Most businesses use the services of a third-party vendor. It is not enough to ensure the near-impenetrable Security of your systems—you have to check whether your third or fourth-party vendors are regularly performing their risk assessments and have risk assessment programs in place.
This is where security questionnaires are used and, quite often, as a supplement to SOC 2 and other framework reports or certificates. No matter how secure your third-party vendors are, you should always check in with them with a security questionnaire to assess any security risks associated with your collaboration. Security questionnaires generally consist of easy YES/NO questions that evaluate the vendor’s security protocols and provide them with supported information. Security questionnaires will also request proof of ownership certificates issued by the regulatory agency or security authority to assess compliance adherence.
This blog will explore the what, why, and how of security questionnaires.
What is a Security Questionnaire?
A security questionnaire is a set of questions to evaluate your organization’s security and data protection practices. Before doing business together, organizations frequently exchange questionnaires.
You can develop your questionnaire to learn about a company’s security posture, but there are already standardized information-gathering (SIG) questionnaires available. Although the questions differ, security questionnaires are a required part of the vendor risk management process.
Why Should You Issue a Security Questionnaire to Your Vendors?
Security questionnaires are vital because they enable your organization to screen vendors properly before onboarding and allowing third-party data handling.
When an organization grants a third-party vendor access to sensitive data, it assumes the vendor’s risks. An organization’s sensitive data could likely be compromised if a third-party vendor suffers a data breach or other security issue.
Failure to manage these risks through due diligence and effective third-party risk management (TPRM) program can expose your organization to regulatory action, financial action, litigation, and reputational damage and impair your organization’s ability to acquire new customers or retain existing ones.
Security questionnaires are an essential component of an effective TPRM program. They guarantee that your service providers adhere to appropriate information security practices and can assist with incident response preparation.
How Should You Answer a Security Questionnaire?
Answering a security questionnaire efficiently involves four steps:
- Make use of your compliance and privacy certifications
For example, SOC 2 or ISO 27001 certifications will prepare your team to answer most security questionnaires. Let’s see how this works.
To pass, you must do the following:
- Evaluate the performance of your infrastructure, data, risk management rules, and software.
- Ascertain that you meet at least mandatory Security TSC or more of the SOC 2 Trust Services Criteria (TSC): Security in addition to availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, or privacy.
- Collect evidence of security measures and procedures.
- Run readiness assessments.
- Conduct a gap analysis and close each one.
By completing the prerequisites here, you can save time on future surveys.
- Create an accessible and centrally-managed database
When your organization meets the criteria for several compliance frameworks, you can create a centralized database.
As you receive more vendor evaluations, you can keep track of each question and answer in the knowledge base. Then, make it a practice to monitor and update the knowledge base for future use cases. Use your information database to reference and repurpose relevant answers for quick and consistent responses during future assessments.
- Keep responses short and simple
A security questionnaire may consist of hundreds of questions. It is, therefore, imperative to keep your answers relevant.
- Your responses need to be direct and comprehensive. You can follow the guidelines for answer length and use active and concise language.
- Your responses must be sincere and supported by evidence. If implementation is underway, avoid saying “yes” to any inquiries. You can expect clients to request proof, so you should communicate openly to avoid looking evasive.
- Your responses should be unique and must not be repeated: The questionnaire may include similar questions. Before answering any questions, go through the list and cross off those that do not pertain to your product or service. This can help you narrow down the questions on which you should spend more effort by providing greater detail.
- Prepare a remediation plan for any gaps discovered during assessment
When completing a questionnaire, you must not be alarmed if you discover a security defect. Instead, you may demonstrate to potential business partners that your company is proactive and honest and has plans to address this gap. Here are the steps to follow:
- Create a remediation plan of action to align your security practices with customer expectations.
- Set a deadline by which you expect to meet your customer’s security requirements.
Always keep lines of communication open and keep your customers up to date on the status of your information security upgrades.
What are the Usual Topics Covered in a Security Questionnaire?
Most security questionnaires cover one or more of the following topics:
- Security compliance
Compliance certificates are the most probable question to appear on a security questionnaire, and they are the primary concern of any organization when selecting a third-party vendor. Proof of compliance, such as an ISO 27001 Certificate copy, SOC 2 Attestation report, and any other third-party assessments and writings, are asked.
- Security regulations
Security questionnaires are detailed and can take time to prepare and finish. However, businesses must remember that the purpose is to create trust with customers that you have a robust, secure program in place to protect their data. This encompasses, in general, information, physical, application, infrastructure, and network security. It is up to each customer to decide whether they want to see the entire policy document or only specific sections.
- Security processes
An organization’s security protocols are critical in offering a proactive approach to Security. As a result, many security questionnaires may ask about the organization’s unique security measures and procedures for data protection. In general, questions about security measures focus on the following:
- Employee security awareness training;
- Protocols for security breaches as this is exceptionally important;
- Controls effectiveness should be monitored and tracked for any non compliant behavior.
- Risk assessments
Dealing with a third-party vendor is already a risk, and risk management is the essence and underpinning of security questionnaires. As a result, many organizations request to see evidence of a rigorous risk assessment process. This comprises identifying and cataloging hazards that could directly influence the organization’s data or information systems, as well as the employees in charge of risk assessment protocol development and implementation.
Security and Compliance with Akitra!
Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when prospecting 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 HIPAA along with other frameworks like SOC 1, SOC 2, ISO 27001, ISO 27701, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, ISO 13485, GDPR, PCI DSS, FedRAMP, NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, NIST CSF, CMMC, and other specific frameworks such as CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark, etc. 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 cost savings—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.
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