: businesses love them, but we ask if security vendors do enough to help partners address their known vulnerabilities – profitably! In a recent post, we looked at the known security limitations of cloud-delivered applications like Office 365, Google Drive, Sharepoint, and others.
As we pointed out, identifying security weaknesses in these platforms and providing cloud app customers with solutions to them can prove profitable, according to industry commentators – but are security vendors even addressing this space in the first place, let alone in a way that enables vendors to make viable margins out of it?
The first point we need to make here is that the potential market for these kind of security solutions is big and growing. By 2019, Cloud applications subscription revenues could make up 35% of the total addressable market opportunity. Captured amongst all that, of course, are the very applications businesses most want MSPs and other partners to provide – hosted email, file sharing, collaboration, and so on. And these are the very applications that, whilst delivered in a secure manner, are not fully able to secure the content that passes through them, making them vulnerable to risks like advanced and hidden malware, ransomware, phishing attacks, leaking of sensitive data, file sharing on unauthorised devices, and remote user network breaches.
In short, there’s plenty of pie available – and cloud application security is potentially the utensil that enables MSPs and other partners to carve themselves a sizeable slice of it! But the second point we have to consider is that cloud applications need security that is built expressly for cloud computing conditions – and existing security techniques fall down badly in this respect, resulting in few solutions that are fit for purpose. Just take a look at traditional web monitoring, for example – it funnels traffic out of the cloud and into a separate service, adding significant latency that negatively impacts both performance and capacity. Only if pre-cloud approaches are consigned to the dustbin, and direct cloud-to-cloud API integration is offered in its stead, can vendors play strongly in this space, and partners reap the benefits.
In this scenario, a literally instant cloud app security deployment is possible, requiring nothing more than the submission of administrator credentials for the apps in question. Quite apart from the fact that very few vendors are actually active in the cloud app security space in any serious way, my third point is as much to do with the partner model as it is with the scarcity of those offerings.
Even if solutions were plentiful, reselling them in a subscription or perpetual licensing model produces the same challenges that any other reseller in any other IT market encounters – high upfront subscription costs, unpredictable income, lack of flexibility to scale services up and down (and missing out on the additional revenue that such upscaling generates). The risks of this approach are well documented - but then if so few vendors are in this space in the first place, how many of them do we think are in a position to offer the potentially more profitable MSP alternative? Then there’s the question of how vendors actually incorporate cloud app security offerings into their overall security portfolio – or don’t!
They demand an instantly deployable, cloud-centric architecture that most security vendors simply haven’t applied to this space, a margin-rich partner model that the vast majority of vendors seem unready to offer, and a “business as usual” attitude to bundling that, for many vendors, seems too radical a string to add to their bow. That massive cloud app pie is there for the securing – but, as it stands, most vendors aren’t even making a dent in the crust, still less serving up anything that profit-hungry partners would find a tasty proposition. The Web opens a window between networks and the world, creating risks businesses can’t manage.
According to the Threat Landscape 2015 report published by the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA), the “observed current trend” for web attacks is described, simply and rather ominously, as “increasing”.
Of course, what this also means is that the opportunity for MSPs to play into this space, by managing organisations’ web security headaches for them, is potentially huge. But the market is crowded - so what are the killer web security innovations MSPs need to offer to really differentiate themselves from competitors?
Web attacks aren’t just inbound – in fact, the most devastating consequences can occur as a result of outbound traffic, for example if a Botnet, Key Logger, or other malicious program sends out information from within the customer’s network.
MSP solutions are now taking over the role of constant outbound web security monitoring that customers’ teams often simply do not have the capacity to provide. Immediate alerts, by email or SMS, when a threat is detected, plus automatic blocking of malicious requests, protect the business from haemorrhaging its own IP and sensitive data, and safeguard teams’ core productivity. Network usage and threat analysis reports, delivered to inboxes, then enable stakeholders to understand top threats, overall network traffic, and trends, enabling them to adjust security policies and manage future risk.
Ease of deployment: we are now looking at MSP solutions that require no on-site hardware or software, and can protect the entire customer network instantaneously simply by being “pointed” at the security vendor’s DNS structure.
As one vendor has explained, “Ten years ago, web security meant stopping people going to the wrong website.
