Security Questionnaires – A Short Guide!

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A security questionnaire is a compilation of frequently difficult and technical questions created by IT teams to assess a third-party vendor’s security and compliance posture. Today, most industries consider distributing security questionnaires to vendors and partner a cybersecurity best practice. These questionnaires cover various topics, including overall security, network security, access control, incidence response, data protection, security policies, and procedures. The answers are evaluated to check the vendor’s security posture and assess the risks associated with doing business with them. The accuracy of responses is crucial, and providing inaccurate information can lead to legal issues for the vendors. 

Although the structure, format, and questions may vary by company and can be complex. All security questionnaires are designed to establish whether a third party can protect sensitive client information appropriately. Companies across industries need to assess the security posture of all third parties, and security questionnaires are now a common practice in the vendor procurement process. 

In this blog, we will outline the most common security questionnaires you may come across in today’s data security landscape.

What are the Different Types of Security Questionnaires?

There are many formats for security questionnaires based on specific compliance frameworks. Here we have covered the seven most popular ones:

  1. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Questionnaire

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a global compliance regulation, more popular in the EU, that governs the processing, storage, and disclosure of European citizens’ personally identifiable information (PII). GDPR compliance entails compliance with privacy laws such as the CCPA, LGPD, the SHIELD Act, FIPA, and PIPEDA.

While many organizations understand that they must process data in line with GDPR, many overlook that GDPR is primarily focused on data, implying that any data that flows through or is held with a vendor must also comply with GDPR. 

Furthermore, GDPR compels organizations to notify data breaches to the designated Data Protection Authority (DPA) within 72 hours, which will manage the legal repercussions of the data exposure, which can result in fines of up to €20 million or 4% of annual global revenue, whichever is greater. 

  1. ISO 27001 Questionnaire

ISO/IEC 27001, the principal member of the ISO/IEC 27000 family of standards, is one of the most well-known and widely utilized information security standards. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) published it together in 2005. 

ISO 27001 takes a systematic approach to vendor risk management by performing standard risk assessment and compliance checks, followed by recommendations and action plans to treat and prevent future concerns. It includes topics such as vendor relationships, conflict resolution mechanisms, contractual security requirement enforcement, how you monitor third-party services, and whether you audit fourth-party risks. 

One of the most significant advantages of adopting the ISO 27001 questionnaire is that it proactively identifies how suppliers are misusing resources and tools, which is frequently what leads to compliance gaps and security vulnerabilities in the first place. 

  1. California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) Questionnaire

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), also known as AB 375, was enacted on January 1, 2020, to improve consumer privacy rights and protection for California consumers by placing standards on how businesses handle their personal information.

The CCPA is the most comprehensive consumer privacy legislation ever enacted in the United States. It is similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other data privacy laws and regulations. CCPA, like GDPR, is an extraterritorial regulation that applies to all organizations, whether or not they are based in California. 

CCPA security questionnaires are not standardized, although CCPA questions may be included in a larger security questionnaire. You may also acquire one that is specifically customized to California rules.

  1. Cloud Security Alliance — Consensus Assessments Initiative Questionnaire (CAIQ)

The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), a major organization dedicated to developing and promoting secure cloud computing best practices, provides the Consensus Assessments Initiative Questionnaire (CAIQ). If you store data in the cloud, the goal is to evaluate the security of your cloud service provider.

A CAIQ is significantly longer than the CIS questionnaire, which only has 18 items. The CSA asks numerous questions concerning your infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS) solutions in their questionnaire. It was established to address one of the organizations’ most common concerns when shifting to the cloud: more transparency into the technology and techniques cloud providers use for data protection and risk management. 

The questionnaire, which consists of a sequence of yes/no questions, is usually tailored to the customer’s specific demands and use cases.

  1. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST SP 800–171) Questionnaire

The US federal government has strict laws governing government data processing, which is why it developed the family of NIST compliance frameworks. NIST security standards provide federal agencies with principles to keep Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) confidential, available, and unmodified in nonfederal systems and organizations. 

NIST SP 800-171 includes 14 distinct security objectives, each with its own set of controls. Any federal agency that interacts with third parties and any nonfederal systems or organizations used by federal agencies must adhere to NIST 800-171.

The US Department of Commerce houses the National Institute of Standards and Technology and is also one of the oldest physical science laboratories in the country. They’ve recently emerged as a dominant force in IT security.

Most organizations, including those not conducting business with the government, regard NIST standards as best practices. Asset management, governance, risk assessment, access control, data security, etc., are some topics covered in NIST compliance questionnaires.

