Security Questionnaires: The Complete Breakdown for Vendors

Brianna

2 Jun 2023

New research from SecurityScorecard found that 98% of organizations have at least one vendor that’s had a breach in the last two years. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean affiliated organizations were affected by the breaches, it does emphasize the extensive range of potential exposure to indirect risks. 

Now more than ever, it’s crucial for vendors to develop a deep understanding of security questionnaires and to implement best practices. By doing so, vendors can continue to do business, demonstrate their commitment to security, and safeguard the data of all parties involved.

Below, we do a complete breakdown on security questionnaires – their role, the topics covered, common issues, and best practices. By the end of this, you’ll be able to minimize risk, have an efficient security questionnaire answering process, and build trust like never before. 

What is a security questionnaire?

A security questionnaire is a standardized set of questions designed to assess the security practices and measures implemented by a vendor or organization. They serve as a tool for evaluating the security posture of vendors or partners to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to protect sensitive information and mitigate potential risks. Organizations often use security questionnaires as part of their vendor procurement process to ensure they are engaging with trustworthy and secure entities.

What’s covered in a security questionnaire?

These questionnaires typically cover various aspects of cybersecurity, such as network security, data protection, access controls, incident response, and compliance with industry regulations. 

Other areas covered include: 

  • Application & Interface Security
  • Audit Assurance and Compliance
  • Business Continuity Management & Operational Resilience
  • Datacenter Security
  • Encryption and Key Management 
  • Governance and Risk Management
  • Identity and Access Management
  • Infrastructure Security
  • Hiring and personnel policies
  • Security Incident Management
  • Supply Chain Management, Transparency, and Accountability
  • Threat and Vulnerability Management

Why you would receive a security questionnaire

If you are being asked to respond to a security questionnaire, it’s because your org is being considered as a potential vendor or partner and they want to make sure you are compliant, low-risk, and are taking the right measures to protect data. As you gain more access to sensitive client data, organizations will prioritize holistic information gathering and the implementation of security practices across their vendor ecosystem. To facilitate this, organizations may request that you provide information through security questionnaires, which will enable them to centralize and comprehend their entire vendor landscape. Being prepared to respond to these questionnaires accurately and timely is crucial as a vendor in today’s data-driven environment.

Common security questionnaire challenges

Regardless of whether your company is still heavily reliant on spreadsheets, or you’ve (thankfully) made the transition to digital practices, there are a few pain points that arise from the security questionnaire process, such as:

  • Lengthy questionnaires: Security questionnaires are detailed and time-consuming due to their comprehensive nature. Establish a consistent data gathering process to handle the length of questionnaires efficiently.
  • Information gathering: Determine who should be involved in gathering the required information and consult subject matter experts (SMEs) for each relevant area.
  • Process establishment: Establish a standardized process for answering questionnaires and ensure its consistent implementation throughout your organization.
  • Reporting: Move away from ad hoc reporting and strive for uniform and consistent processes to minimize errors in security questionnaire responses.

Best practices to overcome security questionnaire challenges

Fortunately, you can minimize and even eliminate some of the challenges that security questionnaires may pose. Below are some of our recommendations:

  • Remove the irrelevancies: To begin, remove any irrelevant questions from the security questionnaire that do not apply to your specific circumstances. Compile evidence and reasoning to support why those questions are not applicable. Seek clarification on any unclear questions to ensure a thorough understanding and provide comprehensive answers. Failing to address all parts of a question may put your customer relationship at risk.
  • Have a remediation plan on deck: Have a solid remediation plan ready to address security vulnerabilities identified in the questionnaire. Demonstrate ongoing efforts to align security posture with customer expectations. Discuss the potential for another assessment questionnaire after implementing new controls. Taking responsibility for control gaps and providing a remediation plan shows honesty, accountability, and a proactive approach to earning customer trust.
  • Keep it short and sweet: Make sure answers are concise, assess strengths and weaknesses honestly, involve subject matter experts, communicate openly with partners, and ask for clarification when needed to provide accurate information to assessors.

Additionally, the advent of AI in the security space has played a significant role in streamlining security questionnaires, providing several benefits for businesses, such as:

  • Having a live, self-sustaining security portal: Certain automation solutions for security questionnaires create portals that publicly showcase an organization’s security and compliance status. These portals highlight security credentials such as certifications, attestations, and compliance reports. TrustCloud’s security portal serves as an example. Apart from the public-facing information, additional details can be shared by invitation, utilizing enhanced security features like NDA click-wrapping. By proactively sharing this information, organizations can decrease the volume of security questionnaires they receive from potential clients and customers. The cherry on top? You don’t have to manage a knowledge base,  because these portals maintain themselves by connecting and pulling information from your security program. It’s accurate, up to date, and much less work.
  • Faster and more accurate responses with SQ automation: These smart solutions help you save time by pre-populating answers and make collaboration among teammates easier by allowing you to assign and tag the right people for the right answers. 

TrustCloud is the world’s first product to combine AI-powered security questionnaire responses with a trust portal! To read more about our smart solution, check out our press release.

More Resources around security questionnaires