Increasingly, companies rely on vendors for continued success. Whether you’re using a SaaS marketing platform or a payroll processor, you share employee and customer private data with vendors. Protecting the data entrusted to you requires you to create a vendor management plan that mitigates and monitors the risks vendors pose.

What is a Vendor Management Plan?

Your vendor management plan establishes a set of rules that allow you to identify, rate, and mitigate the risks third-party business partners pose to yourself and your customers. In the same way that you establish a risk tolerance,  you need to make sure that you hold your vendors to the same level of accountability. Creating a vendor management plan follows the same steps as creating your information security plan. Vetting vendors and monitoring them helps create a stronger overall cybersecurity stance.

Step 1: Identify the Information Your Vendor Accesses

Vendor risk directly relates to the information that your vendor accesses. Vendors come in a variety of types. The same way that you need to identify internal information assets, you need to identify vendor information assets. To appropriately determine the risk your vendor poses to your organization, you need to ask yourself the following questions regarding your vendors:
  • What is the role my vendor plays in my business?
  • What company information does the vendor need to meet these needs?
  • What employee information does the vendor need?
  • What customer information does the vendor need?
  • Does the vendor need access to my systems and networks?
  • What systems and networks do my vendor need access to?
  • How long will my vendor need access to my systems and networks?

Service providers can be people or software systems. To appropriately evaluate your risk, you need to understand how they fit into your business objectives as well as how much information they need to enable those objectives.

Step 2: Set a Risk Tolerance for Vendors

Once you determine the information that your vendors access, you need to align your information risk tolerance to match the access your vendors need. You need to decide what risks you want to accept, transfer, mitigate, or refuse. Looking at your vendor needs, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this vendor play a critical role in my business operations?
  • How much company information does the vendor need?
  • How much customer information does the vendor need?
  • How much employee information does the vendor need?
  • How many critical networks does the vendor need to access?
  • How many critical systems does the vendor need to access?

Criticality to your business operations acts as the first step to understanding the impact the vendor can have on your organization.

Your IT department may use a cloud service provider to house all your electronic data. Meanwhile, your marketing department may be using a vendor to manage email distributions. Each of these vendors has access to valuable information, but the information differs in criticality to your business operations. Your cloud service provider houses information such as customer or employee names, dates of birth, or financial information. If this data is compromised, you face legal issues. If you lose a batch of email addresses for outreach, your liability is less, especially if the information does not personally identify any of the potential individuals linked to the emails.

Therefore, your cloud service provider is a more critical vendor to business continuity and houses more important information making them a high risk.

Step 3: Create Procedures to Guide Your Vendor Relationship

If good fences make good neighbors, then good contracts make good business partnerships. Creating the right documentation to formalize your relationship outlines a set of shared best practices that you expect your vendor to follow. A service level agreement (SLA) is a contract that outlines the role your vendor will play in your company.

Primarily focused on the services provided and the completion expectations for a project, SLAs increasingly also define security requirements for vendors. These contracts, especially for long-term relationships, create boundaries that define legal responsibility for data protection. When creating your SLA, you want to incorporate, at a minimum, the following:

  • Access authorization protocols
  • Information access controls
  • Password management requirements
  • Network and system security protections
  • Network and system update requirements
  • Employee Security Awareness Training requirements
  • Encryption and decryption requirements
  • End-point security requirements
  • Liability for security incidents

Vendors need to have a clear set of security expectations. Additionally, you need to know that they meet your security requirements. For example, if you require multi-factor authentication for application use but your vendor does not, they can put you at risk. If you’re constantly updating your systems with provider patches, but they do not do this regularly, they put your information at risk. You need to have some assurance that they know your requirements and their responsibility in case they do not meet them.

Step 4: Ongoing Vendor Monitoring

Your vendors’ security posture poses the same risk to your data that yours poses, except you have less control over their activities. Lacking control over vendor security protocols and controls feels unnerving. Knowing that their missteps become your missteps can escalate even the calmest CISO’s blood pressure. Continuous monitoring strategies include:
  • Reviewing SOC reports
  • Making site visits
  • Engaging in vendor audits either annually or more frequently
  • Requesting penetration testing documentation
  • Reviewing copies of internal audit reviews
  • Reviewing IT diagrams and architecture
  • Reviewing security documentation

Vendor oversight and monitoring require both trusting your vendors to meet contractual obligations as well as verifying that trust with documentation. Meeting your compliance requirements, both regulatory and industry-imposed, requires you to create an effective monitoring process that protects your downstream partners and customers.


Automating Vendor Management with ZenGRC

ZenGRC eases the burden of monitoring your vendors by providing you with a single location to track and store the information you need to prove your oversight. Our SaaS platform eases the consuming document collection process by allowing you to automate tasks and track their completion. Rather than emailing everyone responsible for gathering documentation, you can send reminders in the system with one click of a mouse.

Moreover, ZenGRC offers a vendor questionnaire aligned to PCI DSS that you can send to help with the monitoring process. Not only do we allow you to track the information, but we ease the burden of creating the documentation yourself.

For more information on how ZenGRC can enable your organization’s vendor management program, schedule a demo.