  1. Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) Questionnaire

The Payment Card Industry Standards Security Council (PCI Security Standards Council) developed standards to prevent consumers from committing credit card theft. The recommendations are largely for B2C enterprises, but purchasers must know that their third-party providers handle credit card transactions appropriately.

Any organization that takes or processes credit cards must be PCI compliant, which entails three major steps:

  • Making certain that sensitive card information is gathered and sent securely.
  • Storing data securely by following the PCI standard’s 12 security domain standards, such as encryption, continuous monitoring, and security testing of card data access control.   
  • Validating required security controls being in place annually with the help of forms, security questionnaires, external vulnerability scans, and third-party audits.

The PCI DSS security questionnaire is primarily for suppliers and includes inquiries on overall security, data storage, vendor integrations, onboarding procedures, etc. The list may appear independently or as part of a larger security inquiry.

  1. Vendor Security Alliance — VSA Questionnaire

A consortium of companies dedicated to improving Internet security developed the Vendor Security Alliance (VSA) questionnaire. 

The VSA provides two free questionnaires that are updated on a yearly basis:

  • VSA-Full: This traditional VSA questionnaire focuses on vendor security and is used by thousands of businesses worldwide.
  • VSA-Core: This questionnaire includes the most crucial vendor evaluation and privacy. 

The privacy section addresses both data breach notification standards in the United States, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

The VSA assessment procedure, unlike previous surveys, was designed with the vendor in mind. Its goal is to minimize extraneous questions, allowing InfoSec and security teams to finish the questionnaire in less time. 

Which Questionnaire Should You Choose For Your Third-Party Risk Management (TPRM) Program?

Choosing the best evaluation tool for your organization’s vendor risk management (VRM) program is a major undertaking. However, the number and quality of available security surveys are constantly improving.

The majority are updated and modified regularly, usually once a year, by groups of specialists in cybersecurity, information security, compliance, and risk and are increasingly being adopted by the world’s largest corporations.

How Can You Successfully Respond to Security Questionnaires?

Security questionnaires tend to be tedious and lengthy and can take much time to answer successfully. But they are a necessary part of risk management; with them, you may gain out on potential or existing customers.

Answering a security questionnaire to satisfaction needs you to judiciously set time aside and have processes and systems in place to protect your data and respond to your security questions accurately.

Here’s what you need:

  1. Efficient knowledge management

Legal documents are security questionnaires. In addition to answering “yes” or “no,” you must provide documents to demonstrate compliance. Answers and documentation are at your fingertips with a good knowledge management system.

  1. Collaboration of team members

A security questionnaire response team can (and should) include many key stakeholders. The response manager of an organization may be in charge of preparing the document. Still, they will need assistance from risk management, IT, sales engineering, information security, operations, HR, and accounting.

  1. Unified maintenance of information

If you say you are compliant on a security questionnaire, you better be sure. Misrepresenting security compliance may result in legal action. A knowledge management system should serve as your source of truth, which is especially crucial when responding to security questionnaires.

  1. Workflow automation and project management

The journey to ensuring data security is long, winding, and rough and comes with many challenges. As standards are developed, hackers and other bad actors may discover ways to circumvent them. It may be too late if an organization waits for new standards before changing its protocol.

Security requires resilience, which may imply expanding tech stacks and recruiting more information security personnel. The key to keeping everything together smoothly is automating as many processes as involved in this journey as possible. You should also focus on clarifying duties, assigning manageable tasks, generating reports, and keeping track of resources to ensure that everything proceeds as planned.

Security and Compliance with Akitra!

Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when courting new SaaS businesses in today’s era of data breaches and compromised privacy. Customers and partners want assurances that their organizations are doing everything possible to prevent disclosing sensitive data and putting them at risk, and compliance certification fills that need.

Akitra offers an industry-leading, AI-powered Compliance Automation platform for SaaS companies. Using automated evidence collection and continuous monitoring, together with a full suite of customizable policies and controls as a compliance foundation, our service helps customers become certified for compliance frameworks like SOC 1, SOC 2, ISO 27001, ISO 27701, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, ISO 13485, GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, FedRAMP, NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, NIST CSF, CMMC, and other specific frameworks such as CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark, etc. In addition, companies can use Akitra’s automated questionnaire product to streamline and expedite security questionnaire response processes delivering huge cost savings. Our compliance and security experts will provide customized guidance to navigate the end-to-end compliance process confidently. 

The benefits of our solution include enormous savings in time, human resources, and money — including discounted audit fees with our audit firm partners. Customers achieve compliance certification fast and cost-effectively, stay continuously compliant as they grow, and can become certified under additional frameworks using a single compliance automation platform.

Build customer trust. Choose Akitra TODAY!‍
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