According to a recent study by Deloitte, 70% of companies rate their dependency on vendors as moderate to high; and since 2016, half of the respondents experienced a breach as a result of a lack of security in vendor relationships. As third parties gain more access to sensitive client data, organizations need to prioritize holistic information gathering and the instillment of security practices across the vendor ecosystem. The best way for an organization to achieve a holistic understanding of its vendor ecosystem is to gather information from its vendors and organize it in one central location. As a vendor, this means you will receive (and likely already have) dozens of security questionnaires.  

What is a security questionnaire?  

Security questionnaires are lists of questions sent from clients to vendors to assess the security and privacy measures they have in place. Questionnaires streamline the process of data gathering and allow customers to make sure that the various parts of their vendor ecosystem comply with industry-relevant regulatory frameworks.   

As an enterprise requesting information from your vendors, it’s important that the information you gather is concise, clear, and accurate. Conversely, as a vendor, it’s important that you’re able to provide streamlined and accurate data when requested to do so. Both are equally important steps to help an organization achieve a holistic view of its vendor ecosystem and understand its security gaps in the supply chain.  

What Should a Security Questionnaire Answering Process Look Like?  

Implementing a consistent questionnaire answering process will enable your organization to accurately answer all questionnaires faster, share relevant documentation, and better manage all incoming requests. Here are 5 steps that we recommend:  

Step 1: Establish an Intake Process  

To improve a process, you often need to look at the first step. When you receive a request for information, or a request to complete a questionnaire, how do you receive it? This initial intake is critical to set questionnaire respondents up for success.   

Organizations use intake points to gather critical information upfront, providing context for questionnaire requests. These intake points are often made available through:  

By centralizing intake, your organization can better view all requests, simplifying project management and improving response times.   

Watch Now: 8 Tips to Streamline Security Questionnaire (and RFP) Response 

Step 2: Build a Security Questionnaire Answer Library  

To save time when responding to a security questionnaire, you need a library of “go-to” answers that you can reuse. This answer library is critical and can either be built up organically as you answer incoming questionnaires or more methodically by building your library with an industry-standard questionnaire, such as the Shared Assessments SIG Lite or SIG Core. When building an answer library, consider:  

Use our free Questionnaire Response Automation tool to build an answer library and autocomplete any incoming questionnaire.  

Step 3: Create a Trust Profile 

Organizations will often use a “trust profile” to reduce the likelihood that a questionnaire needs to be completed. By proactively demonstrating a strong security, privacy, and compliance program, you can put your customer’s concerns at ease. A typical trust package may include the following:  

Create and share your own trust profile with our free tool! 

Step 4: Track Critical Metrics  

Do you know if your security questionnaire response process is working well or in need of an overhaul? To understand how well a team is performing, you need a standard to hold them against. Some metrics to consider in making that determination may include:  

Step 5: Ensure Accountability with an Audit Trail  

When refining your questionnaire response process, it’s important that those involved have accountability. To do so, team leads can set internal service-level agreements (SLAs) to define response-time expectations. While operating over email opens the door to mistakes and missed deadlines, leveraging a dedicated tool can provide activity trails to help report on the metrics mentioned above. Simple automation can help improve accountability too, such as automated:  

Other tips for answering security questionnaires include:  

Automate Security Questionnaire Responses  

Are you constantly responding to security, privacy, and due diligence questionnaires? Questionnaire Response Automation is key in establishing a secure workflow that saves your company time and money. 

We’ve designed our Questionnaire Response Automation tool to help you automate the completion of incoming questionnaires (start with the free version today). The tool offers a simple dashboard to collaborate on incoming questionnaires, store all your questionnaire answers and security documentation, as well as automatically answer any assessment. Our answer-matching technology matches your stored answers with incoming questionnaires using Natural Language Processing (NLP), Machine Learning (ML), and OneTrust Athena™ AI 

Learn more about Questionnaire Response Automation: Watch the demo video.  

Best Practices for Answering a Security Questionnaire    

Answering questionnaires is no small feat. Here are the 8 best practices we recommend when tackling the process:   

Tip: streamlining your answer process can be made easier by using a questionnaire response automation (QRA) tool.    

OneTrust Vendorpedia offers an easy-to-use solution built to meet automation needs in the questionnaire response process. Start for free today!    

Why Do Organizations Send Security Questionnaires to Vendors?   

There are many reasons why organizations send security questionnaires to vendors. Most notably, questionnaires are purposed to: 

In addition to increased vendor dependency, the sudden surge in reliance on remote work technology drove a rapid increase in digital transformation, pushing security teams to expand protective measures with a quick turnaround and exposing vulnerabilities for bad actors to exploit in the process. Since then, the number of successful, large-scale cyberattacks has astronomically increased (62% in the last year, to be exact). Perfect examples of this are the recent attacks on the oil and gasfood, and IT industries.   

To avoid falling victim to a large-scale cyberattack, organizations must ensure the suppliers they work with have suitable measures in place to identify risk, prevent risk, and respond quickly if they are affected by an attack. This is done by implementing a third-party risk management program operationalized to provide visibility into potential risks, enabling teams to prepare for a potential attack. For example, a third party who cannot provide evidence of a strong security program with appropriate policies and controls may be more susceptible to a ransomware attack.  

Organizations should consider the level of risk of a supplier going offline for an extended period as a result of the recent increase in attacks. Can your organization survive if a key supplier or partner is taken offline? Or, do you need additional redundancy or secondary processes to get the organization through such an event? To begin answering these questions, you need to have an awareness of how to evaluate vendors. This and all of the reasons above are why companies send security questionnaires to their vendors.   

Explore the importance of vendor risk management  

Understanding How You Will Be Evaluated  

It’s important to understand the different means by which an organization can evaluate you as they manage their vendor ecosystem. Here are some of the most common forms of vendor analysis:   

Although there are many ways that enterprises can gain visibility into their vendor ecosystem, the most popular means of doing so is through assessments. This means that having a streamlined answering process and a complete understanding of the scope of questionnaires is crucial to any mature security assurance or customer trust program.  

What security questionnaire trends are popular?  

When answering security questionnaires, it’s important to understand current trends and how they will affect the answering process. There are five trends that security questionnaires commonly follow:  

Start autocompleting security questionnaires today with our free tool! 

Common Security Questionnaire Obstacles  

As companies around the globe transition from spreadsheets to digital processes, many obstacles have made themselves known. In particular, the process of answering security questionnaires has become a pain point for most enterprises. Before going into the process, it’s important to know what you’re going to face. Here are the top 4 obstacles you’ll run into throughout the process:  

  

Further Security Questionnaire reading:   

Next steps on Security Questionnaire:   

  

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