How to build an effective information security questionnaire

October 27, 2022
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It seems like there's a new report of a massive data breach almost every day, and these attacks are becoming costlier: In 2020, the average cost of a data breach was roughly $3.86 million

Numbers like this can make businesses more than a little leery, and understandably so: Nobody wants to be the next victim of a cybersecurity attack. But where many businesses go wrong is not having a standardized approach to data protection. 

As cloud computing continues to grow and become the standard of modern business, there’s a greater need to protect our digital assets. Rather than relying on on-premise security personnel and secured networks, we now need to protect dozens of third parties like our cloud systems and SaaS vendors.

Your customers and employees trust you with their data, and you need to do what you can to protect their information. Security questionnaires can help you establish thorough, standard practices that help you understand the potential risks in your systems — and put the right safeguards in place to protect yourself from cyberattacks.

What is an information security questionnaire?

A security questionnaire is a list of technical questions that you send to vendors to assess their security posture. This survey, often created by your data security or IT teams, helps organizations understand how their third-party vendors operate and what cybersecurity measures they have in place to ensure they aren’t the source of security risk for your business. 

The importance of an information security questionnaire

Think about it: A third-party vendor often has access to at least some of your sensitive company data. How else can they carry out your contract's functions and obligations? But if that third-party vendor has a data breach, it could mean that your sensitive data is compromised and exposed.  

An information security questionnaire allows you to take a proactive approach to vendor data security. You can protect your business from financial and reputational damages, potential litigation, fines, and regulatory action. You also make sure you are working with the best vendors so that you can continue to grow without being hindered by unexpected vulnerabilities.

By having your vendors complete an information security questionnaire, you can create incident response planning protocols and plan out security controls to protect your assets.

The 5 industry-standard security assessment templates

There are five vendor risk assessment templates used as industry standards. It’s important for you to familiarize yourself with the different options so you can pick which type of assessment will be the best fit for your assessment questionnaire.


VSAQ stands for the Vendor Security Alliance Questionnaire. A group of organizations created this template in 2016 with the goal of improving vendor security practices and preventing potential breaches. The objective of VSAQ is to help businesses oversee the security practices of their vendors. This questionnaire is comprised of five sections: 

  1. Data protection
  2. Security policy
  3. Security measures
  4. Supply chain
  5. Compliance

2) CIS

CIS stands for the Center for Information Security. They are a nonprofit organization that helps companies protect themselves from cyberattacks. There are 20 sections included in their Critical Security Controls questionnaire that help businesses protect themselves from digital security risks — including inventory and control of hardware and software assets, the presence of major compliance frameworks like PCI DSS, GDPR, and ISO 27001, and more.


CAIQ stands for the Consensus Assessments Initiative Questionnaire, and it was created by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) to help protect businesses with the rise of cloud computing. This questionnaire (which has a full version and a lite version) checks against 16 risk controls designed by the CSA, and is specifically created for evaluating cloud-based vendors. 

4) SIG

SIG stands for the Standardized Information Gathering (SIG) Questionnaire and was created by an organization called Shared Assessments. This questionnaire helps organizations understand the best practices for vendor risk management and provides additional resources like a SIG implementation workbook and a documentation request list. The assessment includes sections like:

  • Business continuity
  • Cybersecurity
  • Privacy
  • Data security


NIST, sometimes referred to as NIST 800-171, stands for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It provides both best practices and standards for cybersecurity guidance and addresses the protection of controlled unclassified information (CUI).

Important questions to include in your questionnaire

The five questionnaire formats we outlined above are excellent options that will provide you with a wide range of pertinent information about your potential vendor’s security posture. You can use one of these formats, but you can also create your own. If you want to build your own security questionnaire, here’s what you should consider including. 

Information security-related questions

The first set of questions you want to include in your assessment is about the information security that your vendors have. You might want to ask specific questions like:

  • What security program does your company use?
  • Are all of your operations built to handle sensitive data?
  • What types of controls and standards do you use to define your security program?

Physical security-related questions

The next area of the questionnaire should cover your physical security. Physical security and cybersecurity go hand in hand, and your vendors should have measures in place for both. Questions might include:

  • Is your on-premise network protected?
  • Do you have security measures in place around your physical equipment?
  • What is your plan if the office is inaccessible?

Web application security-related questions

You will also want to ensure that your questionnaire has specific questions regarding the web applications that your vendors use. Consider asking questions like:

  • Do you have a valid SSL certification?
  • Do you have single sign-on (SSO) or double sign-on requirements?
  • What are your password requirements for all users?

Infrastructure security-related questions

The final grouping of questions you will want to include is related to the infrastructure of your vendors. These questions will help you understand how secure their infrastructure is in the case of a cyberattack and include questions like:

  • How often are your operating systems maintained?
  • Where are your data backups managed and stored?
  • What protocols do you have in place to log different security events?

Best practices for creating an information security questionnaire

In addition to asking the right questions, there are a few other best practices that you should keep in mind while creating your information security questionnaire to send to vendors.

Put the right automation tools in place

Having the right tools is essential to ensuring that your security protocols work in the event of a security breach. The same can be said for assessment tools. You want to make sure you have streamlined the process as much as possible so you can get your answers back quickly.

Vendors are more likely to speed up their responses when the assessments they get are user-friendly and easy to complete. This is precisely why HyperComply offers the CAIQ Lite and SIGLite industry standard templates because they're digestible while also thoroughly evaluating the security posture of your vendor. Having the right automation tool can be the difference between enthusiastic answers and delayed responses.

A tool like HyperComply can help you create standardized assessments that can be quickly sent out to vendors and build automated workflows to reduce manual labor. Get started here to learn more about how HyberComply can help.

Start with an industry-standard format

The industry-standard formats discussed above can provide an excellent foundation for building out your security questionnaire. These formats were created by teams of professionals dedicated to protecting customer data and meeting online security requirements. If you use one of these templates — or use one as a guide to build your own questionnaire — you can be assured that you hit the most important questions to get the information you need surrounding the vendor’s security practices. 

Look for industry-specific vendor compliance requirements

In addition to industry-specific formats, there are other regulations and compliance requirements required by different states, countries, and regions. Regulations like GDPR and CCPA provide strict requirements for data security, and breaching them can lead to serious reputation damages and legal repercussions. Other compliance requirements like HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) also have strict regulations.

Taking the time to evaluate vendor risks and do your due diligence on the different compliance requirements within your industry will go a long way toward ensuring that you meet the standards. You can also make sure your team knows what protocols must be followed and what compliance requirements each vendor is responsible for meeting. You can even include standardized questions about those compliance requirements in your assessments.

Create a custom-tailored security questionnaire for your organization

Industry-standard questionnaires and templates provide a great framework for starting your questionnaire. However, you need to take it to the next level. The base template will cover some of the basic, fundamental questions to ask your vendors — but your business has unique situations to consider, too.

Customizing the questionnaire gives you the opportunity to ask specific questions to vendors about their products, protocols, and controls. You can create custom questions regarding your business and the vendor organization for even more in-depth information gathering.

Automate security questionnaires easily with HyperComply

When cyber threats arise, your business needs to be ready. Don't get caught off guard by high-risk vendors: do your due diligence ahead of time. Use a vendor risk assessment to protect your critical security controls and make sure that malware doesn’t cripple your data centers and create a security incident.

At HyperComply, we understand the importance of having security questionnaire templates and making the process of vendor questionnaires easier for everyone. That’s why we help automate the process with our advanced platform. Get started with HyperComply today and see how we can help you improve your network security.