While rapidly expanding third-party partnerships have led to inordinate growth opportunities for global businesses, they have also increased risk exposure. This is because third-party partnerships between and within industries are now hyper integrated and complex -- in terms of data, networks, applications, and business processes. As a result, large companies may now find themselves with a highly integrated, yet complex digital ecosystem that includes tens of thousands of partners worldwide.
The pace of growth for integrated business partnerships has created a lopsided and unwieldy security challenge with regards to quantifying and managing risk. The expanded partnerships are focused on addressing a gap in business capability, but they often neglect the potential security risks associated with the partnership. More simply put, understanding the complex interdependencies of the cyber risk environment needs to be a critical component of evaluating and developing any partnership.
Why It is Critical for Us to Acknowledge the Cyber Security Challenge
First, we are more likely to create strategies to address a challenge that has been validated. Rather than thinking of it as a business or security equation, we might better be able to address it as a business security equation. Second, it can aid in minimizing the potential negative impacts that cyber-attacks can have on these new and very large business ecosystems. Companies need to understand how their independently developed security strategies, policies, and infrastructures are dependent upon their partners’ control environments. Third, we can only collectively counter threats if we first recognize that threat actors are actively working to undermine our ecosystems to their benefit on a daily basis. Lastly, it is important to remember that not everyone has the same level of highly trained professionals working to secure their environments. You may have a truly world-class security program, but is your program securing your partners’ environments that your data now also resides in?
Questions the C-suite should Discuss
Are you working with your partners on a regular basis to address cyber risks to create an advantage over your competition? Are you sharing information about your security strategy, program, and technical controls with partners as a means to shore up security shortfalls and prevent an attacker from finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in your ecosystem?
Have you proactively involved your trusted partners who help you grow revenue AND can help secure your ecosystem? Could you gain efficiencies working together as opposed to working in isolation? If your business is now more efficient and effective because of your partnership, would your security stance be more efficient and effective if it was also aligned?
Does your security strategy evolve with your merger and acquisition, partnership, and business expansion strategies? Or are you using the same strategy from 10 years ago?
Here are Three Ways to Enhance Your Security Through Third-Party Risk Management
1. Vendors & Third Parties - Proactively share your assessment results with your partners; make each other smarter about your efforts and learn from each other's security programs
2. Upstream Partners & Enterprises - Conduct a cyber security tabletop or functional exercise with your partners. After all, your third parties may be working to prepare for the same security challenges you are. And depending on the scenario, your security teams might need to respond in unison.
3. All - Collaboratively identify, prioritize and work to mitigate ecosystem risks. Addressing risks in isolation may lead to wasteful and inefficient resource allocation. Collaborating on efforts can provide significant savings by addressing risks at their source, rather than duplicating efforts on corrective or compensating controls.
Identify and understand your partners and third parties. Truly partner with them to mitigate common risks. Make your ecosystems stronger.