Cyber risks transcend organizations of all types and sizes. Regardless of the size of your company, we are now at a time where you will have to be constantly thinking about potential cyber attacks aimed at your business.
This worry has become more prominent of late as majority businesses embrace digitalization in their unique environments.
As this happens, cyber criminals are also stepping up their game. It used to be that the criminals went for the big organizations. But this has changed. Instead of looking at the size of an entity, criminals now look at the opportunity. If the opportunity exists, it doesn't matter how small or big your organization is — they'll look for a loophole and strike. In fact, a survey in 2022 by Devolutions found out that 60% of small and medium businesses had experienced some form of attack in the previous year.
Because of the huge risk and the fact that cybersecurity requires specialized skills, many organizations are now turning to MSSPs to take care of their security needs. MSSPs are third party security managers who take over the cybersecurity role and run it on behalf of the organization. But since MSSPs are not part of the company, there are certain challenges they often face that can make their services ineffective.
Also Read: MSP vs. MSSP: What is the Difference?
Our sustained observations over time have revealed that one of the key challenges is down to uncertainty around assets. Many companies do not have a good idea of their assets, specifically IT assets. So if the organization has no idea about all their IT assets, you will struggle as an MSSP to offer efficient services. This is why asset intelligence is critical.
What is asset intelligence?
In the context of IT and cybersecurity, asset intelligence is a strategic approach that involves leveraging comprehensive information about an organization's digital assets.
These assets encompass a wide range of elements, including hardware devices, software applications, network infrastructure, data repositories, and more.
The aim of asset intelligence is to provide a deeper understanding of the organization’s digital environment.
The continuous monitoring and collecting data about assets helps organizations maintain an up-to-date inventory of their IT resources. This inventory serves as a foundation for various cybersecurity and IT management practices.
Importance of asset intelligence for MSSPs
MSSPs can use asset intelligence to offer more effective and tailored cybersecurity services. The following specific benefits address the importance in detail and showcase why MSSPs should encourage their clients to adopt this strategy.
1. Risk assessment and incident response
Asset intelligence assists in identifying vulnerabilities and potential security gaps within an organization's infrastructure. With a clear view of assets, IT teams can prioritize aspects such as:
The prioritization is based on the criticality and exposure of assets.
In the event of a security incident or breach, asset intelligence provides quick insights into the impacted assets.
This allows you to isolate affected systems, assess the extent of the breach, and take appropriate containment measures, and implement necessary remediation actions.
For example, if a client’s asset intelligence system detects unusual network activity originating from a specific server, your MSSP team attending to this client can quickly identify the server. They will then assess its role in the infrastructure and determine the scope of the potential breach. Based on the findings, they can decide to isolate it promptly from the network to prevent further compromise.
2. Enhanced compliance
Regulatory compliance often requires organizations to demonstrate proper asset management. As asset intelligence ensures that all assets are properly documented and accounted for, it can play a vital role in helping to meet compliance standards.
For instance, consider a healthcare facility subject to industry regulations. With asset intelligence, the facility can seamlessly furnish an up-to-date inventory of all network-connected medical devices. This comprehensive documentation could include maintenance schedules and security configurations. With this, the facility can effectively demonstrate commitment to both regulatory requirements and the safeguarding of patient data.
Also Read: MSP HIPAA Compliance Checklist
3. Lifecycle management
Asset intelligence supports effective lifecycle management by tracking the status of assets from acquisition to disposal. This includes monitoring warranty expirations, software license renewals, and planned upgrades.
Imagine a software development company that relies on asset intelligence to manage its IT infrastructure. When a new set of development laptops is acquired, the asset intelligence system records their specifications and purchase dates. As time passes, the system tracks upcoming warranty expirations, ensuring timely repairs if needed. It also monitors software licenses, and sends alerts for renewals. Another area that asset intelligence can come in handy for the company is in assisting in planning hardware upgrades based on the laptops' performance data.
4. Change management
During change management, asset intelligence can aid in assessing potential impacts on interconnected assets with the goal of reducing the risk of unforeseen disruptions.
Consider a financial institution implementing a legacy software update across its network. Through change management facilitated by asset intelligence, the institution can analyze the interdependencies between different systems. If the update is intended to enhance the online banking platform, the asset intelligence system can reveal that a specific server hosts critical databases linked to the platform. The recognition of this connection will help the institution ensure appropriate backup measures. They will also allocate extra resources to prevent service interruptions.
5. Streamlined monitoring across cloud and hybrid environments
In cloud and hybrid setups, where assets might span various providers and locations, asset intelligence becomes even more critical. It enables organizations to monitor and manage assets across different platforms seamlessly.
