Rogue Russian entities in the advertising industry take millions and the entire company disappears. Poor security programming techniques from offshore entities expose cross site scripting flaws in 50% of the companies websites. In any event more and more security weakness is exposed by the poor practices associated with a vendor, partner, or other third party business entity. These third party entities and the services they provide can cause great exposure resulting in large scale financial problems to the host organization.
What can be done?
Security of third party entities can be accomplished in many ways, but it has to start with the relationship and contracts in place. Once there is a contract then each practice can be broken down. Third party security assessments typically include two main practices. These are:
- Technical Security Testing
- Checklist Validation Assessments
Technical Security Testing usually involves network vulnerability scanning, penetration testing, application testing, and sometimes security configuration reviews. This approach occurs when a third party is contracted to assess the host organization. This is a third party assessment however this situation addresses contracting a third party to perform the assessment. The other focuses on assessing the host organizations third party service providers, not contracting a third party to perform an assessment.
Checklist validation assessments are commonly used for assessing ones service providers. One of the most common used tools for this practice is supplied online by Shared Assessments. The Shared assessments questionnaire and agreed upon procedures guides are used in many different countries around the world. They are very comprehensive and allow for customization if required. The core components that make this tool fantastic for third party risk assessments are:
- Excel based checklist format which can be auto compared against a configured baseline
- Comprehensive list of standard questions that map to some different compliance regulations
The Shared Assessments program has done a good job explaining the tool use and to avoid repeating the information that is clearly explained online the focus will be to explain leveraging the tool to build a third party assessment function in the organization. Building the third party assessment requires some dedicated resource time for the following responsibilities.
- Determining the assessment schedule and prioritization
- Customizing the questionnaires
- Phone and email follow up to third parties
- Onsite review and validation (if applicable based on the assessment type)
- Providing reports to management and third party entities
- Follow up on remediation efforts
Shared Assessments – Useful
Back in 2009 my blog entry was titled “BITS Shared Assessments – Useful or Not”. After several more years and reviewing hundreds of clients it appears this is now the predominantly used assessment practice. Organizations have used the main content and questions then customized and integrated them into formal programs. I still find the validation component one of the weakest links, but in some cases that also falls on the assessor. To help mitigate the risk organizations should be looking at some kind of technical and checklist testing of their entities. Using both of these will help make up for deficiencies in the checklist based approaches.
I encourage others to comment if they have seen different standards for third party assessment especially those around the checklist and validation approach. As today the Shared Assessments appears to still be the number one choice implemented and used based on my experience with other companies.