Navigating Compliance: How MSPs Can Protect SMBs

Educate clients about security and build resilient compliance programs so clients are complaint and protected.

Tim Lasonde, Channel Chief

July 3, 2024

5 Min Read
Compliance for MSPs

Cyberattacks on big players like Boeing, Dell and Ascension Healthcare have been in the news recently, but small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) are increasingly also being attacked by cybercriminals. According to Accenture's Cost of Cybercrime Study, 43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses, yet only about 14% feel adequately protected.

Why the increasing attacks on SMBs? Because smaller companies are believed to have weaker security protection, making them lucrative targets. Consequently, there's been a bigger push for stricter enforcement of cybersecurity compliance standards, especially for SMBs. While smaller companies may think that compliance requirements only apply to larger companies, that isn't the case.

Strategic Importance of Compliance Management

As a managed service provider (MSP), your company is the primary defense for your customers against cyber threats. If you haven't started a compliance program yet, now is the time, as compliance demands have exploded. Noncompliance can pose security risks, lead to trouble with regulators and customers and create big financial impacts. It's not about whether compliance management is important for your MSP business, but rather how effectively you can integrate and leverage it to protect your clients.

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Today, customers rely on MSPs to protect their data. The landscape has changed — SMBs are more of a target than ever, and "bad actors" have become more sophisticated. For example, only a few years ago, ransomware was the primary form of attack, spawning an entire industry focused on preventing and containing these threats. However, hackers have evolved and now take advantage of uneducated users, unprotected systems and the misconception that SMBs aren't targets.

Modern breaches often involve compromised mailboxes allowing attackers to patiently observe, learn how to create invoices, identify overdue payments and determine who is responsible for collections. With this knowledge, they have everything they need to steal from both your customers and your clients' customers.

Proper compliance management helps MSPs avoid penalties, demonstrates their commitment to protecting customer assets, and provides clients with peace of mind.


MSPs face two main challenges when it comes to compliance management.

  • Internal compliance — Making sure your own systems comply with all the relevant regulations since you're now a significant target because of the access you have to your customers' environments.

  • Client compliance — Ensuring that the services you offer your clients achieve and maintain compliance. This requires keeping up on all the latest regulations and having the tools and processes necessary for effective compliance management.

Best Practices

MSPs should adopt these best practices to effectively manage compliance and security:

Understand relevant regulations: Compliance requirements vary depending on what industry your customers are in and the type of data they're collecting.

For example, customers handling credit card transactions need to comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). If you have SMBs in health care, they will need to adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Clients dealing with customers in Europe will need to comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements. As your customers' trusted expert, it's important that you understand the compliance requirements that may impact their businesses.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards offers guidance to MSPs on how to manage the complexities of cybersecurity risks. This is a great first place to start as NIST is considered the gold standard for IT security practices in the industry.

Define your service scope: Begin by outlining the breadth of your compliance services. If possible, tailor your offerings to a specific industry so you can optimize your ability to select the most appropriate security and compliance frameworks for your customers.

Once your scope is defined, understand what it will take from a resources and time perspective to deliver these services. You will be providing a valuable service that your customers need and you should expect to get paid for your time and effort.

Conduct regular risk assessments and identify compliance gaps: Performing regular risk assessments is a key step for managing compliance. This involves auditing a client's IT infrastructure to identify potential threats of data breaches and to make sure their infrastructure meets specific regulatory and industry standards.

After the risk assessment, identify any gaps or noncompliance in your customer's system and take corrective actions to address the vulnerabilities identified.

  1. Monitor for continuous improvement: It's critical to consistently monitor and gather information to ensure compliance and continuously improve security measures. Share these insights with your customers to show the value of your services.

  2. Evaluate your tech stack for cybersecurity and compliance: MSPs need a robust tech stack to effectively assess, monitor and manage cybersecurity and compliance, including automating tasks and remotely managing customer networks. This should include remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools and professional service automation (PSA) tools.

The security tech stack should also include specific tools to protect against cyberattacks and data breaches. The key tools include endpoint protection, network security, threat intelligence and, in some cases, managed detection and response (MDR) resources. Develop a program first that aligns to a standard and fits your customers' needs, then build your tech stack to fit your program.

Selling Security and Compliance

Convincing clients to invest in cybersecurity can be tough, especially for SMBs with limited budgets or that lack the understanding of today's modern security risks. Here are a few tips to help educate customers.

  •  Dispel the myth that SMBs are low risk. Many SMBs think they're not at risk because of their size — use industry stats and info on specific compliance regulations that apply to their businesses to dispel the myth. Share real-life examples from your experience of breaches or cyberattacks to help them understand the risks and the potential impact of doing nothing.

  •  Frame investments in cybersecurity as a business necessity. Focus on the potential financial and reputational consequences of a security breach or compliance violations. MSPs can demonstrate the value of making cybersecurity investments to help justify the expense.

  •  Show the competitive advantage. Focus on the competitive advantage of having robust security. Businesses that prioritize security are less likely to experience downtime or data loss, giving them a strategic edge in the market.

By integrating robust tech stacks, educating clients about security and emphasizing the importance of compliance, MSPs can effectively protect SMBs against cyber threats and build resilient cybersecurity and compliance programs. Today, compliance is as critical as cybersecurity, and MSPs need to embrace tools and strategies that ensure their clients aren't just protected but also compliant.

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About the Author(s)

Tim Lasonde

Channel Chief, Syncro

Tim Lasonde is the channel chief at Syncro, where he spearheads strategic development initiatives and fosters enhanced communication and collaboration with Syncro's partners. With over 20 years of experience in the MSP industry, prior positions included executive roles at NSK, an IT consulting company. He holds a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

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