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Successful Third Party Risk Management Strategies In Defending Against Cyber Threats

Gain control of third-party connections by establishing a central repository to track and document access to systems and data.

In today’s interconnected business environment, companies regularly rely on third parties for critical business functions like supply chain, IT services, and more. While these relationships can provide efficiency and expertise, they also introduce new cybersecurity risks that must be managed. More than 53% of businesses worldwide have suffered at least one cyber attack in the past 12 months and one in five firms attacked said it was enough to threaten the viability of the business. Recent high-profile breaches like the SolarWinds attack have highlighted the dangers of supply chain compromises. Implementing a comprehensive third party risk management program is essential for security. In this post, we’ll explore key strategies and best practices organizations can use to defend against cyber threats from third party relationships.

Know Your Third Parties and Their Access

The first step is gaining visibility into all of your third party connections. Develop a central repository to track all vendor, supplier, and partner relationships. Document what access each third party has to your systems and data. Identify third parties that have privileged access or handle sensitive data. Prioritize higher risk relationships for additional security review. Maintain an inventory of all third party links so you know who needs to be secured. It has been predicted that in 2024 advancements in AI will fuel a surge in cybercrimes. In addition to text generation, cybercriminals will now have text-to-video or other multi-media creation tools to further their nefarious designs.

Perform Thorough Due Diligence on New Vendors 

When bringing on a new third party, conduct in-depth due diligence into their cybersecurity posture. Send third parties a standardized questionnaire covering their security policies, controls, incident response plans, and more. Require them to provide documentation like audits and certifications. Review their physical and application security, encryption methods, employee screening, and other defense capabilities. Conduct interviews with their security staff and leadership. The goal is to confirm the third party takes security as seriously as your organization before establishing connectivity.

Include Security in Contracts and Agreements

Your contracts and agreements with third parties provide leverage for requiring strong security. Include provisions that make them contractually obligated to maintain specific security standards, controls, and practices. Define their responsibilities for security monitoring, vulnerability management, and breach notification. Institute the right to audit their security measures. Specify your security requirements in detail so expectations are clear. Update legacy contracts to reflect modern cyber threats. Enforce security requirements by making them a condition of ongoing business.

Limit Access and Segment Third Parties

Once a third party relationship is established, limit their access to only what is required for their role. Segment them into their own virtual network or cloud environment isolated from your core infrastructure. Implement the principle of least privilege access for their credentials. Disable unnecessary ports, protocols, and services. Lock down pathways between your network and the third party. The goal is to reduce their potential impact and restrict lateral movement if compromised. 

Continuously Monitor for Threats

Monitor third party networks vigilantly for signs of compromise. Deploy tools like intrusion detection systems that generate alerts for anomalous behavior. Monitor for unusual data transfers, unauthorized changes, malware, and other IOCs. Conduct vulnerability scans and penetration testing against your third parties’ environments. Audit their logs and security events for issues impacting your security posture. The goal is early detection that can limit damage from a third party breach.

Practice Incident Response Plans

Even rigorous security can still experience incidents. Develop plans for quickly responding to a breach impacting a third party. Define escalation protocols and response team roles. Maintain contacts for your third parties’ security staff. Institute plans for containment, eradication, and recovery activities to limit the impact on your organization. Practice responding to mock third party breach scenarios to smooth out the process. Effective incident response can significantly reduce the damage from real world attacks.

Foster Strong Relationships with Third Parties

While security requirements and controls are critical, also focus on building strong relationships with your vendors, suppliers, and partners. Collaborate to improve security on both sides. Offer guidance and training to enhance their practices and controls. Recognize those who exceed expectations. Build rapport at the executive level so security is taken seriously. Cybersecurity does not have to be adversarial – work together to protect against shared threats.

Evaluate and Evolve Your Program Continuously

Your third party risk management program needs to evolve as both threats and your business relationships change over time. Regularly reassess your existing third party connections, pay attention to emerging cyber threats, and adjust your program accordingly. Conduct annual audits of vendors and partners to confirm continued compliance. Monitor industry news on cyber incidents and supply chain attacks to identify new vectors. Update policies, contracts, tools, and processes to address emerging vulnerabilities. Consider regular cybersecurity tabletop exercises with third parties. A static third party risk program will become outdated rapidly. Build in agility to continuously evaluate and strengthen defenses in response to a changing technology and threat landscape.

Conclusion

Third party risk management is essential in modern interconnected business ecosystems. Businesses can no longer rely solely on their own security – all external connections must be assessed and managed. Implementing continuous due diligence, least privilege access, monitoring, detection, and incident response plans can help limit your exposure. Strong relationships and contractual security obligations enable partnership. With robust third party cyber risk management, organizations can confidently leverage external connections while defending against growing threats.

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