The 16 Biggest Cybersecurity Challenges MSPs Face Right Now

From business continuity, ransomware response and supply chain attacks to user education, the rise in remote work, and retaining security talent, here are the biggest cybersecurity challenges MSPs and their customers face.


Be Cyber Smart

As everyone’s lives have become increasingly dependent on technology, virtually all personal and business data is kept on internet-connected platforms, which can become a gold mine for bad actors. The first full week of the 18th annual Cybersecurity Awareness Month will highlight best security practices and focus on general cyber hygiene to keep user and business information safe.

Organizations can Be Cyber Smart by reinforcing basic cybersecurity best practices such as creating strong passwords, using multi-factor authentication, backing up company data, and updating software with the latest patches, according to National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which co-lead Cybersecurity Awareness Month.

To kick off Cybersecurity Awareness Month, CRN spoke with 16 managed service providers with cloud-based security services expertise about the biggest cybersecurity challenges they and their clients face right now. From business continuity, ransomware response and supply chain attacks to user education, the rise in remote work, and finding and retaining security talent, here are the most vexing problems.

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Breaches And Business Continuity

Jeff Schmidt, CEO, Phoenix-based Avertium, No. 405 on the 2021 CRN Solution Provider 500

I think there are a few challenges, specifically with our customers is resources and keeping up the pace with the evolution of technology, digital transformation, and the modern workplace. This is why they turn to us to help offset these challenges and become part of their team.

As an industry, top of mind with security professionals and business is ransomware/breaches. The media has created a huge awareness around this topic that permeates the top-level leadership and boards. This is concerning and somewhat a disservice to security being an enabler versus spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). In my experience, organizations need to step back and have a security strategy from their infrastructure design, to ensuring visibility and coverage across their ecosystem (internal and 3rd party), to the right tools to measure what good, better, and best look like for cybersecurity and continuous exercising of this motion to ensure the muscle memory doesn’t get lethargic.

This leads to the second area, which relates to how many companies don’t think of cybersecurity as part of their business continuity strategy (what happens if my business or data center encounters a disaster?). Cybersecurity must be included as part of this, specifically knowing what the ground game is and the playbooks to be used in the event of breach by a bad actor. Simple questions and assignment of ownership of who makes what calls. (i.e., what systems can be shutdown, what networks can be taken offline, who owns legal ramifications, who owns PR, what customers and revenue is impacted, how long can we operate like this, do we have cyber insurance for this, who am I calling in the event of this – this last one is really the wrong time to be picking your partner who holds your fate).

Ransomware Protection And Response

Shane Vinup, CEO, Maple Grove, Minn.-based Cyber Advisors, No. 456 on the 2021 CRN Solution Provider 500

The biggest challenge so far in 2021 has been protecting against and/or responding to ransomware. Cryptographically-based attacks against data have totally simplified the threat actors’ ability to satisfy their primary motivation – getting paid. Crypto-locking ransomware has greatly simplified the utility of hacking. Many or most of the initial steps of getting around security controls remain. However, once the initial compromise is successful, all that is left to do is pivot and escalate using encryption, which creates persistence and avoids exfiltration entirely. Cutting out these steps necessarily shortens the time that customers have to protect themselves. All the while the threat landscape continues to evolve to provide new ways for the first vector of attack. As always, while the defenders need to figure out how to protect against all of the known and unknown ways in, the attacker only needs to find one of them.

Supply Chain, Talent And Training

Justin Williams, Vice President of Strategy and Transformation, Denver-based Optiv, No. 25 on the 2021 CRN Solution Provider 500

We live in an interconnected world where the demand for access to applications, data, and communications is growing exponentially. Securing this digital landscape to protect the people, organizations, and infrastructure is critical. The biggest challenges faced by Optiv’s customers today include:

Detecting and mitigating risksin the digital supply chain — Recent ransomware attacks have highlighted how attackers gain access to corporate systems via third party software products or services.

Finding and retaining world-class cybersecurity talent — In the United States alone, there is an unfilled need for 359,000 cyber skilled workers, according to a 2020 survey by (ISC)2, and globally the gap is even larger at nearly 3.12 million unfilled positions.

Training end users on the ever-evolving threats and creating hardened and resilient organizations — Ransomware attacks in 2021 have proven that all organizations, big and small, are targets. This shows the importance of good cyber hygiene, strategy and planning for when, not if, a cyberattack occurs.

Securing People And Processes

Mark Cooley, Vice President of Security and Compliance, Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Involta, No. 255 on the 2021 CRN Solution Provider 500

After many discussions with our current and prospective customers, the biggest challenge we are seeing is that IT departments and executives are having a hard time determining where to start their cyber security program. Most customers direct their focus to the technology side of cybersecurity, which is important. However, considerations are not going towards the people and the process side of the equation. One of the main reasons customers focus on the technology side, such as firewalls, antivirus, SIEM, and other tools, is because that is what they see all the time with marketing, advertisements, and so on. In reality, the largest cyber security risk is with a company‘s employees and other outside users of their network and systems.