Consider a multinational corporation using a hybrid cloud setup with assets distributed across on-premises servers, a public cloud provider, and a private cloud infrastructure. With asset intelligence, the organization can gain a holistic view of its assets' status and performance, regardless of their physical locations or hosting environments. For instance, if a critical application experiences performance issues, the asset intelligence system can identify that it spans both the public cloud and on-premises servers. This insight will enable the IT team to pinpoint the root cause. It could be due to a network latency issue with the public cloud provider or a hardware problem on-premises. With this intelligence, they can take targeted actions to restore optimal performance.
6. Real-time visibility
With robust asset intelligence, an MSSP is able to have real time-visibility on their clients' assets. You don't have to keep on scheduling the process of gathering asset information.
Instead, you have this system that gives you all the information about each client's assets in real -time. A device disappears from the system? You will get the information soon as this happens. An application experiences a sudden spike in traffic? You will see this, in real-time.
7. Better resource utilization
As an MSSP, you probably serve hundreds or even thousands of clients. The clients will have a different number of assets, some many, some few. When you incorporate asset intelligence into your solutions, you can better deploy resources across all the clients.
This means that the approaches you use to fix an issue across the assets of one client can be reutilized for another client. You don't have to start from scratch for all the clients. Some risks are the same and will affect some assets the same way. But without asset intelligence, you will always have to spend more resources since you have no asset information that cuts across all clients' assets.
Imagine you have 1000 clients. You have up to date intelligence on all the assets under your management. If today one client encounters a problem that you have previously solved for about 600 clients, you can leverage the intelligence you have gathered from the 600 to solve the current challenge. This will drastically cut down the resources you will need to spend on the one client.
When you are managing so many assets, it's imperative to perform a correlation across the assets. This means comparing risks across assets to better understand the problem. Based on this, you are able to adopt a strategy that works not just on one asset, but across assets that are likely to be exposed to the same risk.
Asset intelligence makes this possible by bringing all a client's assets into one central place. From here, you are able to relate risks from one asset to another and identify common areas of concern. For example, a risk that threatens all assets is clear evidence of impending danger. In the absence of asset intelligence, such correlation will be difficult to achieve since asset information is not joined.
9. Reinforced workforces
This is a huge advantage especially for small and medium businesses who do not have the resources to hire many cybersecurity experts. In such cases, the easiest hack is to integrate asset intelligence with other security components that you might already be using, such as SIEM or SOAR.
SOAR is particularly a good candidate for integration with asset intelligence, thanks to automation. Integrating with SOAR means that most aspects of your assets are automated. You don't need analysts to go around checking each asset and updating the status manually.
We have more on why system integration is crucial for businesses. Check the resource.
How to implement asset intelligence
As with any strategy, asset intelligence takes a couple of steps to bring it to life. What are these steps?
1. Define the end goals
Different clients may find asset intelligence useful for different outcomes. So you first need to have an overall picture of the client's assets and the risk profile. This will inform the desired outcomes that the asset intelligence strategy should be designed to deliver.
For example, you might find that for one client, you only need to have the status of all assets within their ecosystem. For another client, maybe their most compelling outcome is compliance. For others, it could be the need to reduce the number of vulnerable devices.
There is so much you can achieve with asset intelligence, yet you can't target all possible outcomes. Sometimes you need to filter, start with a few outcomes, then add more along the way — aided with better insights.
2. Assign permissions
Who will be allowed to access the asset intelligence solution? This could be experts from your MSSP or the company or a mix.
In terms of roles, they could include security teams by default, ITOPs teams, senior managers, and authorized staff from the MSSP among others.
3. Streamline the technicals
Are there assets that require API protocols to access? Are there some assets that require integrations in order to enable incorporation into this strategy?
In short you need to ensure that any technical processes that need to be affected for this strategy to work, are in place. Remember where we talked about potential integration with other security platforms like SOAR? This is the point to ensure that such implementations are done.
4. Define the sources
Which specific sources will be feeding information to the asset intelligence solution? The options are endless, well not quite literally but you have quite a wide range of sources to pick from. Choose those that bear the greatest impact for your security needs.
You may encounter challenges and this means it may not be possible to connect all sources at one go. Some clients may also find it difficult to bring certain sources on board, perhaps due to hesitancy from management or key stakeholders. Start with those sources that are acceptable, and work on the rest gradually.
Way forward for starters and those already utilizing asset intelligence
If you are yet to start offering asset intelligence to your clients, then you could be missing out on a promising opportunity. Many organizations now understand the importance of asset intelligence. In fact, it's one of the key strengths they consider when choosing an MSSP.
If you are already offering asset intelligence as part of your MSSP services, keep an eye on efficiency. Perform consistent audits to ensure you are working with all important assets and that no 'dead' asset is on board as this can drain resources.