The Ultimate Security Questionnaire Guide for Vendors

Richa Tiwari

12 Dec 2023

Ultimate Security Questionnaire Guide

If you’re like 98% of organizations, you 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 and proximity of potential exposure to indirect risks. 

Vendors must develop a deep understanding of security questionnaires and 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 is a complete breakdown of vendor security assessments—their role, topics they cover, common issues, and best practices. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to minimize risk, have an efficient vendor 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 a vendor implements across their organization. These questionnaires serve as tools for evaluating vendor or partner security posture to ensure adequate safeguards are in place to protect sensitive information (like customer data) 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 company is being considered as a potential vendor or partner. That potential client wants to ensure you comply with certain compliance and cybersecurity frameworks, proactively work to lower your cyber risk, and are taking the right measures to protect data. Completing the questionnaire with thorough, accurate data is one of the first steps in building a positive, long-lasting vendor relationship. Consider these security questionnaires to be vendor due diligence questionnaires.

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.

What is the difference between an RFP and an SQ?

The Request for Proposal (RFP) process provides a structured and effective way to gather information, evaluate options, and make informed decisions about which vendor to choose. The RFP business document goes into detail about what product or service the buyer wants to purchase. Once this is sent out, vendors can review it and submit their bids. 

Security questionnaires (SQs) are technical questions created by IT teams, and are typically used to determine a vendor’s security and compliance posture. If a company is interested in hiring a vendor, the buyer will ask them to fill out a security questionnaire. The buyer wants to make sure that the vendor meets their security requirements before potentially advancing to the next stage in the sales process with said vendor.

To figure out which kind of tool can best answer an RFP or Security Questionnaire for your org, check out our breakdown on RFP software vs. Security Questionnaire Automation.


Common security questionnaire challenges

Whether your company still relies on spreadsheets, or you’ve (thankfully) made the transition to digital practices, there are a few pain points that arise in 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, consistent processes to minimize errors in security questionnaire responses.

Security Questionnaire Best Practices

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

Remove irrelevancies: Remove any 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 and business 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 and honestly assess strengths and weaknesses. 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: TrustCloud’s security portal creates bespoke portals that publicly showcase an organization’s security and compliance status. These portals highlight security credentials such as certifications, attestations, and compliance reports. 

Apart from the public-facing information, users can share additional details by invitation utilizing enhanced security features like NDA click-wrapping. Proactively sharing this information helps organizations 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 page about TrustShare, and our own trust portal. 

If you’re looking for more resources about security questionnaires, you may find these articles helpful: