Why are many businesses turning to third-party security partners? – Help Net Security

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In 2023, 71% of organizations across various industries reported that their business feels the impact of the ongoing cybersecurity skills shortage. Many companies have been forced to scale back their cybersecurity programs as they struggle to find experienced candidates to fill vital positions—but even as they do so, threat actors continue to advance and refine the tactics they use to defeat and evade today’s defenses.

third-party security

Without adequate staffing and support, enterprises risk facing an increasingly hostile threat landscape with little to protect them against motivated attackers. As a result, many organizations are turning away from in-house security operations in favor of strategic industry partnerships that can help them fill gaps in experience and expertise.

It’s a big change—one that reflects the rise of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) industry and the growing willingness of organizations to outsource certain processes to focus on core business objectives.

However, relying on another security organization can be daunting, which means businesses must be able to determine whether those partners are meeting their actual needs. As organizations explore third-party security solutions, it’s important to ensure they ask the right questions and identify partners who can provide the knowledge, experience, and support needed to face attackers.

Explaining the surge in third-party security partnerships

Organizations might choose to seek out external partners to help meet their security needs for many reasons. The first is to address a technology or resource gap. Unfortunately, the ongoing cybersecurity skills gap has caused a severe workforce shortfall, with recent studies estimating 600,000 unfilled security positions in the U.S. alone. As a result, experienced security experts are in high demand, making it difficult for organizations to bring in the talent they need to run a successful security program. This has led many to explore alternative options that rely less heavily on building an in-house program.

While IT budgets have generally risen over the past several years, they are not unlimited. As organizations weigh the cost of security solutions alongside the rising cost of experienced employees, some are electing to prioritize spending in other areas, forgoing software licenses in favor of third-party partnerships. While moving from an in-house security program to one that relies on outside partners can represent a significant shift in mentality for many organizations, a growing number have found that working with third-party experts can help them secure their systems in a more effective—and scalable—manner. As the threat landscape continues to evolve at a rapid pace, no longer having to track and account for each new development can free up substantial time and resources for organizations.

Another factor driving organizations toward external partnerships is the challenge of application onboarding. Enterprises use a massive number of software solutions, cloud services, and other applications, and ensuring those applications are properly configured and protected can be a challenge. As data privacy and security regulations continue to arise in a wide range of jurisdictions, it’s increasingly critical for today’s businesses to clearly demonstrate that they are effectively managing and protecting data within their applications. While some organizations prioritize building that expertise in-house, others seek out third-party experts with experience onboarding a wide range of applications. In many cases, these partnerships can provide organizations with a broader knowledge base than they would otherwise have access to.

What makes outside partnerships an attractive option

One of the advantages of third-party security partnerships is the ability to implement an entire security stack, rather than taking a product-by-product approach. Today, organizations might need a firewall solution, an access management solution, an identity solution, a privileged access management solution, an endpoint detection and response solution, and dozens of other security tools.

For some organizations, implementing and maintaining those solutions is no problem—but others may not have the required knowledge or experience. Still, others may prefer not to invest the time needed to test and vet every potential option, especially when they can allow a trusted expert to do so for them. Third-party security experts can identify the necessary solutions and ensure they are appropriately implemented more accurately and effectively than most businesses would be capable of on their own.

The evolving nature of the threat landscape (and the security space itself) is another hurdle for businesses that may struggle to stay on top of each new development. Security isn’t “set it and forget it” program—it’s important to have a plan for long-term solution management.

Organizations can ensure they are not responsible for day-to-day maintenance tasks like managing updates and patches or identifying new products and capabilities by turning to third-party partners. These partnerships give organizations peace of mind—both that their existing technology is configured adequately, and they have access to the latest and greatest solutions that meet their needs.

Ultimately, that peace of mind is what often leads even well-resourced organizations to prioritize security partnerships over internal ownership. Even when hiring an experienced security expert, there is no guarantee that they have the right skill set for the organization’s specific security needs.

Even experienced professionals may struggle onboarding a new type of solution, while an outside provider may have already installed and configured that solution for countless partners. While investing in building the knowledge and skills of security employees can pay great dividends in the long run, this degree of reliability and scalability is difficult to achieve in-house.

What makes a strong security partnership?

While third-party security managers make sense for many businesses, identifying the right partner (or partners) to work with can still be challenging. It’s important for organizations to thoroughly vet any potential partners to ensure that they have access to the specific expertise and support they need. This starts with identifying which aspects of security the organization is interested in retaining control over, and which they want outside help with.

Next, it’s important to define what success looks like. What is the organization hoping to accomplish by turning to an outside partner? Maybe it does make sense to purchase a few licenses and hire additional staff—or maybe it makes more sense to search for a partner capable of providing a comprehensive solution. Before making that decision, it’s critical to know the scope of the challenge and clearly define success.

It’s also essential to ask potential security partners the right questions. Businesses that lack the technical expertise to ask about specific solutions or capabilities should gather information about how the organization operates and its prior experience.

A business that operates within an industry with unique data security and privacy needs should seek out partners with experience in that industry—or at least a clear understanding of the challenges that the industry faces and how they can be overcome. Businesses should always ask about the data security and privacy regulations applicable to their industry or geographic location and how they plan to adhere to them.

Similar to identifying a partner with the appropriate level of scalability, an organization with just four or five people on staff is unlikely to be able to meet the needs of a large enterprise but may be able to offer a smaller business more personalized service.

Some security providers target Fortune 100 companies, while others focus on SMBs—and knowing the difference is critical. It’s also important to know how security vendors handle their contracts. Do they price by outcomes? By technology? Do they apply an hourly rate?

Different pricing models offer advantages to organizations of varying sizes, and it’s essential to work with both finance and sales teams to understand what might work best for the organization. While working with an outside provider can be more economical than building an in-house security program, there are still important financial elements to consider when identifying the right partner.

Making the right decision for the business

Just because working with third-party security providers is becoming more common amid today’s increasingly complex threat landscape, it doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for every business. Maintaining control of an in-house security program is advantageous, as is working with knowledgeable partners.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to the organization’s specific challenges: what industry they operate in, what threats they face, and how confident they are in their ability to set up a successful program in-house are all factors to consider. But as businesses become increasingly comfortable turning to SaaS applications to meet a wide range of needs, it should come as little surprise that many also see an advantage in turning security operations over to experienced partners.

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