Understanding and Completing Vendor Security Questionnaires With Ease

By Miryam Meir

Posted on May 12, 2020

Cybersecurity is increasingly becoming a priority for organizations across all sectors and industries. More companies than ever are tasked with storing sensitive information, and when those companies decide to work with a third or fourth-party vendor, they want to be confident that their data will be protected.

As a result, organizations and vendors of all types can expect to receive cybersecurity questionnaires in the coming future.

Understanding the security questionnaire

Vendor security questionnaires are typically sent by potential acquirers, clients, or prospective customers as part of the due diligence process to ensure that your organization is compliant and secure. With questionnaires, companies are looking for weak spots or vulnerabilities in your cybersecurity posture so they can understand the risks associated with your organization and be confident that their data will be protected while using your services or products. If any vulnerabilities are identified during this process, the company will likely expect your organization to resolve the issues before the partnership can continue.

There are many different types of security questionnaires. The questionnaire you receive will depend on the industry, product, or service you offer. The questions you are asked will be specific to your organization, so the answers you give must be unique. Filling out security questionnaires can be a tedious and challenging process as they tend to require a significant amount of time and commitment from multiple members of a cybersecurity team. If you do find vulnerabilities in your organization’s network, then you’ll need to allot time to address each issue before the security questionnaire process can be complete.

Why did I receive a vendor security questionnaire?

Data breaches are now a relevant threat to all businesses and organizations. It’s important to maintain a strong and efficient cyber network that can defend against threats because the cost of a breach rises by an average of $370,000 when a third-party is involved. As cybersecurity standards and guidelines evolve, organizations are adapting their security network to stay ahead of threats as well.

For this reason, security questionnaires are becoming commonplace. Through a vendor security questionnaire, companies are hoping to get a better understanding of the policies and systems that your organization has in place to protect itself when, rather than if, a data breach occurs. These questionnaires also help organizations prove they have done their due diligence and are complying with regulations like GDPR, SOX, and NIST.

5 tips for responding to a cybersecurity questionnaire

When completing a cybersecurity questionnaire, accuracy is crucial. To save both sides from wasted time and resources, answers should be thoughtful and reflect an accurate representation of your organization’s security network. Here are 5 tips for responding to a cybersecurity questionnaire:

1. Compartmentalize the questions

The first step is to separate the questions into groups so you can identify any questions that are non-applicable to your organization. Then, look for questions or topics that may require more of an explanation. Pinpoint any questions that will require further clarification to streamline communications between your organization and the potential buyer or customer.

2. Keep it brief

Security questionnaires are generally very long, with some taking multiple days to complete. Make things easier for your team, as well as the buyer’s or customer’s team, by keeping your answers short and succinct. Avoid including any unnecessary language that does not directly answer the questions.

3. Be transparent

It’s crucial that you remain transparent as you answer the questions. Reference your company’s cyber risk assessment and report those findings as accurately as possible. If you do not report your organization’s cybersecurity practices accurately, the consequences can be far greater if and when your organization experiences a breach. Should you identify any weaknesses as you answer the questionnaire, take the opportunity to update your policies or establish new ones. This will not only help you complete the questionnaire but will also improve the overall security posture of your organization.

4. Don’t rush

A security questionnaire can be a time-consuming process, but you must take your time to properly answer each question. This way, you can avoid extending any tedious back-and-forth communication as the buyer or customer tries to assess your organization’s risk profile.

5. Continuously assess your cybersecurity posture

Stay ahead of the process by continuously monitoring your security posture so your organization can be confident it is maintaining compliance and security at all times, not just when you receive a security questionnaire. Metrics such as security ratings offer a holistic view of your security network so that you can efficiently manage your organization’s risk on an ongoing basis.

How to prepare for future security questionnaires with SecurityScorecard

Due to the extended amount of time and resources that security questionnaires require, a major goal for organizations is to streamline the process. SecurityScorecard’s questionnaire exchange solution, Atlas, accelerates the process by simplifying communications, securely housing evidence and documentation, and leveraging a Smart Mapping Engine to automatically respond to questions. With everything exchanged, managed, and reviewed in one secure place, potential buyers or customers will have a full view of your network, helping to avoid excessive back and forth communication on both sides.

Additionally, SecurityScorecard can align responses with security ratings which will act as further proof of accuracy. This will also help your organization to continuously monitor its network and ensure that it is meeting compliance and security standards over time.

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