Years ago, businesses were relatively self-contained. The most important stakeholders were generally internal to a company, and strategic partners were fewer and more carefully chosen. Now, the globalized business environment we operate in is very different. Companies of all kinds and sizes make outsourcing a key component of their business model. That’s why a third-party risk assessment questionnaire is vital for any business.
While the benefits of a more open, diversified network of internal and external resources are innumerable, there are also many risks that come along with that openness. Each and every outside vendor with access to your networks and assets brings along threats latent in their own security systems. Whether they mean to or not, they could expose you to cybercrime.
What is a Third-Party Risk Assessment Questionnaire?
A third-party risk assessment questionnaire is a document that you develop and distribute to any and all third-parties that are a key part of your business, including but not limited to:
- All vendors
- Most suppliers
- Certain clients
Your questionnaire is designed to deliver the most important information about these parties’ cybersecurity to you in a uniform, actionable format. That easy accessibility and targeted mobilization makes all other elements of risk assessment—and management—possible.
The third-party risk questionnaire is the most important part of third-party risk assessment.
Before we get into what makes a third-party risk assessment questionnaire successful, let’s also define the broader suite of practices it belongs to…
What is Third-Party Risk Assessment?
Simply put: understanding risks posed by third-parties and beginning to strategize accordingly.
It’s a key component of the broader suite of third-party risk management (TPRM) practices. In order to manage the risks associated with your various vendors and third-parties, the first step is always data collection and assessment. Creating a questionnaire that provides you with a bounty of information, then knowing how to best analyze and process that information is key.
In order to set you up for cybersecurity success, your third-party risk assessment needs to accomplish the following:
- Identify and classify all third-parties and their level of access to your assets
- Tabulate potential level of threat relative to companies’ importance to your own
- Determine the relevant cybersecurity infrastructure of all third-parties
- Account for any and all changes in third-parties’ networks and security
- Assess compliance needs and all parties’ success of failure in meeting them
In order to do all this, you need a successful questionnaire.
How Does a Third-Party Risk Assessment Questionnaire Work?
A third-party risk assessment questionnaire needs to be both comprehensive and accessible.
Both you and the parties you distribute it to need to be able to quickly scan its contents and act on the questions and answers provided. And while these properties are easy enough to understand in theory, they can be complicated to execute in practice.
In order to make the questionnaire uniform and help it synergize with other cybersecurity practices your vendors have in place, it may be beneficial to adopt language from one of the many standardized cybersecurity protocols. For example, consider modelling your questions off of the language that makes up:
- Compliance regulations – If your business is bound to regulatory compliance with standards such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, NERC CIP, or others, the parameters of those controls can provide useful language to use for your own questionnaire.
- The NIST Framework – The Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity is a publication of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It contains several key considerations that lend themselves to risk assessment.
- The CIS CSC – The Center for Internet Security also publishes a collection of vital Critical Security Controls, which lend themselves well to questions and tangible metrics you can use to measure your vendors’ security.
Using one or more models can help to generate questions that all successful third-party risk assessment questionnaires need to have. Let’s take a look at what those are.
Key Components of a Third-Party Vendor Risk Assessment Questionnaire
Whether or not you choose to model your questionnaire on language from a standard set of cybersecurity practices, it’s important to cover a set of basic subjects. No matter what your business and its network of third-parties looks like, you need to know about their organization, security, and relationship to your company.
Here are the three main subject areas that your questionnaire needs to touch on, with relevant sample questions listed beneath:
- Organizational structure and governance – Basic information about your strategic partners’ own company and personnel related to IT, including:
- Who in the organization is responsible for cybersecurity?
- Which compliance guidelines is your company beholden to?
- Is IT and cybersecurity outsourced or handled internally?
- Cybersecurity practices in place – More detailed information about the target organization’s cybersecurity infrastructure, such as:
- What inventory practices are in place for critical resources?
- Can you provide a detailed description of relevant cybersecurity infrastructure?
- Does your company regularly conduct penetration testing and other analysis?
- Relationship to your company – Finally, information regarding the organization’s relationship to your company and its resources, like:
- Which digital assets and networks of ours does your company access?
- When you access our resources, what security measures do you take?
Importantly, the answers provided across all of these questions need to be taken with a grain of salt. Parties may answer incorrectly, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and you need to practice caution by checking their self-reported practices against your own analysis of them.
That’s why the questionnaire is the most important step, but far from the only step.
Is a Third-Party Security Assessment Questionnaire Enough?
Unfortunately, no. Simply identifying risks is not an effective overall management plan. It’s merely the first and arguably most important step. Once you have a grasp on the risks in place, it’s time to initiate a targeted strategy that addresses and mitigates all of them.
For example, if you identify a key lapse in cybersecurity infrastructure with one particular vendor, your immediate next step may be to temporarily limit or cease that vendor’s access to your key resources. Then, work with the vendor to patch all loopholes and reinstate access.
- Third-party risk assessment
- Regulatory compliance
- Managed security
We’re confident that our team of experts can provide the perfect solution to your third-party risk management issues you may come across.
Risk Management and Cyberdefense, Professionalized
If your company maintains fruitful business relationships with a network of vendors, partners, and other stakeholders, there’s no need to let their potential cybersecurity issues impact your own safety. The best way to screen for and mitigate those risks is with professional help.
For that, RSI Security is here to help.
We’re industry leaders who’ve provided cybersecurity solutions to businesses of all sizes, across various industries, for over a decade. Our expert cybersecurity analysts provide a bevy of cybersecurity solutions, including but not limited to:
- Managed network security services
- Third-party risk management
- Compliance advisory services
- Penetration testing
Whether you’re looking for a third-party risk assessment questionnaire, or any other form of robust cyberdefense solution, contact RSI Security today.
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