Companies rely on vendors for continued success. If you are using a SaaS marketing platform or a payroll processor, you share employee and customer data with vendors. A vendor management plan is necessary to protect the data entrusted to you. The plan mitigates and monitors the risks that vendors pose to the company or the organization.

Vendor management plan

A vendor management plan establishes a set of rules that enables one to identify, rate and mitigate the risks posed by third-party business partners. Creating a vendor management plan follows the same steps as creating your information plan. Vetting vendors and monitoring them helps create a stronger overall cybersecurity stance.

Identify the information your vendor accesses

The risks posed by a vendor directly relate to the information that the vendor accesses. Identifying the vendor information assets is as important as identifying the internal information assets. To identify the risks a vendor poses to your business, it is important to ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the role played by my vendor in the business?
  • What information does the vendor need to meet these needs?
  • What customer information does the vendor need?
  • Does the vendor need access to my systems and networks?
  • What systems and networks do my vendors need access to?
  • How long will my vendor need access to my systems and networks?

To appropriately evaluate your risk, you need to identify how much information your service providers need for them to achieve their objectives so as to deny access to any information that the vendors might not need.

Set a risk tolerance for vendors

Risk tolerance refers to the degree of discrepancy in investment returns that a capitalist is willing to withstand. After determining the information that the vendors can access, you need to align the information risk tolerance to meet the access that the vendors need. Decide on the risks you can accept, transfer, mitigate or refuse. The vendor access to information should differ in criticality to your business operations. If customer`s private data like date of birth and financial status is compromised, one might end up facing legal issues. The cloud service providers house such information and this is what makes them a high risk. This makes monitoring very crucial so as to avoid any risks that may be linked to the cloud service providers. Access to information by the vendor can be evaluated on basis of how many systems and networks the vendor needs to access and the critical role that he or she plays in your business.

Create procedures to guide your vendor relationships

It is important to create the right documentation that formalizes your relationship with the vendor. A service level agreement [SLA] is a contract that outlines the role to be played by your vendor in the company. It primarily focuses on the services provided and the completion expectations for the projects but also defines the security requirements for the vendors. These contracts help to create boundaries that define the legal responsibility for data protection. The following are key things to note when creating your Service Level Agreement:

  • 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

Your vendors need to have a clear set of security expectations and at the same time, you should be able to know if these requirements are met. There has to be assurance that your vendors know your requirements and their responsibility in case they do not meet them.

Ongoing vendor monitoring

Your vendor`s missteps translate to your missteps and that’s why it is important to monitor their activities. An effective monitoring process requires both trusting your vendors as well as verifying the trust with appropriate documentation. Lacking control over vendor security protocols and controls feels unnerving. Continuous monitoring strategies include:

  • Reviewing SOC reports
  • Making site visits
  • Engaging in vendor audits either annually or more frequently
  • Requesting penetration test documentation
  • Reviewing copies of internal audit reviews
  • Reviewing IT diagrams and architecture
  • Reviewing security documentation

Having a centralized location to track and store information helps to ease the burden of monitoring your vendors. This can be made possible by the SaaS platform that reduces the time consumed in document collection by simply allowing you to automate tasks and track their completion. Reminders can easily be sent as compared to when one has to notify everyone responsible for gathering documentation.

Vendor questionnaires are also a perfect way to monitor your activities. Vendor questionnaire aligned to PCI DSS help in the monitoring process by allowing you to track information as well as easing the burden of creating the documentation all by yourself.