The work of third-party risk management (TPRM) is ongoing. The moment a business ceases to actively work on protecting itself from risk, it falls behind. In part, that’s because world events and the tactics employed by cybercriminals are continually changing in ways that impact third-party risk. But in addition, the third parties you work with regularly change as well.
Just because you did your due diligence with a vendor when you started working together a couple of years ago doesn’t mean they still provide the level of security your organization requires. Even if you’re in the habit of reviewing each critical third party you work with annually to spot any new vulnerabilities, a lot can change in a few months.
When change is a constant and the stakes are high, how is an organization supposed to stay on top of third-party risk management? Continuous monitoring can help.
What is Continuous Monitoring?
Continuous monitoring is a risk management strategy that shifts from periodically checking the risk management profiles of third parties you work with to proactively monitoring for relevant changes on an ongoing basis. Continuous monitoring involves using technology to scour all available data about an organization’s security and compliance status, in order to detect and flag new vulnerabilities and security events as soon as possible.
Continuous monitoring requires the right mix of security technology and human planning and analysis. Technology is important for the continuous part. Humans can’t be “on” 24/7 and even if they could, the amount of data they’d have to pore through to review the security status of every third party an organization works with would make the scale of work impossible. But technology can monitor and collect data continuously, and update relevant information in real-time once it becomes available.
Once technology flags an issue, humans on the TPRM team can step in to better weigh how serious the issue is and determine the best steps to take to address it. Doing all this the moment a risk arises can vastly reduce the chances of a serious cyberattack, breach, or other catastrophes.
5 Tips to Get Continuous Monitoring Right
Implementing continuous monitoring can give you the knowledge you need to stay on guard against all new threats that arise. But as with all good security practices, it’s not as simple as picking the first monitoring product you come across, pressing an “on” button, and calling it a day.
You have to make sure the technology you use, the way you use it, and what you do with the information you gain all set you up for success. Here are a few recommendations for making that happen.
1. Involve all stakeholders in your continuous monitoring strategy.
The bigger a business is—and the more departments you have working with third parties—the more important it is to bring all internal stakeholders into the conversation early. That includes the most obvious players like IT, legal, and compliance. But also make sure to loop in teams like procurement, finance, and any departments that depend on a type of software or other third party relationship that poses considerable risk.
Understanding the processes and priorities of the people behind these vendor relationships can help you better grasp the priority levels of the different relationships and the main concerns different departments have.
2. Identify your particular needs.
Every organization has different issues and priorities. To make sure your continuous monitoring strategy addresses your main needs, take time to identify what those are. Consider all the main monitoring surfaces your organization needs to focus on, any regulations you must stay compliant within your industry, and the main vulnerabilities you want to be on guard for.
If you haven’t yet, evaluate the risk priority levels of the different types of third parties you work with, and what types of risk they each present. This will help you understand your continuous monitoring priorities and choose a tool and process that reflects those top needs. At this stage, considering all the information gained from various stakeholders is crucial—you don’t want to overlook any key regulatory requirements or essential tools that pose a special risk.
3. Make sure all parties are on the same page.
Figuring out your particular needs and priorities is an important step, but the language your team uses internally may not match the way the third parties you work with and the continuous monitoring product vendors you consider talk. For a field like cybersecurity—one that’s both relatively new and deals with novel threats, technologies, and trends on a regular basis—language can take a while to catch up to reality.
To better clarify your organization’s security requirements and select the right product to realize them, you need a way to make sure you’re on the same page with everyone you communicate with. The Shared Assessments Continuous Monitoring Cybersecurity Taxonomy can be a good tool for this. Use it to create a standard in how you talk to third parties about your needs and requirements. And consult it to better evaluate the continuous monitoring products you consider and determine which best meets your needs.
4. Choose the right tool for your needs.
In order for continuous monitoring to work in real-time and at the scale TPRM requires, much of the process needs to be automated. And different products on the market offer different benefits and strengths, so there’s no easy answer for which to go with.
With a clear understanding of your needs and the right language to communicate them, this part will be a lot easier. Identify the Security Rating Services (SRS) products that evaluate the kind of companies, monitoring surfaces, and events you need to track. Pay attention to how they provide information. Is it easy for you to understand? Can you set it up to quickly alert you to new information related to your highest priority risk areas? Will it help you stay on top of relevant regulations and compliance issues in your industry?
5. Don’t only use continuous monitoring.
Continuous monitoring is a valuable strategy, but it’s not a comprehensive one. A good continuous monitoring tool can improve how secure your organization is and cut down on the amount of time your TPRM team spends on checking for vulnerabilities, but it doesn’t do the whole job of TPRM.
For one thing, you need to think through how to address each issue your continuous monitoring program helps you identify. What steps will you take when a vulnerability is revealed to reduce your risk? In addition, you want to identify any gaps in what the product monitors and your organization’s needs. Then, you need to set up a system to address those gaps head-on.
Continuous Monitoring Improves TPRM
Continuous monitoring doesn’t replace the need for other TPRM best practices, but it can help you make your overall strategy stronger. With the help of SRS technology, you can increase your security without adding more work to your plate. Be smart about figuring out what you need from a continuous monitoring solution and how you implement it, and it can be a powerful tool to make your organization safer.