Identifying Third-Party Risk in Your Supply Chain: Best Steps for Vendor Due Diligence

Blog post Zachary Jarvinen 2021-02-28

Your third-party vendors keep your business up and running - but if you fail to identify, assess, and manage your supply chain risks, it can take a severe toll on your organization.

Supply chains and outsourcing are crucial parts of all modern organizations. But do you recognize all the stakeholders in your supply chain and the risks they pose to your business? The more vendors your company uses, the more sophisticated the relationships and the higher your cybersecurity risk levels.

For any business that works with third-parties, it is vital to identify supply chain risks related to data privacy, regulatory compliance, business interruption, reputational damages, legal issues, and more. And since almost every company is part of a supply chain in one way or another, a security loophole or vulnerability in one company can jeopardize the entire ecosystem.

The modern supply chain is evolving to become as much concentrated on data and information flow as it is about the supply of goods and services. As such, it is no wonder that third-party security is as complex as it is crucial.

What is a Third-Party Vendor Attack?

A third-party vendor attack happens when a malicious actor or hacker invades your information system by using security gaps in the infrastructure of one or more of your vendors with access to your data, network, or systems.

Vendor risk has witnessed an unprecedented rise in the past few years, as more and more companies provided their vendors access to their information, systems, and networks. The most recent supply chain attack happened when hackers infiltrated the US federal systems after exploiting loopholes in SolarWinds' network software.

Another case in point is the 2017 attack when Russian hackers targeted large corporations, including Merck, Maersk, and FedEx, causing $10 billion in damages worldwide. The attackers used a vulnerability in Ukrainian accounting software M.E.Doc to cause global cybersecurity mayhem with the NotPetya malware.

Cybercriminals are drawn to launching third-party vendor attacks because when they find security loopholes in a commonly used software, they could access all organizations using the software. But how do you identify the risks in your supply chain? And what are the critical steps for vendor due diligence? Let’s have a look!

Best Steps for Vendor Due Diligence

Vendor due diligence is typically conducted using tools like questionnaires and surveys to perform a comprehensive audit of a supplier or vendor’s ecosystem. Organizations use these tools to pinpoint possible third-party risks to their data, networks, systems, financial stability, organizational reputation, business continuity, and more assets.

The risk identification process has to be complete and holistic, so any vulnerabilities can be identified and addressed before starting a relationship with a supplier. The steps of vendor due diligence vary from one organization to another, but some common steps will help you develop a strong base for identifying and creating a vendor risk profile.

Keep the following best practices in mind when vetting a vendor for risks and vulnerabilities:

Step 1: Gather Business Information

Vendor due diligence starts with collecting information about the company you’re going to enter into a business relationship with. Your research will help you determine whether the company is legitimate and verify if it meets all regulatory requirements and industry standards.

It is a good idea to assess your potential vendor’s publicly available information and scrutinize the organization’s private information. This step also provides you with the chance to see how the company’s employees see and understand cybersecurity and whether they are trained for using cybersecurity best practices at work.

Step 2: Identify Your Assets

Your assets, especially your data and digital properties, are of utmost importance. It is crucial to know what assets you’re going to share with a particular vendor. Be it critical assets like proprietary information, engineering models, employee information or customer data, you must know where the asset is located, its place in your ecosystem, and who has or will get access to these properties.

Many companies share their digital assets and data with third-parties and then forget them on infrastructures like vendor servers or cloud servers. Cybercriminals can easily locate such assets and jeopardize your business.

Step 3: Assess The Company’s Financial Health

Slicing and dicing your potential supplier’s financial information will help you determine their financial standing. Financial stability is the key to any organization’s cybersecurity because only organizations with strong economic footprints can implement solid cybersecurity programs.

You can examine the company’s financial health from their balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement, financial ratio analysis, and more. These information pieces are contained in every company’s annual financial report and available on their websites.

Step 4: Analyze Cybersecurity Risks

Determine and analyze whether the organization has plans in place to cope with possible data breaches. These plans are also called disaster preparedness or business continuity plans.

If they have such plans, be sure to analyze the strategies outlined in the plan as well as how they will act to ensure business continuity when a breach happens. It is also crucial to examine their compliance status and history of falling victim to cyberattacks.

Moreover, it is a good idea to understand the vendor’s role in your company so that you can get a complete picture of what impact a potential vendor data breach could have on your organization.

Since you’ll provide some vendors access to your most confidential information, such as customer and employee data, ascertaining the legal implications is a vital part of due diligence. In case attackers gain access to such information, it could land you in legal troubles and tarnish your organizational reputation.

Step 6: Prioritize Risk Profiles

Consider the level of accessibility and sensitivity of the data when creating and prioritizing your vendors’ risk profiles. Make sure to keep vendors with more access to your most important information at the top. The same holds for suppliers who provide you with the most critical solutions and services. By doing so, you’ll identify the security loopholes or incidents that need to be addressed first.

Step 7. Monitor Vendor Risk

Managing supply chain risk is a continuous process that does not stop with completing the due diligence process. The cybersecurity risk landscape keeps changing, and companies have to continue monitoring and securing their networks, data, and systems as long as digital transformations happen.

Get 360-Degree View of Your Vendor Risks With CENTRL’s Vendor360 Software

Vendor360 is a next-generation, centralized third-party risk management software to select and onboard your new vendors more efficiently. Using our platform, you can instantly aggregate your vendor data, automate your assessments, and get complete control over the vendor due diligence and risk management process.

Learn more about Vendor360 or take it on a test drive with a LIVE demo.

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