Zero Trust for MSPs: What is it, and What are the Benefits?

Written by Molly Murphy on February 23, 2022

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This article is the first in a series of three posts on Zero Trust for MSPs. Check out our second post on getting client buy-in and our third post on implementing Zero Trust for your clients.

As a managed service provider (MSP), you are your clients’ go-to for all things IT. Whether they’re small, medium, or large enterprises, they rely on you to provide the resources and security necessary to run their business. If you want to give them the best security framework possible, you need to implement Zero Trust. 

Zero Trust is a security concept that enables you to offer your clients the pinnacle of security and safety, while increasing your market share and perceived value. In this article, you’ll get a crash course on what Zero Trust is (and is not), and learn why it’s beneficial for MSPs and your clients.

What is and isn’t Zero Trust?

You’ve probably heard the term “Zero Trust” thrown around lately. It’s gained popularity as a buzzword, even if its meaning is often misunderstood. 

As an MSP, the most important thing to understand is that Zero Trust isn’t a product; it’s a method of approaching security, a framework. The concept centers around the idea that employees should have the lowest level of security and identity clearances necessary to do their jobs – and no more. 

Due to its buzzword status, the term Zero Trust gets thrown around a lot, but it’s not always used correctly. Here’s a quick guide based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s Zero Trust Architecture publication to set you straight on the main principles. 

Zero Trust IS: 

  • Sometimes also called Zero Trust architecture, ZT, or ZTA
  • Based on the principle of “trust nothing; verify everything”: devices are trusted only after they meet all credentialing and security requirements, but never trusted by default, and all users must be regularly authenticated and validated
  • A framework with three main parts: 

Zero Trust IS NOT: 

  • A way to make your employees’ and clients’ lives more difficult 
  • The idea that you “don’t trust your employees and lock them out of necessary applications” 
  • A product, service, or tangible platform
  • New: while Zero Trust has gained in popularity recently because of how well it works in a remote environment, the methodology has been around for over 10 years.

While this list is a great starting point for understanding Zero Trust, there’s a lot more to the framework and the way it benefits your business and your clients. 

Benefits of Implementing Zero Trust (For Clients)

Before you can sell your clients on the Zero Trust model, you need to understand the benefits for yourself. These benefits will form the roadmap of your conversations with your small to medium businesses (SMBs). Long story short? They have a lot to gain when they implement Zero Trust architecture – and a lot more to lose if they don’t. 

Increased Security 

The most obvious benefit to adopting a Zero Trust framework is greatly improved security, which SMBs cannot afford to take lightly in our increasingly cloud-based work environments. 

A recent study by McAfee Enterprise and FireEye reported that cyberattacks have increased a staggering 81% since the beginning of the pandemic. Likewise, Verizon reports that the average cost of each incident is now $21,659, with a staggering 61% of breaches being due to compromised login credentials. 

The pandemic gave cybercriminals the opportunity to hone their craft even further. Today, they are smarter and more sophisticated than ever. To protect themselves and their business assets, your clients need a security strategy that’s just as smart.

While Zero Trust principles can be used for both legacy on-prem and remote systems, the framework really thrives in remote environments, making it the perfect protection against security breaches that target remote assets, data, and workers through credentialed attacks. 

Better User Experience 

The pandemic put a lot of pressure on many SMBs to come up with hybrid and remote tech solutions quickly. Due to the rapid rate of adoption, planning for every contingency wasn’t possible for many organizations. This is especially true for those running systems that don’t easily lend themselves to cloud environments. 

What these organizations were left to contend with were on-prem systems ill-adapted to remote and hybrid environments. These setups put more strain on their IT department and made for a clunky or unsecured end user experience for employees. 

No matter if your clients are utilizing on-prem or cloud security systems, a Zero Trust framework will offer increased convenience and a better user experience through elements like passwordless authentication, password vaults, and zero-touch onboarding and offboarding. A streamlined, intuitive user experience means better security with less friction, less frustration for employees, and fewer help desk tickets for your support teams to contend with. 

