How to Manage Third-Party Vendor Risk

October 30, 2020//Ellen Neveux

Last Updated: May 28, 2021

We first published this article in 2017 and it covered how third-party vendors had been causing quite the stir when it came to their involvement in data breaches. This involvement means that a hacker can infiltrate a larger network (like a large enterprise) through the access that’s given to an external vendor who remotely connects. And, sadly, things haven’t really changed since we wrote the article the first time around. Data breaches that include a third-party continue to plague the news and headlines, ransomware continues to surge (especially with Coronavirus shifting a lot of people to work from home), and companies continue to use insecure methods to allowing external entities on their network (yes, we’re talking to you if you’re currently using a VPN or desktop sharing tool)! 

If a hacker targets one of your vendors, it could impact your entire IT infrastructure and put all the sensitive data on your network at risk. Hackers tend to attack smaller, third-party vendors because they generally have fewer security controls than their bigger business partners. And, a lot of the time, you might not even know that you’re as vulnerable as you are if you don’t have the right tools in place. But, you’re not alone. Over 60% of all data breaches can be attributed back to a third party (or vendor, or contractor) access to a larger network. It’s important

Risks associated with allowing external parties on your network are never going to be zero. There’s risk in everything we do, but, there are ways to keep your company and your data as safe as possible. So, what steps (and actions!) can you take to reduce third-party vendor risks?


Step 1: Evaluate Your Vendors

Even if you only had one vendor that connects to your network, that’s all it takes. If they’re using an insecure access method (like VPNs, desktop sharing tools), it doesn’t matter how amazing and secure a vendor is– their access isn’t going to keep you safe from a data breach.

First, you’ll need to be selective about which vendors you choose, and then tighten those endpoints to reduce your security risks. Start by creating an inventory of all vendors and determine what data they have access to. If they’re using an insecure access method, chances are they have too much access to your network. Though they might be trustworthy and won’t jump from one part of your network to another part, a hacker sees this and can thrive. Next, make sure your vendors’ internal assessments and controls are in line with your organization’s. Have they been breached before? What security protocols do they have in place? Lastly, ensure your vendors have robust security management policies and procedures in place to ensure your company is in compliance with the latest regulatory requirements.

It’s important to remember that the breach is still referred to as the Target breach, and not the HVAC vendor’s access who was responsible for it.


Step 2: Enforce Strong Reporting and Auditing

Once you’ve deemed that the vendors you’re working with are secure and trustworthy enough to have a relationship with, it’s also important to have regular security audits and reports for your own internal use, as well as for external auditors. Regular auditing and reporting will allow you to gain visibility into all actions taken by vendors. Monitoring the what, when, and how of third-party access will enable you to identify and address any vulnerabilities immediately. This might sound complex, but flexible automation of these processes will help save you time and money and improve your workflow while keeping your organization secure. The easiest way to accomplish this is to have a vendor access management platform that automates it all and allows for secure remote access and support.


Step 3: Ensure Powerful Controls

Once you have a better understanding of your vendors’ security position – such as having a disaster recovery plan – you can ensure their security controls align with your company’s requirements. You’ll want to take full control over the varying degrees of access you offer to third-parties – and what data each individual can see on your network. Lack of oversight into what suppliers and outside parties can see on your network increases your third-party vendor risk. But, taking control of your vendor access will help reduce the risk of a third-party data breach.

Just one weak link in your network could lead to a potential security disaster. A third-party data breach could cause your organization financial loss, regulatory issues, and damage to your reputation. To learn more about the importance of a vendor access management platform, download our eBook to see how you can take control of your vendor access and ensure you have a well-rounded cybersecurity strategy.

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