As you work with third-party vendors, it's critical to ensure they align with your security program — not put your organization at further risk for data breaches or other security incidents.
A security questionnaire can help you evaluate the security policies of the service providers and vendors you work with. But what should be included in a security questionnaire, and how should it be structured to help your information security teams run their security assessments?
In this article, we’ll help you answer those questions and give examples of questions you can use in your next security questionnaire.
A security questionnaire helps you review vendors and determine their data security and compliance. It usually includes a detailed list of questions ranging from straightforward to very technical or complex. These questions help your IT and security teams determine which vendors have established adequate security measures — and which aren't up to standard.
Security questionnaires and security assessments are considered best practices for information security. They help you determine potential weaknesses in the third-party vendors you work with and other vulnerabilities for data breaches.
While they aren’t a foolproof way of learning absolutely everything about a vendor, they help you gather a snapshot of their policies and other documented procedures.
You can make a vendor risk assessment or questionnaire in a few different ways. You can create your own security assessment from scratch — but this can be complicated, especially for startups and small businesses without dedicated IT teams. Without on-staff experts, an organization might not know all the right questions to ask to ensure all data security bases are covered.
Another way to make an assessment or questionnaire is to use a licensed industry standard and build upon it. Many different industries offer compliance standards that have the types of questions you should ask included. You can use this as a foundation for your own security questionnaire and then customize it to add relevant questions or remove ones that don’t matter as much in your particular type of business.
The final way to create a security questionnaire is to use a template. Many data security and vendor risk assessment companies like HyperComply will have free questionnaire templates or downloadable guides that you can use to create your risk assessment questionnaires. As with the other options, you can customize the template to fit your specific information security needs and develop specialized questions.
Before you begin your third-party vendor security questionnaire, it’s helpful to understand certain terms and data compliance standards that might appear on your template or industry-approved framework, including:
There are a few different assessment scenarios where a security questionnaire becomes important. Here are a few of the most common.
A network-based assessment is a type of security analysis where an organization’s network infrastructure is examined to find different cybersecurity vulnerabilities and any potential loopholes in the network security. Organizations carry out these assessments when they need to examine a vendor's entire network rather than just specific parts of their policies or procedures.
A host-based assessment will look at different host areas of a company’s network, including servers, workstations, and other types of network hosts. This helps you locate and identify vulnerabilities in the network hosts and get greater visibility into the different configuration systems and patch histories of scanned systems and host networks.
In an application security assessment, you need to examine the different applications that a vendor might use and see if there are any potential threats or missing measures that could help protect against cybersecurity attacks. It can help you locate source code weaknesses and identify areas vulnerable to a data breach.
When you complete a compliance assessment, you look at the different access controls and documentation surrounding a vendor's compliance regulations. This means looking at oversight, management, and any related security risks to different compliance areas. Depending on your industry, you might have different compliance standards to examine with your vendors.
Now that you understand what types of security assessments are out there and why they’re important for managing your security networks and customer data, let's look at some questions that can appear on your security questionnaire.
Many of these questions will be included when you use a template, but feel free to use them to help structure a security questionnaire from scratch.
The first section of questions should be about the company itself. This helps you gather general information useful to your efforts when you run tests and security assessments with your vendors.
The next set of questions to ask your vendor revolve around their data. This might include their current documentation and data compliance or what types of certifications they use to ensure that data is protected and meets the required standards.
It’s also important that you understand what the access control policy of the vendor is like. This is important because it tells you how carefully they track access, monitor unauthorized access, and who will have access to information that you share with the vendor. It will also help you understand how they assign user access and where there might be room for improvement.
The next section of your questionnaire should ask questions about data backups. If the vendor has data backups, there isn’t as much risk of ransomware slowing down operations, and it ensures that the vendor will have a backup system for data protection should there be an issue with the main network.
After looking at the vendor backup policy, you can also examine what their change management policy includes. This is an important part of third-party risk management: It will help you learn how the vendor documents change management, how evolved the change management policy is, and how your organization gets notified of major changes.
Next, you can take a look at the encryption policy in place. This will tell you if a vendor is taking steps to ensure that data is encrypted and secured.
Password policies are very important to assess because they help you understand how a vendor covers data security basics. If they don’t have a great password policy, they might also fail in other key areas.
It’s also important to understand a vendor's information security program and processes. This can include questions about what kind of security procedures they use to ensure that information is kept safe and out of the hands of criminals.
If an incident occurs, the vendor you work with must understand how to respond to and document it. Asking questions about the incident response policy helps you learn what steps the vendor has planned for the worst-case scenarios.
Finally, you should have a section that addresses privacy and different terms of service policies that the vendor might have in place. These questions help you understand what important data the vendor collects from your organization and how they protect your privacy.
Everything from physical security to operating systems needs to be examined and tested. Without proper examination, you put your organization — and your customers — at risk. With cyber-attacks on the rise, it’s all the more important that you prioritize resiliency with all your web applications and vendor assessments.
At HyperComply, we understand how important security questionnaires are and how they influence how you select and work with third-party vendors. That’s why we automate and optimize the vendor risk management process to help you get ahead and stay on top of your security questionnaire process. Book a demo today to discover how we can improve your digital security.