Cloud Compatibility 

If your clients aren’t currently using cloud-based software, they may not immediately see why Zero Trust’s cloud compatibility matters. But whether they make the transition now or in a few years, cloud-native software is here to stay.

While the Zero Trust framework wasn’t created for the cloud, it is a natural fit for cloud-native platforms and applications. Zero Trust makes use of many popular cloud-based applications, like single sign-on (SSO) and MFA, because these solutions inherently protect the user and the way they access critical assets. 

Simply put, choosing a security model that will integrate seamlessly with future IT advancements – whether they’re ready to upgrade their systems today or not – is an investment in the future of cybersecurity, and your clients’ success. 

Benefits for Implementing Zero Trust (For You)

As an MSP, what’s good for your clients is good for you, too. Zero Trust not only positions you as a valued and experienced partner and streamlines your management process; it also offers additional monetization opportunities. 

Trust Building 

One of the biggest impacts Zero Trust can have is how it can strengthen your clients’ confidence in you as a trusted advisor. Offering a service that improves and grows their business – and being the person who brought it to them – builds your relationship, thus securing your clients’ loyalty. 

In fact, trust-building could even earn you more revenue in the long run. A recent PwC study found that 49% of consumers spend more money when they trust the brand. You achieve and grow trust by investing in your partnership with your clients and bringing them not just products, but also frameworks specifically tailored to drive their success. Zero Trust is one such model that all SMBs can benefit from implementing. 

Easier for you to Manage as an MSP 

The pandemic-forced shift to remote work took a toll on MSPs. While SMBs scrambled to create remote work contingencies, you had to deal with all your customers making the shift at the same time, supporting each client through the transition, all while making the same transitions for your own business. 

Due to rapid remote work adoption, your managed IT accounts likely look much different in 2022 than they did in early 2020. If you don’t employ a Zero Trust model that allows you to better support the many security functions your clients need, you’re working harder than you have to. 

This is especially true if you are your clients’ IT department. Converting to a Zero Trust model makes device and user management an easier process internally. When paired with cloud platforms, Zero Trust offers increased efficiency, convenience, single-pane oversight, customization, and automation options.

Having better, more streamlined oversight of your IT accounts also helps you manage another big issue for MSPs: Shadow IT. Shadow IT costs companies money in the form of lost income from security breaches, non-compliant apps, poor password management, and lack of MFA controls.

Instead of employees managing their own apps, devices and security strategies, Zero Trust’s least privilege and authentication practices bring all elements of a company’s security under one umbrella: yours. The better visibility you have into what individual users are doing, the more you can secure your (or your client’s) organization. 

Opportunities to Monetize 

While Zero Trust itself isn’t a product or service, the framework does allow for opportunities to monetize. 

Having Zero Trust as a starting point gives you a reason to introduce new platforms or applications to your MSP tech stack. For example, say you have a client who recently switched to a remote-first business model and is now struggling with instances of shadow IT. Using income loss as the conversation starter, you may bring up to them that upgrading to a Zero Trust-compatible, cloud-native security management system will help keep closer oversight on user provisioning and activities.  

Since Zero Trust is perfect for remote environments but is still functional with on-prem systems, no matter where your clients are at in their tech journey, you can find a way to make Zero Trust work for them, while increasing your market share. 

Continue Growing Your Zero Trust Knowledge

To accompany this article series, we’ve recently released a free whitepaper, Zero Trust for MSPs. This roadmap explains what Zero Trust is (and isn’t), the key benefits of using the framework, how to package and sell it to clients, and the three critical steps to implementation. The resource also includes suggestions for further reading, and free downloadable templates for use in your business. Download the whitepaper today.

Molly Murphy

Molly Murphy is a Senior Content Writer at JumpCloud. A self-professed nerd, she loves working on the cutting edge of the latest IT tech. When she's not in the [remote] office, Molly loves traveling, rescuing animals, and growing her all together unhealthy obsession with Harry Potter.

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