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Imagine you’re the CTO of a growing tech company. You’re about to sign up with your first strategic partner. One day, they send you a list of questions:
“Has your organization ever been compromised?”
“Does your organization use a local firewall?”
Congratulations — you’ve received your first security questionnaire. They may appear intimidating, but they can be an invaluable tool for your organization.
Security questionnaires are an important part of a company’s due diligence process. When used well, they can help your organization build trust with new businesses. But they can be time-consuming if you don’t have efficient processes in place.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through:
If you need inspiration for sending your own assessment, check out our security questionnaire template or skip ahead to our additional resources for industry-standard examples.
A security questionnaire is a list of questions that assess your organization’s security and privacy practices. Organizations often exchange questionnaires before going into business together.
While you can create your own questionnaire to learn about a company’s security posture, there are also standardized information-gathering (SIG) questionnaires available.
The questions may vary but security questionnaires are a standard part of the vendor risk management process.
If you’ve received a security questionnaire, it means that another organization is considering doing business with you. But first, you need to show that your organization can be trusted to protect important data.
Answering assessments can take up valuable time, even more so if you’re receiving multiple questionnaires from a growing list of potential customers.
As your organization grows, you’ll want to have a standardized process for answering questionnaires.
Security questionnaires are proof that your organization is attracting positive interest. Still, the time spent answering them can add up if you’re not strategic.
We’ll walk you through how to use compliance audits and reports to simplify the answering process. For further simplification, we’ll guide you on how to build a knowledge database and keep your answers concise.
If you discover a security gap when answering a questionnaire, don’t worry. We’ll show how that can be a growth opportunity for your organization.
Here’s how to answer a security questionnaire in four easy steps.
To illustrate how this works, let’s examine preparing for a SOC 2 audit.
To pass you must:
You can save time on future questionnaires by completing the groundwork here.
Tip: Use your certifications to create standardized documentation of your verified security practices.
You can build a knowledge database when your organization meets the criteria for various compliance frameworks.
As you receive more vendor assessments, log each question and answer into a centralized database. Then you can make a habit of monitoring and updating the knowledge base.
Tip: Reference and repurpose relevant answers from your knowledge base for fast and consistent responses on future assessments.
It’s common for a security assessment to include hundreds of questions. Below are a few things reviewers expect:
Tip: Before answering questions, scan the list for any that are not applicable to your product or service. This can help narrow down the questions you might need to spend more time on by providing further explanation.
Answering each question should also help your organization define its security practices. They can even help you uncover any internal security vulnerabilities.
Don’t panic if you uncover a security gap when completing a questionnaire. Instead, you can show your potential business partners that you’re a proactive and transparent organization. Here’s how:
Tip: Keep lines of communication open and your customer informed about how your security upgrades are going.
Now that you know how to prepare for and answer a security questionnaire, the next step is to create and send your own assessments.
Organizations can practice continuous compliance by sending security questionnaires. This could also be a competitive advantage for your organization.
According to a Ponemon Institute report, only 49% of organizations vet third-party vendors. Half of your competitors allow vendors access to sensitive information without due diligence.
Sending security questionnaires also makes adhering to data protection regulations less expensive. Research shows non-compliance costs organizations roughly three times as much as compliance. Vetting your potential third-party vendors can literally pay for itself.
When growing your organization, sending questionnaires helps build trust with new business associates. Sending annual assessments shows that you are proactively managing third-party risk. It also signals that you are safe to work with.
There are certain topics your security questionnaire should cover that can help you close more deals.
The content of security questionnaires varies by organization. But they all have the same goal. You want to find out if you can trust a prospective vendor to protect your business data. Including the following topics should help you find out.
Asking about security and privacy certifications is a great place to start. See if a potential business associate has any of the following certifications:
These credentials show that your counterpart is maintaining compliance with data protection standards.
It can be simple as asking:
Next you will want to see how a potential vendor handles governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) before entering an agreement. You want to know that your business associate has a strategy for managing risk and maintaining compliance. Are they able to balance GRC while meeting their performance goals?
Here are some good questions to help make that determination:
Organizations that conduct regular internal compliance audits have lower adherence costs. Non-compliance is expensive, so you want to partner with an organization that is always looking for its own compliance gaps.
To find out if your third parties follow continuous compliance, ask about their:
Questions you can ask include:
Now that you’re ready to send your own, here’s how to make the process painless for you and your customer.
Creating an effective security questionnaire is imperative to identifying vulnerabilities posed by third-party vendors. Every organization is unique so it’s good practice to reference the following industry-standard questionnaires before building your own.
Keep your questionnaire brief while allowing for a systematic data-gathering process. Use our auditor-reviewed security questionnaire template that lists possible questions covering administrative safeguards to severance of services.
Manually answering or administering security questionnaires can take hundreds of hours. This can also be expensive if you need to hire outside consultants to maintain compliance.
See how Secureframe has helped firms like Stream save time and money by automating the tedious compliance process. Our platform offers auditor-certified security questionnaires and security questionnaire management.
Secureframe’s team of compliance professionals will also help you cut down on the time needed to prepare for an audit. Get in touch to improve your security posture and pass any audit stress-free.