How to make a vendor risk assessment questionnaire (and a free template)

June 10, 2022
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If you’re like most growing companies, you probably have dozens of tools that support everything from operations to sales to marketing functions at your company. In fact, the average business uses more than 100 apps to operate day-to-day. 

Each of those apps quickly becomes part of your business infrastructure, with exposure to your internal and customer data. Understanding how these vendors manage and maintain their security processes is critical to keeping your own company secure.

In order to understand the processes and protocols your vendors have in place, it has become common practice to send them a security questionnaire (usually during the sales or evaluation process).

Download the free vendor risk assessment questionnaire template

What is a vendor risk assessment questionnaire?

Vendor risk assessment questionnaires come in many forms and flavors, but at its root a vendor risk assessment questionnaire is simply a list of questions for a vendor to document and share their security posture with prospective customers or partners.

You may also see vendor risk assessment questionnaires referred to by other labels, which are all largely the same:

Many vendor risk assessment questionnaires come in the form of spreadsheets with structured question and response cells. Some advanced questionnaires even include formulas that summarize inputs or evaluate responses against a company’s acceptable criteria. These questionnaires can also be found in the form of Word docs or even PDFs depending on the company creating them.

How to create a vendor risk assessment questionnaire?

Every company approaches vendor risk assessment questionnaires a little differently based on their security objectives, team structure, and available resources. At HyperComply, we help companies respond to more than 20,000 security questions every month, so we've seen questionnaires in all flavors and formats.

Below is an overview of the three most common ways to create a vendor risk assessment questionnaire, along with the pros and cons of each method.

Option #1: Create a questionnaire from scratch

If you already have an in-house security team with time and expertise to spare, you may opt to go the route of creating your own vendor risk assessment questionnaire that is fully customized for your business.

  • Pro: You can customize it based on your policies and use case Building a security questionnaire from scratch means it can be tailored specifically for that vendor, knowing exactly what types of sensitive data or business practices they may have access to. By building your own vendor risk assessment questionnaire you can ensure that you have a complete understanding of the relevant security surfaces.
  • Con: It’s labor intensive to build and maintain custom questionnaires Creating a vendor risk assessment questionnaire from scratch assumes that you have someone on your current team who has the cybersecurity expertise (and available time) to craft a meaningful questionnaire. You may also find it hard to scale this process as you start to send questionnaires to all new and existing vendors on a regular basis.
  • How to get started Outline the strategic security priorities of your business along with any specific vulnerabilities that may be introduced by a new vendor. Create a spreadsheet with questions that will allow you to understand how a potential partner aligns with (or doesn’t) your organization’s security needs.

Option #2: License an industry standard

For teams who want a short-cut to high quality questionnaires and don’t mind paying top dollar, there are plenty of standardized options on the market that will help you get started.

  • Pro: Standardized questionnaires built by industry experts There are several organizations on the market that create and maintain security questionnaires and make them available to companies to use. Some of the most common examples include the SIG and CAIQ questionnaires. These questionnaires are crafted by top security experts using best-in-class security practices.
  • Con: High costs to license these questionnaires In order to use the SIG or CAIQ, you’ll need to license the questionnaire for a minimum of one year. These licensing agreements typically cost several thousand dollars which may be cost prohibitive for smaller companies.
  • How to get started You can learn more about licensing standardized questionnaires on the Shared Assessments (SIG) and Cloud Security Alliance (CAIQ) websites.

Option #3: Use a questionnaire template

For teams that need to move quickly and be cost-efficient, a free vendor risk assessment questionnaire template might be the way to go. Starting with a free template will help you move quickly, with the flexibility to adapt and customize based on your needs.

  • Pro: It's a quick and affordable way to start A free vendor risk assessment questionnaire template will give you a simple set of questions in a format that you can get started with right away. This template will likely cover the basics and best practices, so you will have a good sense of how your vendors are maintaining their security standards.
  • Con: Highly manual process that doesn't scale Simple vendor assessment templates may work well for early-stage companies, but they won't support you as you scale. If you are using dozens (or hundreds!) of vendors and want to manage questionnaires at scale, automate questionnaire processes, enable questionnaire collaboration across your team, and run security reviews on a regular basis to maintain your compliance, you'll likely grow out of spreadsheet questionnaires pretty quickly.

    With security questionnaire software like HyperComply, your questionnaires all live in one simple dashboard with intuitive organization, easy automation, and proactive notifications so your company (and peace of mind) are secure.
  • How to get started Download the sample vendor risk assessment template we've created below. It's a good place to get started so you can easily understand the security posture of your most critical vendors. We recommend using this template to get familiar with security questionnaire basics, then switching to a security questionnaire software like HyperComply as your team grows and your security program scales.

Download the free vendor risk assessment questionnaire template

Option #4: Use security questionnaire software

While it may seem simple to manage a few spreadsheets here and there while you're small, it is critical to start using a security questionnaire software as your team grows and onboards more than a handful of external tools. Security questionnaire software will scale with your team as you grow from 20 vendors to 100+, and gives the right balance of structure and flexibility to make security processes effective.

  • Pro: It's the best way to manage sending vendor risk questionnaires As your business grows, it's likely you'll want or need to gain various security compliance certifications like SOC 2, ISO or others. In order to maintain these certifications, you'll need to conduct regular due diligence on all the vendors you work with by sending vendor risk questionnaires on an annual or semi-annual basis.

    If you send and manage security questionnaires using software like HyperComply, you have the added benefit of building a security knowledge base and automating the questionnaire response process as well. So not only do you save time sending out questionnaires to your vendors, but you'll accelerate sales cycles when new questionnaires from your customers come in too.
  • Con: It costs money While security questionnaire software may seem like a nice-to-have, the time saved on both sending and responding to questionnaires can more than make up for the upfront cost. This time savings means your security and engineering resources can be invested in actual security work rather than documentation, keeping your organization safe from a data breach that you can't afford.
  • How to get started We'd love to show you how HyperComply can help streamline your vendor risk assessment process and accelerate your sales cycles. Learn more about our product or request a demo today.