Glossary

Security Questionnaire

Organizations today are increasingly using more third-party vendors who help streamline operations and services to support their business. The outsourcing of such business activities is amplifying the organization’s vulnerability to the ever-growing number of cyber attacks across the different industries. Each vendor poses a potential risk that can lead to hackers gaining access to sensitive data and systems. In order to mitigate these risks and make sure that a vendor is using the necessary security precautions, they each need to go through a vendor cybersecurity questionnaire.

Security threats from third-party vendors can originate from simple factors such as a late update to a security patch, or from more malicious factors such as an employee that uses sensitive information for personal gain or a security breach on the vendor’s end caused by bad actors. Such threats, if not identified, prevented and mitigated, can create serious security issues for your organization and put your customers at risk. 

Preparing for such threats is crucial when onboarding a new vendor. Taking action ahead of time to understand each vendor’s potential information and security risks allows you to require them to implement the necessary security controls or to avoid working with them all together.

Information security questionnaires help organizations vet their potential vendors by asking the right questions that ensure a better strategic decision making process.

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See for yourself how the Centraleyes platform exceeds anything an old GRC
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to give you immediate value and run a full risk assessment in less than 30 days

What is a Security Questionnaire?

A data security assessment questionnaire is a tool that allows organizations to validate and evaluate another organization’s security and compliance practices and measures before deciding to work with them as a third-party vendor. The questions in a security questionnaire are often very technical and complex, and are usually curated by an IT team. In most industries today, the distribution of cyber security questionnaires for vendors is an important cybersecurity best practice to evaluate a third-party vendor’s security posture. 

An organization may create a unique list of security risk assessment questions and build its own security questionnaire, or use existing security questionnaires using audit processes such as SOC 2 and automated GRC tools for compiling, distributing, collecting and analyzing the questionnaires, and use trusted and verified methods that help avoid hours of manual work. 

What Does a Security Questionnaire Look Like?

The format and questions on a security questionnaire can differ from one organization to another, but they should all cover the basic security topics to determine whether it is safe to trust a certain vendor with your sensitive data. 

The topics that are typically covered in a security questionnaire include:

  • Governance and risk management
  • Application security
  • Audit compliance
  • Interface security
  • Infrastructure security
  • Operational resilience
  • Identity and access management
  • Business continuity management
  • Data center security
  • Threat and vulnerability management
  • Security incident management
  • Encryption and key management 
  • Hiring policies
  • Employee policies 
  • Supply chain management

Security questionnaires may be lengthy, complex, and repetitive. We’ve seen questionnaires with over 300 questions! Even then, providing correct answers is critical due to potential liability. For example, if your company answered affirmatively for a security control—but the control didn’t really exist and a costly breach occurred—your company could be held liable for damages.

How to Handle Security Questionnaires?

As a Vetted Vendor

As a third-party vendor, if you have received a data security assessment questionnaire, first of all – do not panic! This is a good thing and it means that you potentially have new business coming your way. The organization that has sent you this questionnaire is interested in learning more about your risk security and compliance measures in order to move ahead with your company. Make sure you distribute the questionnaire to the right people in your team that can answer each question with the most accurate, honest and professional response. 

Completing a security compliance questionnaire can be easier if your team has already completed well-known best practices frameworks such as NIST CSFSOC2 or ISO 27001, which can help your security team answer most security questions. Pro tip: ask the organization that sent you the questionnaire if using a SOC 2 report can replace the security questionnaire all together, or remove at least some of the questions. 

When responding to security assessment questionnaires, it is crucial to keep in mind that it is your responsibility to disclose all relevant information, and failing to provide accurate information about your organization’s security practices might result in catastrophic loss to both parties.

As a Vetting Organization 

When you identify a potential vendor you wish to get into business with and that might have access to your sensitive data, it is important to go through a proper vetting process of the vendor’s security posture. To do so, you must prepare questions that can help you determine the different processes, policies and security controls that the vendor has in place, and find out their levels of integrity, confidentiality and data security. Make sure you dive deep into the vendor’s various supply chains in order to get a clear picture of their potential security threats and vulnerabilities.

To help you get started with building your security questionnaires, you can use several industry leading frameworks and tools such as the CIS Top 20 Controls, a list of high prioritized cyber security contols for oraganizations to put in place in order to protect their sensitive data from growing cyber threats. Another helpful tool is the NIST 800-171 compliance publication that helps protect controlled unclassified information (CUI) in nonfederal systems and organizations. 

To Sum it all Up

Whether you are an organization looking to vet new third-party vendors or a vendor looking to gain new business with more potential customers, utilizing cyber security questionnaires for your onboarding and vetting process is inevitable if you wish to maintain a high security posture. Collaborate with both parties’ security teams to ensure all important data is disclosed and all processes and policies are up to par with your security standards before sealing the deal. 

Start Getting Value With
Centraleyes for Free

See for yourself how the Centraleyes platform exceeds anything an old GRC
system does and eliminates the need for manual processes and spreadsheets
to give you immediate value and run a full risk assessment in less than 30 days

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