Across services like Facebook, Dropbox, Twitter, and even enterprise applications like Salesforce, what are customers’ employees posting or uploading? Any one of these concerns is a potential reputational and compliance timebomb – but MSP solutions are now available that take the heat out of HTTPS in three ways. Firstly, it is now possible for MSPs to deliver visibility into cloud application usage, enabling customers to see actions like file uploads, message posts, data storage, and look inside the content of risky or suspicious activity. Secondly, MSPs can now control access (or enable customers to control access) not only to cloud applications, but to specific features within them – by individual, role, device and location. These can include, for example, functions that enable users to upload or delete profile images, remove a public link, permanently delete files from a recycle bin, disable a security group, and many other types of actions that can be high-risk in certain contexts, both with and without malicious intent.
The massive productivity gains that cloud apps can deliver are thus largely retained, but at a far lower level of accompanying risk. Thirdly, this “cloud application control”, to be viable across multiple applications, and, potentially, hundreds or thousands of users, has now evolved into a centralised service that can be controlled from a single dashboard, reducing admin and management overheads, and enabling MSPs to keep their margins keen. The danger for the MSP providing a web security service is that if they don’t have a truly holistic view of each user and the threats that have been ranged against them in the recent past, the true threat pattern – and so the true extent of users’ vulnerability – will not be fully understood.
They can now access a centralised management console that makes all the relevant threat data visible in one synopsis, (an example of which is shown in this video).
And the web security application itself can be connected to other security applications (email, collaboration, endpoint) in one integrated service.
The benefits of this approach are immediate, in the sense that the customer is less likely to get caught out by a threat pattern that the MSP’s service hasn’t picked up on! But they’re also forward-looking, as threat intelligence is actively shared between applications, making detection of multi-channel threats easier in the future. None of us have a crystal ball, but the view from the bridge at analysts The Radicati Group looks pretty decisive in this summary of their 2015 to 2019 predictions. Ransomware is on the rise, but the authorities struggle to deal with it, so businesses often end up paying the ransom! This can only lead to one conclusion: businesses are paying the ransom, in an attempt to get their businesses back up and running, because the authorities are failing to help them do so! In practice, this happens in many different ways, varying from scareware, to browser or screen-locking software, to encrypting ransomware. In a further malevolent twist, cyberattackers may choose to “leak” the files that they have sequestered if the ransom is not paid, exposing a business’s potentially confidential and legally privileged information to public view online.
Reputationally, this can be shattering, but the financial impact of ransomware is breathtaking too.
In short, businesses are vulnerable, the authorities are swamped, and there’s no honour among cyber thieves. Bitdefender’s answer to the ransomware challenge has been to develop a Ransomware Protection module that is included in all Bitdefender 2016 products (including business versions sold through the IT channel). Clearly, this makes ransomware protection accessible to the end-user, regardless of the product they or their organisation have purchased. But Bitdefender products also activate the Ransomware Protection module at startup, and scan all critical system areas before files are loaded, with zero impact on the system’s performance. At the same time, protection is provided from certain attacks that rely on malware code execution, code injections, or hooks inside dynamic libraries, so defence against the ransomware is instant, broad, doesn’t slow end-users’ core computing tasks down, and – most importantly of all – doesn’t let the ransomware get a foothold.


Malwarebytes has built a solid reputation on its ability to detect, monitor and block malware of all kinds, right from the earliest attempts by the malware’s author to probe the most effective delivery methods. This means it can spot indications of threatening behaviours way before the threat actually deploys – and it has applied this philosophy to its Anti-Ransomware product, too. Although the product is still in beta, it is based on an already successful application  - CryptoMonitor - that Malwarebytes acquired from EasySync Solutions, so its provenance certainly inspires trust.
We don’t yet know how Malwarebytes will market the general release version for business users through the IT channel.
It also includes the Anti-Exploit solution, that detects the zero-day exploits that other solutions simply miss.
Ever the source of insightful and sobering security stats, Trend Micro has publicly announced that ransomware infections among UK firms in February 2016 alone far exceeded the figures for the first six months of 2015! Its approach to fighting ransomware is highly layered, with Ransomware Protection features included in its endpoint products (OfficeScan, Worry-Free Business Security), email and gateway products (ScanMail, Cloud App Security, Hosted Email Security, amongst others) and network products (Deep Discovery). Trend Micro was named a Leader in the 2016 Endpoint Protection Platforms Magic Quadrant, published by industry analyst Gartner. In all the three vendor cases mentioned above, there is a strong underlying truth: everything turns on being able to stop the ransomware infection happening in the first place. In my last post, I wrote about the benefits of selling services through the MSP model, rather than relying on old-fashioned, unpredictable break-fix. All well and good, but that’s often also about selling your customers on something new and different, when they’re used to something established and familiar – and we all know how difficult that can be!
