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Are Business Partners Creating Security Risks for Your Organization?

Organizations often provide business partners and vendors with access to IT systems to perform certain tasks. While this can help you improve operational efficiency and transparency, research has shown that letting third parties access your network, especially those systems that house sensitive or confidential data, creates serious security risks.


In a 2023 report by Cyber Risk Alliance (CRA), survey respondents said they are working with an increasing number of third parties — an average of 88 across all respondents. More than half (57 percent) said they suffered a security incident related to a partner in the preceding two years. Eighty percent said they suffered a consequence as a result of the incident. The top three impacts were network downtime (31 percent), customer service disruptions (28 percent) and business disruptions (27 percent).


How Third-Party Access Creates Risk


A big part of the problem is the access outsiders have to your network. Business partners and vendors often have as much access as employees, which exposes you to insider threats you would associate with a disgruntled or former employee. Someone with legitimate credentials could easily bypass your security controls, then move through different systems and view sensitive data without triggering any alerts. The 2023 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that partners were the threat actors in 1 percent of incidents.


Of course, you don’t need malicious intent to be a security risk. Outside users can make your network more vulnerable by sharing their login credentials, forgetting to log out of their accounts, using personal email and file-sharing tools, and storing data on a personal device or external drive. Obviously, if a hacker steals credentials or accesses sensitive systems through a brute force or credential-stuffing attack, there’s no limit to the damage that can be done.


Third-Party Security Policies Needed


These risks are exacerbated when an organization has no formal third-party policy. If a business partner isn’t provided with detailed instructions for accessing the network, sharing and storing data, keeping data secure, and reporting potential security incidents, this is an organizational failure, not a business partner failure.


Furthermore, many organizations have not implemented the resources needed to manage third-party risks, due to a lack of qualified staff, a lack of visibility into third parties and a lack of automated technology tools. Overall, 56 percent of respondents to the CRA study expected to make some investments in third-party risk management. However, small organizations (fewer than 100 employees) had no plans to make any significant investments.


There are some low-cost steps you can take to mitigate third-party risks. The first is to develop a detailed third-party policy and train outside users to securely access your network and handle your data. Make sure business partners know that increasing risk in the name of expediency and convenience is unacceptable. Apply this policy consistently across all third parties to make it easier to monitor their activities and enforce security controls.


How IronLogix Can Help


The policy should also establish the baseline security standards you require for access to your network, and procedures for identifying and reporting potential threats and incidents. What security mechanisms do they have in place? Will they allow you to validate their claims through an onsite review and assessment? Do they comply with relevant industry and government regulations? What is their incident response plan? These questions are perfectly reasonable when granting an outsider permission to access your network.


If you’re not sure if third-party access is putting your organization at risk, we can review your current policies and procedures and make recommendations for improvement. Let us help you provide business partners and vendors with secure access to your network without compromising your sensitive data.

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