Third Party Services: The Cyber Risk They Pose and How to Protect Your Organization

To serve your customers and realize efficiencies, your organization may work with dozens if not hundreds of third parties including partners, vendors, cloud service providers, and subcontractors. 

But digital ties with these providers greatly increase your organization’s exposure to cybersecurity attacks. Flaws in a third party services provider’s security defenses and practices – like those that triggered the SolarWinds hack – can put your data, systems, and networks in danger, even if your own security operations are relatively robust. In fact, a study by Opinion Matters found that 92% of U.S. organizations have experienced breaches that originated with vendors.

Let’s look at four ways you can effectively monitor third party services for cyber risk – across the life of your contracts.

1. Understand your organization's evolving third party services landscape

As your company grows, so does it’s third party digital ecosystem. Evaluating those vendor relationships is critical to understanding the cyber risk they pose. Yet a study by the Ponemon Institute found that two thirds of companies don’t maintain an inventory of third party relationships.

This isn’t surprising. According to Gartner, in 2019, 60% of organizations were working with more than 1,000 third parties. Given the pandemic rush to adopt cloud services and the growing challenge of shadow IT, that number has likely surged.

Given these factors it can be hard to grasp the complex web of interconnected business relationships in your supply chain. You need a quick and easy way to discover each vendor within that supply chain, even fourth parties. 

That’s why BitSight developed tools that let you continuously monitor your extended ecosystem and gain unrivaled visibility into the vendors you do business with – and their relationships with subcontractors. With this awareness you can track where sensitive data flows, pinpoint which vendor has access to what systems, and identify risky business connections. You can then tier vendors and allocate assessment resources where the greatest risk to your organization lies.

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2. Move beyond a snapshot view of third party risk

Now that you know the scope of your vendor portfolio, you need to monitor each third party for emerging cyber risk. While security assessments and penetration tests can help measure and prioritize the seriousness of third party cyber risk, most of these tools only provide snapshots of a party’s security posture at a given moment in time. They are also time-consuming and hard to scale across the expanding supply chain.

Continuous monitoring solutions like BitSight for Third Party Risk Management can help fill the gaps between assessments and provide a more accurate view of evolving cyber risk. Based on the BitSight Security Ratings platform, the solution provides an immediate, near real-time snapshot of your third parties’ security postures. A higher rating denotes better security, while a lower rating means improvement is needed.

Depending on how they score, using BitSight, you can prioritize which vendors may need a more rigorous security assessment for a deeper dive into their security processes and policies.

A notable benefit of BitSight is that it speeds up the vendor onboarding process. Even after the contract is signed, you can keep tabs on your vendors’ security postures for the duration of the contract. If a vendor’s security rating drops, you’ll get automated alerts so you can quickly work with your vendor to mitigate the issue.

3. Engage your vendors so they can mature their security programs

Don’t just inform your vendors that you’ve been alerted to a security issue on their network; share those insights with them.

With BitSight you can give your vendors access to forensic data on potential security vulnerabilities or risks in their environments. This feature comes in particularly handy in the event of a large-scale cyber attack or ransomware hack. 

Rather than sending multiple emails, you can automatically reach out to each vendor in your portfolio as a group and grant access to the platform so they can assess whether their IT infrastructures have been exposed to the latest threat. From your dashboard, you can then monitor what actions they have taken and see if their security postures have improved.

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Learn how to adapt to the continuously changing risk environment with an efficient, continuous risk monitoring strategy.

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4. Report on security performance improvement

Mitigating supply chain cyber risk can only be achieved if everyone is on the same page about how to best defend against threats. But getting there isn’t always easy. Executives may not be familiar with technical metrics or jargon, while security leaders struggle to connect cyber risk to real world business outcomes.

But with BitSight you can clearly communicate the reality of cyber risk and present information on the effectiveness of your third party risk management program – without the jargon – from a central platform. Visualize and report on where cyber risk exists in your vendor portfolio and single out vendors that present the most risk.

With a clear and open dialog about supply chain risk, executives and board members can prioritize resource allocation and transform how risk is assessed, managed, and scaled across their vendor ecosystems.

For more information about how to optimize your supply chain cyber risk management processes, download our free ebook Revolutionize Your Vendor Risk Management Strategy.