Lack Of Awareness

Nancy Sabino, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Addison, Texas-based Synetek Solutions

Lack of awareness is one of the biggest challenges facing customers right now. With employees focusing on the jobs they need to do, who would blame them but that is just what attackers are betting on. They are betting on an employee being so focused on getting their job done that they won’t pay attention to the misspelling in the email domain or that where they are entering their information is not actually ADP’s login but a fake site made to look just like it. They are the first line of defense and also the first to unlock the doors and inviting a cyberattack in which is a huge challenge to all businesses.

Continued Uncertainty

Lewie Dunsworth, CEO, Commerce, Mich.-based Nuspire, No. 409 on the 2021 CRN Solution Provider 500

In my opinion, it’s beyond technical. Simply put, uncertainty. Everything from a persistent pandemic, the supply chain mess, public policy, etc. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more chaotic time in my life. Why is that the biggest cybersecurity challenge? It’s difficult enough to lead a program when the strategy is clear, the business climate is functioning as expected and the cybersecurity efforts are at the top of the pecking order. But, business’ are trying to survive, navigate and transform all at the same time. It puts immense pressure on security programs to invest in the right things, adequately secure the business’ assets as they become more remote and transitory, while at the same time making sure you have the people resources to get the job done.

Responding To Attacks Quickly And Effectively

Brad Taylor, Co-Founder and CEO, Carlsbad, Calif.-based Proficio

While most organizations today realize the need for cybersecurity, the challenges they face often vary by client size, industry, the skill set of their staff and maturity of their security organization. One of the most common challenges we see is the ability to respond quickly and effectively to a particular type of cyberattack to minimize the damage. This is made even more difficult due to the remote work requirements caused by the covid-19 pandemic, as employees no longer connect via secure networks inside of their office, and organizations are required to take extra precautions to stay protected.

Ransomware Preparedness And Protection

Andrew Reese, Chief Architect – Security, Office of the Chief Technology Officer, Auburn, Wash.-based Zones, No. 30 on the 2021 CRN Solution Provider 500

Preparedness and protection against ransomware are the biggest cybersecurity challenges facing our customers right now.

One only needs to read the numerous news articles on the subject that are coming out daily. When an industry like banking has experienced a 1,318% increase in ransomware attacks in the first half of 2021, and when the cyber insurance industry tries to deny payouts on ransomware claims because the attack was carried out by nation-state actors, which can be classified as an act of war, you can begin to understand the financial strain this is putting on everyone.

Remote Work

Aaron Leiberman, Chief Technology Officer, Bedford, Mass.-based ConRes, No. 71 on the 2021 CRN Solution Provider 500

Andy Chiquoine, Chief Technologist, Managed Services, ConRes

Remote workforces have put an enormous amount of strain on Information Technology departments. No longer are employees working within the four walls of an office but are working from many locations on a number of devices. This has expanded the attack surface for cybercriminals to an organization exponentially.

Organizations need to understand how to best protect themselves using a layered, multi-vendor approach that if done correctly can be cost effective and provide ease of management.

Surge In Sophisticated Attacks

Chris Schueler, CEO, Alpharetta, Ga.-based Simeio, No. 270 on the 2021 CRN Solution Provider 500

The surge in sophisticated attacks and the inability to get a solid grasp on those has probably become a tough cybersecurity challenge for our clients and keeping boardroom executives up at night. Understandably, it becomes challenging to keep up with technologies and tools that can prevent these high-end and sophisticated attacks because focusing on the actual business is a priority. The reality is by the time organizations adopt newer, more robust technologies to counteract such attacks that occurred in the past, the hackers get access to something more sophisticated.

Lack of Expertise

Randy Watkins, Chief Technology Officer, Plano, Texas-based Critical Start, No. 200 on the 2021 CRN Solution Provider 500

The lack of expertise, both quality and quantity, is the biggest challenge facing our customers. They continue to face evolving threats to defend against while meeting an endless stream of compliance requirements while typically being extremely short staffed. Inevitably, there is turnover in the organization and much of the technology becomes shelfware making them more vulnerable to attacks.

Supply Chain Attacks

Milton Bartley, Co-Founder, President and CEO, Nashville-based ImageQuest

Our clients are worried about supply chain attacks from third-party vendors. They’ve heard about vendor management and third-party risk for years, but only in 2021 did it finally sink in for most of them.


Michael Goldstein, President, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based LAN Infotech

Phishing is the biggest challenge facing our customers. The bad guys are getting smarter and smarter. Once one hole is plugged up another opens. We are constantly pushing security awareness programs to our customer to stop the bleeding.

CryptoLocker Attacks

Frank Ernesto IV, CEO, Richmond, Va.-based NDSE

CryptoLocker type of attacks are what drive our business. We find the most opportunity to help prospective clients through the media’s constant reporting on these crippling attacks.

Increased Threats

Manak Ahluwalia, President and CEO, Waltham-Mass.-based Aqueduct Technologies, No. 360 on the 2021 CRN Solution Provider 500

Our customers are dealing with an increased amount of threats, a larger attack surface, and the lack of qualified security resources to deal with these challenges.

Distributed Workforces

Malinda Gagnon, CEO, Portland, Maine-based Uprise Partners

Distributed workforces. Most companies haven’t updated their environments to accommodate for remote/distributed work to keep all data secure.