Frameworks & Regulations: why your MSP needs to get compliant right now

In a world of constanty evolving threats and countermeasures, MSPs need to understand frameworks and regulations more than ever. Come on in and take a look!

April 6, 2023

In managing IT services for businesses of all sizes, MSP compliance and IT regulations have become essential. By following established frameworks and regulations, we can ensure that our clients' IT environment is secure and safe from potential risks or harm. As IT professionals and Managed Service Providers, we must prioritize achieving compliance to maintain our clients' trust and reduce our liability.

Think of it like the time travel rules from "Back to the Future": just as Doc Brown set rules for Marty to follow in order to avoid catastrophic changes to the future, frameworks and regulations exist to ensure that our IT services don't cause harm or risk to our clients' businesses. From NIST to ISO 27001, there are numerous frameworks that MSPs (or their clients, for that matter) can follow to achieve compliance with IT regulations. By achieving compliance, we can provide our clients with greater trust and security, while reducing our own liability.

What’s the difference between regulations and certifications?

When it comes to compliance and IT regulations, it's important to understand the difference between regulations and certifications. Regulations are legal requirements set by governing bodies that enterprises must adhere to in order to operate within the law. Certifications, on the other hand, are voluntary standards that organizations can adopt to demonstrate their commitment to industry best practices.

Some key differences between regulations and certifications include:

  • Regulations are typically bound by the law, while certifications are usually industry-imposed
  • Compliance with regulations and certifications is often verified through audits or inspections
  • Regulations are updated and revised by the governing body, while certifications are updated and revised by the certifying body, we’ll briefly talk about some of them below
  • Non-compliance with regulations can result in severe penalties or legal action, while non-compliance with certifications only leads to the loss of the certification, with subsequent damage to the reputation of your organization

Which governing bodies update and revise regulations?

Now, as we just promised, here are a few examples of governing bodies that update and revise regulations. These are regulatory authorities or government agencies that are responsible for overseeing and enforcing regulations related to various industries or activities.

  1. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO): ISO develops and updates international standards related to quality management, information security, and other areas that impact MSP compliance.
  2. European Comission: The European Commission is the executive branch of the European Union (EU) responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties, and managing the day-to-day business of the EU. In relation to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the European Commission drafted and proposed the regulation, which was adopted by the EU Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The Commission also oversees the implementation and enforcement of the GDPR by EU member states.
  3. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST): NIST develops and updates cybersecurity standards and guidelines for the United States government and private sector organizations. NIST's Cybersecurity Framework is a popular compliance framework for MSPs and other IT professionals.

Which certifying bodies update and revise certifications?

Certifying bodies are organizations that create and maintain certifications. There are many certifying bodies related to IT and MSP compliance, and here are three examples of known certifying bodies that update and revise certifications:

  1. CompTIA: CompTIA is a nonprofit trade association that offers vendor-neutral IT certifications. CompTIA certifications, such as Security+ and Network+, are widely recognized in the IT industry and are regularly updated to reflect changes in technology and best practices.
  2. (ISC)²: (ISC)² is a nonprofit organization that specializes in cybersecurity certifications, including the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and the Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP). (ISC)² updates its certifications regularly to ensure they remain relevant and reflect the latest trends in cybersecurity.
  3. PCI Security Standards Council: The PCI Security Standards Council is responsible for developing and maintaining the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), a set of security requirements for organizations that process credit card transactions. The council updates the standard periodically to address emerging threats and changes in the payments industry.
A compliance audit reviews an enterprise's adherence to regulatory requirements, including security policies, user access controls, and risk management.

Certifications & Frameworks on the MSP business

Certifications and frameworks are useful tools that MSPs can leverage to ensure compliance with industry best practices and regulations. Certifications offer a way for MSPs to demonstrate their expertise in certain areas or prove their commitment to specific standards. By attaining certifications, MSPs can differentiate themselves from their competitors, gain more trust from their clients, and improve the quality of their services.

Frameworks, on the other hand, are structured approaches to addressing specific challenges or achieving specific goals. They provide a set of guidelines, best practices, and standards that MSPs can follow to achieve compliance, improve their processes, and enhance their security posture. Frameworks can be used in a variety of contexts, such as cybersecurity, risk management, or compliance management.

We will use both terms interchangeably in this article.

Some common frameworks include:

  1. NIST: The National Institute of Standards and Technology framework provides a comprehensive approach to managing and reducing cybersecurity risk.
  2. CIS: The Center for Internet Security (CIS) controls are a set of best practices for securing IT systems and data. The controls cover areas such as access control, network security, and incident response.
  3. ISO: The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27001 is a standard for information security management systems (ISMS). It provides a framework for managing and protecting sensitive information.


MSPs must comply with various regulations that impact their operations. These regulations are often designed to protect the privacy and security of sensitive information, such as personal data or healthcare information. Non-compliance with these regulations can result in significant penalties, legal action, or damage to reputation.

For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation that applies to any organization that processes the personal data of European Union citizens. It requires organizations to obtain explicit consent for data collection, provide access to collected data, and report data breaches. Failure to comply with GDPR can result in fines of up to €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover, whichever is greater.

Some common regulations include:

  1. GDPR: The General Data Protection Regulation is a European Union regulation that sets guidelines for the collection and processing of personal data. It requires organizations to obtain consent for data collection, provide access to collected data, and report data breaches.
  2. HIPAA: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a US regulation that governs the handling of sensitive health information. It requires organizations to safeguard patient data and report breaches.
  3. CCPA: The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is a California regulation that gives consumers the right to know what personal data is being collected about them and to request that their data be deleted. It applies to businesses that collect personal data from California residents.

