How to Improve Your Vendor Cybersecurity Questionnaire

Evaluating your vendors, partners, and suppliers’ cybersecurity posture has never been more critical. Unfortunately, around 45% of organizations experienced a third-party security incident within the last year, up 21% from the previous period. 

Now more than ever before, it’s essential for organizations across all industries to thoroughly evaluate what third parties are doing to protect themselves — and the data and systems you share with them. 

A vendor risk assessment questionnaire is invaluable for understanding and evaluating a third party’s cybersecurity ecosystem. Ideally, these questionnaires provide your organization with all of the information necessary to evaluate their security posture, understand any risks they may pose, and ensure that they won’t jeopardize your compliance. 

Yet, these crucial questionnaires are often convoluted, not framework-based, and sent as spreadsheets. Surprisingly, 45% of organizations still use spreadsheets to evaluate third parties, which is alarmingly up by 3% from 2021.

Your cybersecurity questionnaire is an essential part of your overall security and compliance. Improving your questionnaire will provide you with more accurate information to conduct third-party risk assessments to determine if they are an asset or a liability to your organization. Read on to learn how you can improve your questionnaire for better results.

How to Improve Your Vendor Cybersecurity Questionnaire

Practical Ways to Improve Your Vendor Security Questionnaire

Vendor risk management requires a thorough understanding of the third party’s cybersecurity, including software, policies, and procedures. Questionnaires are how you obtain that information and begin your evaluations. 

Is your questionnaire lacking? There are several ways you can improve your third party risk assessment questionnaire for faster, more accurate, and more meaningful results.

Use Simple and Straightforward English

The world of cybersecurity and risk management has enough terminology, don’t make the situation more confusing with poorly written questions. 

Rewrite your current questions and make sure any new questions are as simple and straightforward as possible. You want the people responsible for answering your questions to be able to understand them. 

Let’s demonstrate this point with an example:

Bad: Please tell us who is responsible for responding to any incidents, including their roles and responsibilities, and how everything will work if there is an incident. 

Good: Is there a formal incident management program?

The bad example is daunting and seems like it requires an entire custom report. This problematic question can delay responses and cause frustration. The good example uses an industry-recognized term, and the person answering the question will know that they simply need to provide pre-written documentation or say they don’t have one.

Create Custom and Framework-based Questions

While you will undoubtedly need questions that are customized and uniquely applicable to your industry, they should be based on an official framework whenever possible. SIG and NIST are the top two frameworks you can leverage to guide your questions. 

One of the goals of the questionnaire is to ensure that the third party will not jeopardize your compliance status, so it makes sense to use frameworks as a guide. 

You may also need to create new questions based on other criteria, such as:

  • Industry expectations, including regulatory requirements
  • Privacy laws 
  • TPRM (Third Party Risk Management) frameworks

Every question should aim to satisfy a specific requirement. You should avoid including questions that aren’t directly related to what you need to know — and prove — to ensure compliance, meet regulatory requirements, and guarantee your security.

Require Evidence-based Answers

Answers must include the relevant evidence to support them. Ideally, evidence should include third-party validation, such as a passed audit from a regulatory body. 

Using our example from above, if you ask for an incident response program, they should provide the documentation. Make it clear that simply saying “yes” is unacceptable. Instead, simply add, “If yes, please provide evidence or documentation.”

Not only do evidence-based answers improve the accuracy of your risk assessment process, but the provided evidence can also be used during audits conducted by regulatory bodies to prove you are performing appropriate due diligence.

Cover All Applicable Domains

Digital transformation has changed how organizations track, understand, and mitigate risks. Understanding domains beyond what has historically been considered cybersecurity is necessary. Domains you need to consider when crafting your questionnaire include:

  • Compliance status with frameworks and regulatory requirements
  • Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ratings
  • Business continuity programs, including incident management
  • Cloud hosting and other systems outside of the traditional perimeter
  • Various security policies

Remember, focus on the information you require to prove compliance and satisfy applicable regulations. 

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

Automatically Calculate Results

Automated vendor risk assessment is a relatively new frontier in risk management that has quickly become a valuable asset. Automation can overcome several of the challenges and time-sinks involved with risk assessments. One such challenge tackled by automation is calculating and evaluating the results of the questionnaire. 

You may still need manual involvement, but data-driven and framework-focused questions can be processed automatically to create vendor risk assessment scoring. The ideal cloud-based questionnaire is accompanied by automated processes to immediately conduct vendor risk assessments once answers are received, such as Centraleyes.

Ditch the Spreadsheets and Use a Cloud-based Platform

Spreadsheets must disappear from third-party questionnaires (and most other security processes). 

Sending vendors a spreadsheet makes their lives increasingly difficult. Where do they attach comprehensive documentation? How can their team collaborate on the same sheet? Can they alter your spreadsheet without causing problems?

Instead, a centralized cloud-based platform allows vendors to provide answers, upload documents, and share the workload with a web-based interface. Additionally, you can monitor progress on your end, so you don’t need to send ‘check-in’ emails. 

Use the Right Platform to Streamline Vendor Assessments

Vendor cybersecurity questionnaires are an essential part of onboarding a new third-party. However, relying on spreadsheets, questions that don’t relate to frameworks or regulations, and not requiring evidence can significantly diminish the entire purpose of questionnaires. 

Improving your questions with increased clarity and a framework focus is only half the battle. You also need to provide an easy-to-use cloud-based interface that allows third parties to upload documentation, work collaboratively, and provide status updates. 

Centraleyes goes even further with baked-in automation that analyzes provided answers, significantly reducing the workload on your compliance team. Ready to see our platform in action? Book a demo with our compliance experts today to discover how Centraleyes can transform your third-party risk management processes.

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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