So I spoke to some customers and some colleagues, and cast around on the internet, and came up with these useful tips to help you convince your customers that MSP is the way forward!
What your customers are really interested in is how MSP solutions can help them decrease risk, reduce costs, and – perhaps most critically of all – increase productivity. Simplicity and clarity are watchwords in any sales situation, but when you’re trying to persuade a customer to abandon the break-fix model that they may have trusted for many years, they become critical.
The psychological impact of obscure language is immensely damaging to MSP sales relationships – as this piece in MSPblog explains. Change is already disruptive and painful for customers – don’t make it unfathomable and repellent too. The way to convince them is to highlight just how bad things could get if that something does go wrong. How much have they invested in their IT infrastructure and how much more would they have to add to that to cover hourly-rate remediation in the event of something like major data loss or theft?
You won’t have to search very far to find some seriously compelling statistics on this subject. Consider, in addition, that data loss and downtime cost the UK ?10.5 billion per year, according to this piece in TechWeek Europe, and one Gartner analyst has cited an hourly downtime cost, based on company size and type, of between $140,000 and $540,000 per hour!
In fact, the reality is that there are very few solutions you couldn’t offer in an MSP version to meet your customers’ varied needs.
As MSPAlliance recently put it, (my italics), "MSPs must become supremely comfortable interacting with customers on a business level. The MSP model makes possible multiple alternative solutions in multiple combinations, so use them to give your customers a sense of choice and control. For a superb, methodical sales proposal process that will help you to convincingly align solutions options with your MSP customers’ needs, check out this MSP blog post.
The IT business is famous for its convoluted language and ever-changing buzzwords, but the essence of the break-fix model adopted by so many IT channel partners is as simple as it ever was – wait for something to break, then get called in to fix it. In short, to move their services up the customer value chain and make them more profitable, break-fix companies have to go proactive instead, preventing the breaks before the fix is even needed! Here are a just a few core MSP benefits that decisively trump the old-world break-fix approach to doing IT business. Make no mistake, break-fix renders cost and budget planning almost impossible, and so can quickly turn out to be a drain on the business. The MSP model, on the other hand, generates a reliable, recurring monthly fee, enabling predictable cash flow month in, month out, and with no requirement for customers’ systems to break! Ultimately, this supports the planning process that underpins business growth – if you know how much your costs are each month, you know how many contracts you need to bring in to turn a profit.
It’s a far cry from waiting for something to go bang and then frantically working out how much you need to charge the customer for it to cover the lean weeks of recent times and those yet to come!
Your core differentiator, as an MSP, is that you are not paid to fix the customers’ systems, you are paid to monitor them and prevent issues from taking hold in the first place, using, for example, RMM (Remote Monitoring and Management) tools, like this one. What this in turn means is that you are no longer relying on your customers to fail in order for you to succeed; this positions you as a “trusted adviser” and enables you to forge stronger business relationships with them. These stronger relationshjps pave the way for you to expand your service offering, grow those all-important monthly revenues (and the margin you’re making on them), and they also make your customers more likely to recommend you to other prospects! The much-vaunted “single pane of glass” – a portal or console that enables you to easily onboard and manage devices, customers and users, no matter how many of them there are – is now a firm reality in the MSP universe. Consequently, it takes far fewer staff to manage customers’ systems, which in turn delivers higher productivity at much lower cost.
With traditional break-fix services, the only way to make money is if something goes wrong. Don’t do the job well, however, and the customer will soon see through it and be off consulting another provider. With the MSP model, of course, all of this ceases to be an issue, because you are measured on your ability to monitor and to prevent disruption, not on your ability to clean up a mess once it’s already happened. Nobody’s suggesting moving from the break-fix model to the MSP model is painless – it isn’t (not least because you’re actually moving from one mentality to a fundamentally very different one). But the Web is well stocked with helpful articles (like this one) calling out the essentials, others (like this one) giving more detailed advice on how you should actually price your MSP services, and discussion forums (like this one) that share the experiences of companies that have already made the transition. Business runs on data, but how many businesses have acted to actually protect their lifeblood if and when disaster strikes? Only about 35% of businesses have data backup in place, and at the SMB end of the market, some 75% of SMBs have no disaster recovery plan at all.
