How Vendor Security Assessments Help Companies Identify Cybersecurity Risks

October 10, 2023

Here’s the thing: as much as modern-day business evolves and adapts to emerging technologies and innovations, there’s one core truth that will stand the test of time: Business relationships are built on trust. 

However, trust is not as quickly earned and kept as in the past, mainly because there are countless ways that technology can challenge and jeopardize a risk-free environment. So, although we hate going into business relationships with a cynical attitude, a healthy skepticism is not only needed but an effective way to protect all parties involved.

That’s where vendor security assessments play a pivotal role in implementing due diligence and ensuring all parties are aligned regarding risk management, compliance, and overall security policies. Let’s dive into it.

What is a Vendor Security Assessment Exactly?

Before we dive into how vendor security assessments (VSA) help companies identify security risks, let’s do a quick recap of what it looks like in practicality.

In brief, vendor security assessments are tools that provide an overview and evaluation of the risks, threats and vulnerabilities that third-party vendors may present. It provides businesses with valuable insight into the security landscape of third-party vendors and service providers before or during business activities to ensure that sensitive information is protected and that they can accurately mitigate and minimize potential risks and vulnerabilities.

Identifying Vulnerabilities in Vendor Networks

Right off the gate, it’s essential to understand that vendor security assessments sometimes rely on good-faith answers from your service providers. However, despite best intentions, it’s easy to overlook something critical or be misaligned on security policies or the requirements set for the vendor to meet.

Therefore, the first step to a practical vendor security assessment is for organizations to do their homework and research beforehand. You can do this by focusing on four critical steps before providing them with a security assessment.

Outline and Define Your Requirements

    Before anything can happen, it’s essential to outline your security requirements and expectations for your vendors clearly. This will become the basis for your evaluation and should include all the non-negotiable security and regulatory requirements you (and, therefore, your vendors) must adhere to.

    Do Your Due Diligence

    Your vendor selection process should be in-depth. Although various elements could make a specific vendor more compelling, like affordability, it’s critical to prioritize their security practices. Research each vendor’s history to see if they have had any previous breaches or incidents. Publicly available information will give you the needed initial understanding and impression.

    Develop Your Questionnaire 

    Develop a thorough security questionnaire covering critical security aspects, compliance, data protection, and risk management. This is where businesses should aim to be as intentional as possible. Do this by crafting targeted questions that speak to the relevant security frameworks and the vendor’s compliance efforts; for instance:

    • Do you have a documented information security policy in place?
    • Have you conducted a recent risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities?
    • How do you handle access controls to sensitive data?

    Define Assessment Criteria

    Keep in mind that the vendor security assessment should ultimately be set up in a way that makes it possible to gauge the security posture of your vendors by YOU. That means making it easy to understand and review for your team members. Define criteria for evaluating vendors’ responses, assigning scores based on risk levels, and determining the level of scrutiny required.

    These four practices should cover the necessary high-level fundamentals. However, a high-level and basic understanding can only get you so far in security compliance. So, without further ado, let’s jump into the nitty gritty. 

    Overcoming Key Challenges and the Era of Automation


    Developing Your Vendor Security Assessment Questionnaire

    Now, regardless of the specific questions included in the assessment, it’s quintessential that a vendor security assessment can give you clarity on the following three categories: 

    A Vendor’s Compliance with Security Standards

    The regulatory landscape trumps any other benefit, feature, or act of good faith a vendor can provide. This is the most black-and-white criterion within an assessment. If they do not comply with specific regulatory requirements that you are subject to, it’s a no-brainer; you cannot take on the risk. In fact, in the event of any breaches and/or security violations, the liability will fall onto your shoulders (and reputation). Therefore, determine the specific security standards for your industry or the type of data shared with the vendor (e.g., ISO 27001, NIST Cybersecurity Framework, GDPR).

    A Vendor’s Incident Response Capabilities

    It’s important to remember that there are no incident-proof security measures. Sooner or later, something will slip through the cracks due to external threats or internal vulnerabilities. The saving grace? Your incident response plan. Yours may be down to a t, but what about service providers and third-party vendors? Measuring the incident response capabilities of your vendor is a critical part of risk management and due diligence. Be sure to investigate how their plan (if any) aligns with yours.

    This means inquiring about their process for detecting, reporting, and responding to security incidents. Then, why not put it to the test? Assess their communication strategy during a security breach and their ability to coordinate with your team. 

    A Vendor’s Capability to Collaborate Regarding Risk Mitigation

    You do not want to be left in the dark regarding service providers and vendors, especially regarding how they handle and safeguard your information. In this case, ignorance is far from bliss. Therefore, a security assessment’s final element is monitoring and reviewing their collaboration capabilities. 

    Can your preferred vendor establish and maintain open communication channels regarding security concerns? What about their ability and willingness to collaborate on vulnerability assessments and penetration testing? A must!

    Okay, But Why Go Through All The Trouble Though? 

    If it feels like a lot of work, that’s because it is. However, thorough and continuous vendor assessments are critical for a strong and compliant security posture in the long run. Here are some key reasons why vendor assessments are non-negotiable:

    • Security assurance: You’ll finally have rest assurance that your service providers meet (and continue to meet) security standards, drastically reducing the risk of data breaches or security violations. 
    • Compliance Adherence: Vendor assessments prove that you have done your due diligence from a regulatory point of view, shielding your organization from legal and financial liabilities.
    • Reputation Protection: By vetting vendors, your organization avoids security incidents that could harm its reputation and stakeholder trust.

    But as you may have guessed by now, with everything in the security compliance landscape, nothing is as easy as ticking a once-off box. For vendor assessments to be truly effective, they must become part of your security DNA. How? Through ongoing monitoring and compliance. 

    Fortunately, you don’t have to carry the administrative burden alone. That’s why we’re here.


    Confident and Consistent Third-Party Compliance with Scytale

    We get it; running a business is a full-time job and one that often requires all hands on deck. Unfortunately, that’s when security threats and risks thrive. At Scytale, we fill even the tiniest gaps in your security posture to ensure there are no surprises along the way – especially ones out of your control due to third-party risks. 

    Our vendor assessment tools ensure that your vendors become another strength you can rely on instead of your weakest link. 

    Reach out to our team and see how you can protect your information, compliance, time, and reputation in one fell swoop with automated vendor risk assessments and ongoing security compliance.