In today’s business landscape, it is nearly impossible to work alone. You have to collaborate with clients, vendors, suppliers, specialists, and plenty of other partners all considered third parties to your organization. As a result, these organizations have access to sensitive and confidential data about your company, your customers, or support a critical business process; which means your organization needs to understand and manage the risk exposure that these third parties present.
Traditionally, security teams have tried to understand the ongoing risk posed by their third parties by using annual security assessments. However, this method poses several challenges to security teams.
- Assessments are time-consuming. With some questionnaires approaching thousands of questions, and many organizations working with hundreds or thousands of third parties, assessments can take a great deal of time and resources to both put together, fill out, review and analyze once they are returned. A more efficient process will ensure reduced downtime for business operations.
- Risk is a point in time. Security and risks can change quickly. This means that in between assessments potentially major security incidents or changes to security posture may have happened without your knowledge. As a perfect example, if a third party was assessed pre-COVID, their environment and operations may look drastically different in the matter of a month with employees working from home and potential expansion of remote access to data globally.
- Assessments are only as good as the person filling them out. Let’s face it, security assessments are a tedious process. What guarantee do you have that the assessment has been filled out accurately, honestly, and objectively?
Does this mean that assessments are a thing of the past? Hardly. Assessments are an essential tool within your third-party risk management (TPRM) program for baselining your third parties’ security posture, especially for your critical third parties. Think of these Assessments as the inside-out view of Vendor Cybersecurity risk. They help you understand the overall maturity of the third party’s cybersecurity program, and any gaps in the program design or execution.
What’s needed, however, is a way to continuously and passively monitor third parties in near real-time throughout the life of the vendor relationship. This is where continuous monitoring of third parties comes into play. Continuous monitoring can supplement a strong TPRM assessment program by providing ongoing indicators of a third party’s security posture. In that way, continuous third-party monitoring can become the eyes and ears of a mature TPRM program by constantly evaluating critical information to help your organization make informed decisions.
Continuous monitoring is exactly what it sounds like. You identify key risks your organization needs to monitor and manage with your third parties and track them continuously—often in real-time. Continuous monitoring gives your organization visibility into the ongoing risk posture of your third parties, allowing you to identify risks and vulnerabilities as soon as they happen—sometimes even earlier. Some of the risks that should be incorporated into a continuous monitoring program include:
- Data security operations
- Data security environment
- Network security
- Fourth parties
Without complete visibility into their IT environments, it can be difficult for organizations to build a continuous security monitoring program. Fortunately, security ratings give organizations an outside-in view of their IT infrastructure which enables security teams to quickly identify and remediate vulnerabilities.
In summary, here are 5 reasons why organizations should integrate continuous cybersecurity monitoring into their TPRM program
1. Turns third-party risk exposure from reactive to proactive
As the name suggests, continuous monitoring gives you timely insight into your third parties’ security posture. By looking at movement against risk thresholds, such as a SecurityScorecard (SSC) security rating, or changes to risk vectors, you can trigger the need for an assessment based on changes to security posture instead of a calendar date. This ensures that the assessment is triggered by the need to actually conduct one and prevents potentially unacceptable risk from being introduced into the third-party environment simply because it isn’t time for reassessment yet.
2. Allows for tailored assessments
No two third parties are the same, so why are they all assessed the same? Using the same assessments for all third parties can be a drain on resources and increases the time and cost to get an assessment completed. Instead, using cybersecurity continuous monitoring data can help provide visibility into potential issues so that assessments can be tailored to the third party. The assessment can be scoped to focus on areas with significant issues or changes. This can save significant time and resources, especially if you work with hundreds or thousands of third parties.
3. Creates strategic assessment timing
How often should you assess your third parties? Based on criticality is often the answer. If you risk rank/tier your third parties (which all mature programs should), continuous monitoring can help you set reassessment schedules that can significantly save time and money. Some critical third parties may need to be assessed more than once a year if they have a significant change to security posture, even if their last assessment was just a few months ago; while a low-risk third party with no change to their rating or risk vectors may not need to be reassessed at all, or once every few years. This can significantly reduce the amount of work in the pipeline for your security team, as well as reduce risk to the organization.
4. Provides an objective viewpoint
Continuous monitoring of your third-party cybersecurity posture can also give valuable objective context to the assessments you receive back from vendors. Are they really patching regularly? Do they regularly scan for malware? Are their SSL certifications up to date? SSC security ratings and risk vector grades can give you objective, externally observable information to verify those answers and easily determine the accuracy of an assessment, or flag areas for follow up.
5. Ensures third-party risks are identified in near real-time
Continuous monitoring tools such as SecurityScorecard offer a near real-time analysis of a third parties’ externally facing assets; analyzing for potential vulnerabilities and reporting them within the platform. This enables your team to quickly gather accurate up to date information during an assessment, rather than working with stale or static data. Additionally, this timely analysis allows your team to control thresholds and configure alerts based on your organization's risk tolerance and critically identified issues, such as a newly exposed database or a security breach, which can provide your organization with the ability to act quickly and decisively on these issues.
The world at large is changing before our eyes. Businesses are working with more vendors than ever to address the changes to the business climate and to become more nimble, adaptable, and profitable through digital transformation. In an ever-expanding third-party ecosystem, relying solely on manual assessments that take a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer feasible or realistic. Continuous monitoring introduces a true game-changer to any TPRM program by increasing the operational efficiency of your program, decreasing the risk lingering in your environment, and increasing the scalability of your program. Pinpointing and mitigating risks throughout your environment is vital to the security and reputation of your organization and requires an effective third-party risk management program combined with continuous monitoring to accomplish this imperative task.