It’s a revealing statistic, because it hints that the challenge is not only in backing up the data somewhere safe, but also in reinstating it to enable the business to “withstand” the outage, and get the wheels turning again. That, in a nutshell, is the difference between data backup and disaster recovery (often termed, somewhat loosely, business continuity, as I’ll explain later) – and here’s what SMBs should be focusing on to get their data disaster ducks in a row!
This is the critical question SMBs need to answer, because it is this RPO (Recovery Point Objective) calculation, explained in more detail here, that informs all elements of the data backup process. Evidence suggests this is where smaller businesses really struggle, as 71% of UK SMBs, according to research from Onyx Group in this article, only manage to back up part of their data. The value of the RPO is also diminished by the realities of where the data is being backed up to. The process of deciding on the RPO can expose far greater backup shortfall than the SMB has thus far been forced to confront!
But the most demanding RPO in the world will only ever address one side of the business continuity equation – the need to back the data up. The other, equally crucial side of the equation is being able to get to that backed-up data, reinstate it into the organisation, and rapidly rebuild any of the infrastructure that is needed to make it work. The speed with which this can be achieved is called the Recovery Time Objective (RTO), and is usually set by working backwards from how much a data loss would cost the company (by adding up the average per-hour wage and overheads of the employees who need to work with the data, and the per-hour revenue).
Or imagine you’ve successfully saved all your critical files to your backup service, but you haven’t saved any system images – so the accompanying settings and system data that you need to make the files quickly work again are missing. Or imagine you’re doing all your backup locally and the hardware that does the backup breaks down, so you first have to repair or replace the machine(s) before you can get to the data – if indeed you then can at all! What’s emerging here is that no one approach necessarily delivers maximally RTO-friendly use of backed-up data.
Instant local and cloud virtualisation, to vastly reduce the risk posed by fault-prone hardware and cumbersome, inaccessible physical media.


Of course, it’s not just using the right tools to meet the commitments of RPO and RTO that will help ensure business continuity. Protecting data from the threat of spam, phishing and social engineering attacks helps businesses to safeguard their livelihoods. The Heartbleed bug is a security vulnerability in certain versions of the commonly used OpenSSL security library. In the unforeseen event of a lost workstation, the bare metal recovery (BMR) feature enables instant recovery from an image-level backup (snapshot).
Asigra Cloud Backup™ works in the cloud or on-premise, for everything from mobile devices to entire data centers. Asigra, the Asigra logo, Asigra Cloud Backup, Recovery is Everything®, Recovery License Model and Recovery Tracker are registered trademarks of Asigra Inc. Since 2011, as this Worldwide Cloud Applications Market Forecast 2015 – 2019 shows, the Cloud applications market has more than doubled, and now accounts for 20% of the overall enterprise applications space. Currently, the view from the bridge here is that one prominent vendor is now bundling cloud app security within its existing security services, in a cloud-based MSP model, at no extra licensing charge – but other vendors haven’t even started to play catch-up on this.
An MSP delivering a web security service like this one benefits from over 2,500 auto-updates to its threat definitions daily, but doesn’t have to funnel checks and traffic through the bottleneck of a proxy server - thus maintaining optimum surfing performance. Web users are invariably email and collaboration software users too, for example, so web threats often propagate through these channels, via vulnerable endpoints. MSPs can deliver services around everything from email provision, to backup and business recovery, to accounting and finance, to business analytics, and more besides. MSPs just need to make sure they’re delivering the right features to get a profitable slice of it.
Cybercriminals aren’t exactly known for their integrity or willingness to be bound by contract, so where’s the guarantee that they’ll give businesses back the access to their files once they’ve coughed up? The Verizon Data Breach Investigations report puts the business cost of losing access to just 1000 records at more than ?46,000!
So it’s down to security vendors to step up to the plate and prevent ransom situations from arising in the first place.
It includes the powerful Anti-Malware solution that (uniquely!) also comes with an inbuilt remediation tool – that is to say, it can clean up already infected systems, making for some very grateful customers! Factoring Anti-Ransomware into this already compelling combination would be something of a coup! This covers, amongst other technologies, anti-ransomware, so Trend’s solutions are definitely “up there” when it comes to stopping businesses being held at gunpoint! If it’s not an incentive for businesses and the IT channel partners who supply them to act, too, I don’t know what is. Comptia’s annual Trends In Managed Services research, for example, (you can see a non-gated slideshow summary here), contains some excellent references to productivity gains, savings, and ROI, all of which will be useful to you in a sales situation. Test your pitch on friends, family members, and deeply non-technical colleagues – and if they don’t instantly “get it”, rethink it. In their mind, the choice you are giving them is between a monthly outflow of cash to protect them against something that “might never happen”, and an hourly rate that they only have to pay if something goes wrong.
