How to Create an Effective Vendor Cybersecurity Questionnaire

By Phoebe Fasulo

Posted on Mar 31, 2020

If your organization relies on third-party vendors to conduct business affairs, then you must monitor their cybersecurity. Organizations can do this by leveraging questionnaires designed to evaluate the strength of a vendor’s cybersecurity programs. However, designing vendor-specific questionnaires can be time-consuming and tie up company resources. For this reason, many businesses create security guidelines to facilitate development.

Security guidelines serve as a benchmark for how vendors should be managing cyber risk. Using these guidelines as a framework allows you to more accurately assess third-party vendor risk, helping you streamline the questionnaire management process.

Below are several key components of vendor cybersecurity that should be referenced when looking to evaluate vendor cyber risk.

Vendor security incident response plans

An incident response plan is a predetermined set of actions that an organization takes to mitigate the overall impact of a cybersecurity attack. When evaluating your vendors’ incident response plan, you will first want to ask about their breach notification processes. Breach notification laws require that organizations inform all customers when a breach occurs, with failure to do so resulting in substantial fines. You want to ensure that your vendors have systems that notify affected parties so that you are not liable in the event of an attack.

Your questionnaire should also assess your vendor’s ability to analyze and prioritize threats by asking vendors how they contain and remediate cyber threats once they have been identified. Doing so will help you gauge their level of preparedness and assess the risk they pose to your organization.

Vendor information security program

An information security program consists of the cybersecurity initiatives an organization has in place to protect data and manage risk. It allows an organization to take a holistic approach to cybersecurity and helps ensure coordination between their security efforts. This is a necessity for vendors that handle sensitive client information, as lost or damaged data can lead to legal repercussions.

Your vendor cybersecurity questionnaire should inquire about the maturity of your vendor’s information security program as it pertains to the following factors:

Confidentiality

Confidentiality refers to the actions your vendors take to make sure that client data does not end up in the wrong hands. Some common methods to uphold confidentiality include data encryption, two-factor authentication, and unique login information.

Integrity

Data integrity is concerned with how vendors uphold the authenticity of the data they are responsible for. Sensitive data must be protected from all actions that can lead to corruption or loss. Questionnaires should focus on the practices vendors utilize to protect data while it is in transit or being stored on servers.

Availability

Maintaining availability requires that vendors are able to provide data to customers even when disruption has occurred. Having a developed disaster recovery plan is a fundamental component of data availability as it allows vendors to recover lost or damaged data through server backups.

Disposal

Data disposal should also be evaluated in your questionnaire. You will want to confirm that your vendors have a data destruction process in place and verify that it complies with data regulations. Additionally, you will want to make sure that their data destruction processes are scalable to avoid issues in the event of business growth.

Vendor security personnel

Providing security education to employees is an important step in reducing the likelihood of internal harm to your cybersecurity infrastructure. Mandatory employee training is one tactic that vendors can employ to address this risk, and therefore should be covered in your questionnaire.

Access control is another element of cybersecurity that should be incorporated into your cybersecurity questionnaire. Taking inventory of which employees require system access can help vendors bolster their cybersecurity practices. By limiting employee access by rank or position, vendors significantly lower the chances of unintentional or deliberate compromises to network security.

How SecurityScorecard can enhance your vendor cybersecurity questionnaires

Assessing third-party risk is a difficult process. Even with effective cybersecurity questionnaires, validating vendor responses presents a challenge to many businesses. SecurityScorecard’s Atlas provides a solution to this problem by enabling organizations to easily manage, complete, and review questionnaires in one secure central repository. With Atlas, you can send and track cybersecurity questionnaires at scale, allowing for optimized vendor assessments.

Atlas’ Smart Mapping Engine automatically aligns questionnaire responses with SecurityScorecard Ratings, giving you a full view of your vendor’s cybersecurity risk. This visibility helps organizations validate the accuracy of vendor responses and provides insights into potential security improvements that can be made.

Having a centralized cybersecurity questionnaire platform is crucial for organizations to be able to manage IT risk. With Atlas, you can maximize your third-party questionnaire capabilities and take a proactive approach to vendor risk management.

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