By understanding the difference between regulations and certifications and adopting common frameworks and regulations, MSPs can achieve compliance and maintain industry best practices, while mitigating compliance challenges.

The importance of compliance for MSPs

Compliance is a critical aspect for Managed Service Providers (MSPs) as they are responsible for managing the IT infrastructure and data of their clients. Non-compliance can result in significant risks and consequences for both MSPs and their clients. Therefore, MSPs should prioritize compliance with industry regulations and standards.

Compliance offers numerous benefits for MSPs, including increased trust from customers, reduced liability, and the ability to differentiate themselves from competitors. By demonstrating their commitment to industry standards and regulations, MSPs can build trust with their customers and establish a loyal customer base. Compliance can also help MSPs minimize the risk of security breaches or data loss, reducing the liability for both MSPs and their clients.

Other benefits of compliance include:

  • Improved security and data protection: Compliance helps MSPs establish and maintain robust security measures, protecting data from potential breaches or cyber-attacks.
  • Reduced likelihood of data breaches and cyber-attacks: Compliance enables MSPs to identify and mitigate security risks, reducing the chances of data breaches or cyber-attacks.
  • Enhanced business reputation and credibility: Compliance demonstrates MSPs' commitment to industry standards and regulations, establishing a positive reputation and credibility with customers.
  • Increased efficiency and productivity: Compliance helps MSPs implement standardized processes and procedures, reducing inefficiencies and improving productivity.
  • Improved risk management and governance: Compliance ensures MSPs comply with legal and regulatory requirements, reducing the risk of penalties or fines and ensuring good governance.
Ensuring compliance is crucial for businesses to avoid costly penalties and reputational damage. Conducting regular compliance audits can help identify potential risks and weaknesses in your organization's security and risk management procedures.

Common compliance challenges for MSPs

Achieving compliance can be a significant challenge, especially for small businesses or IT teams with limited resources. Small businesses may lack the resources to implement robust security measures while changing regulations can add complexity to compliance efforts.

One common challenge for MSPs is keeping up with changing regulations. IT regulations are continually evolving, making it challenging for MSPs to keep up with new requirements and ensure ongoing compliance. Additionally, small IT teams may not have the time or resources to dedicate to compliance efforts, increasing the risk of non-compliance. Finally, compliance requirements can be complex and difficult to understand, especially for those who lack experience or expertise in the area.

Here are five common challenges MSPs face and some possible solutions:

  1. The complexity of regulations: Compliance can be challenging for MSPs due to the complexity of regulations. To streamline the process, MSPs can work with a compliance consultant or invest in compliance management software.
  2. Lack of resources: Limited resources can make it difficult for MSPs to dedicate the necessary time and personnel to compliance. To address this, MSPs can consider outsourcing compliance management to an MSSP.
  3. Changing regulations: The constantly evolving nature of regulations can make it challenging for MSPs to keep up. MSPs can invest in ongoing compliance training and education for IT staff to stay up-to-date.
  4. Limited understanding of regulations: Many MSPs may not fully understand the regulations they need to comply with, which can lead to potential compliance gaps. MSPs can work with a compliance consultant or attend industry events and conferences for education and training.
  5. Cost of compliance: Compliance can be costly, especially for small IT teams with limited budgets. MSPs can leverage cloud-based compliance tools and services to reduce costs.

Steps to Achieving Compliance

Achieving compliance is critical for Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to build and maintain trust with their customers, avoid costly fines, and protect their reputation. However, navigating the complex landscape of regulations and frameworks can be challenging, especially for small IT teams with limited resources. In this section, we will discuss the key steps to achieving compliance, including risk assessment, policy development, and ongoing monitoring.

I. Conduct a risk assessment

A risk assessment is a critical first step in achieving MSP compliance. This process involves identifying and evaluating potential security threats and vulnerabilities. By conducting a risk assessment, MSPs can gain a better understanding of their security posture and identify areas that require improvement.

II. Option A: Develop policies and procedures

Once potential risks have been identified, MSPs can begin developing policies and procedures to mitigate those risks. Policies should be comprehensive, clearly defining acceptable use, access controls, data retention and destruction, and incident response. Additionally, policies should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure they align with changing regulations.

II. Option B: Advice the hire of an MSSP service

MSPs can work with a compliance consultant or partner with a managed security service provider (MSSP) to navigate compliance challenges. MSSPs specialize in managed security services such as compliance management, threat detection, incident management, and response. These experts offer guidance and support throughout the compliance process, helping MSPs navigate complex requirements and implement effective security measures.

III. Implement controls

Policies and procedures should be supported by appropriate technical and administrative controls. Examples of controls include firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, access controls, and encryption. By implementing appropriate controls, MSPs can better protect their clients' data and systems.

IV. Document and evidence

Documenting policies, procedures, and controls is essential for demonstrating compliance. MSPs should maintain comprehensive records of all compliance-related activities, including risk assessments, policy development, and control implementation. Additionally, evidence of compliance should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure it remains accurate and up-to-date.

V. Ongoing monitoring

Achieving MSP compliance is an ongoing process. MSPs should regularly monitor their security posture, review and update policies and procedures, and assess the effectiveness of controls. Additionally, ongoing monitoring ensures MSPs remain aware of any changes to regulations or security threats, allowing them to proactively adapt their compliance efforts.


As technology advances, the importance of compliance for MSPs continues to grow. Achieving compliance can be a daunting task, but the benefits are undeniable. It can increase customer trust, reduce liability, and demonstrate a commitment to cybersecurity best practices.

With ongoing training, effective documentation, and a commitment to continuous improvement, MSPs can ensure they are meeting the requirements of industry regulations and frameworks. As we look to the future, it is clear that compliance will continue to be a key factor in the success of MSPs, and those that prioritize it will have a competitive advantage.

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