Would they get hit by financial loss if they were to experience more than, say, an hour’s downtime, for example? I wrote in another post recently that 58% of SMBs could not withstand any data loss whatsoever.
From endpoint security, to data backup and recovery, and of course much more, it’s all up for grabs – but you need to understand your customers’ pain points first! This means knowing the business of your customers and being able to ask questions and listen to what causes them pain. This isn’t break-fix-land, where every additional solution ratchets up the risk of an hourly-rate repair job, so don’t pitch it like it is! The problem, fundamentally, is that no matter how diligently a break-fix company delivers its reactive-only services, the fact that they are reactive-only immediately puts them in the lower branches of the service quality tree. Break-fix is an expensive service to deliver because you can’t predict when something will go wrong. Needless to say, the same console can typically be used to deliver additional services to existing clients, on demand, instantly swelling your revenues and binding your customers closer to you. This is a double-edged sword; the danger is that if you do your job too well, you’re out of business (as if to reaffirm this, insolvencies amongst IT and communications companies rose by 22% at the end of 2014, compared to the previous year, according to research from Exaro). You’re delivering a service that is always on and always revenue-generative, not sporadic correctives that temporarily plug urgent holes in your cash flow! Talk to an MSP vendor about it, talk to an MSP distributor about it, talk to an MSP customer about it, but talk to someone, and soon. According to this article, 58% of small businesses couldn’t withstand any amount of data loss whatsoever. Data backup is just as vulnerable to the potential limitations of the cloud as any other service is. Inherently RPO-unfriendly (you can’t very well create and send off a new tape every hour!), it is also cumbersome and expensive, often funded by an insurance policy and requiring a full-time employee just to manage it.
Imagine you’re an SMB, and all your data is backed up to a physical tape at an offsite location somewhere, that has to be manually shipped back to you before you can reinstate it.
So when the chips are down, the data’s gone, and it’s time to pull business continuity out of thin air, the ability to recover, say, a 70Gb SQL server in a few seconds flat, in return for a modest monthly fee, is a big shout in favour of the cloud. It takes a much longer-term view than that, embracing succession planning, recruitment, supply chain management, and a whole host of human skills to which technology is only peripheral, as this piece explains. Backing up data “somewhere safe” is useless unless it’s achieved at sufficient frequency, with sufficient comprehensiveness (system images and data formats), sufficient ease and speed of reinstatement, and with a high degree of freedom from the weaknesses of hardware and physical media dependencies.
As an added measure of comfort, they have tested a number of public Attix5 Platforms (including WebAccess) using a reputable security firm and all of them were reported to be unaffected.
While most other backup solutions require multiple IPs and ports to achieve this,  DataFortress , powered by Attix5, turns this networking nightmare into a simple “one-port-fits-all” solution. This ensures that business continues as usual, without wasting resources on reinstalling any software programs or operating systems. 1457 to find out how rewarding an Asigra Partnership can be or better yet hear what some of our partners have to say. As this article in CRN eloquently argues, the mechanics of features and functions are absolutely not what will prompt your customer to make a decision in favour of MSP. Do you have any idea how downright poisonous some of the language accepted in IT circles can be to someone seeking to make a purchasing decision? From your point of view, the fixed monthly payment for your MSP services makes perfect sense – regular, predictable income in return for always-on monitoring and service. The MSP model has brought a flexibility to the sales process that previously didn’t exist – particularly when it is teamed with solutions delivered through the cloud that can be switched on and off and scaled up and down on demand. It’s not only complex language that turns your MSP prospects off, it’s a sales proposal process that feels like it’s trying to funnel them into a one-size-fits-all solution, exacerbating their fear of the new and unknown.
This means multiple ad hoc scrambles to deliver services for which the associated labour and time costs are notoriously hard to estimate and control. Every minute?) What volumes and formats of data need to be involved, and what kind of data backup system or service partner can achieve this?
Is it covered by EU data regulations, and certified to industry-recognised standards like ISO 9001 and ISO 27001?



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