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The wheel. Fire. Antibiotics. Indoor Plumbing. HBO Go. That’s how I’d rank history’s greatest inventions nowadays given my addiction – shared with my wife – to Game of Thrones. We’re working our way rapidly though the entire series, and the dialogue in a Season 4 episode caught my attention recently. In a conversation with his “adopted” niece, Davos Seaworth was asked if he was a pirate in his younger days. He replied that he’d not been a pirate, but rather a smuggler. When asked by the girl what the difference was, he replied, “Well, if you’re a smuggler, and you’re well-known, you’re not doing it right.”

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The vendor risk assessment is the lynchpin of every effective third-party risk management program. In theory, the essential components of an assessment are easily determined. However, in practice, the ability to effectively understand and assess third-party controls usually conflicts with the resources available to perform the assessments, and is further handicapped by the need to rapidly conclude assessments so contracts can be finalized and projects begun.

All too often this results in assessments that are performed based on resource availability and time rather than an appropriate review of required security controls.

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Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) announced this week that some of its patient data was compromised at one of its third parties, Patterson Dental, a company that provides software that helps manage dental practice information.  According to MGH’s version of events:

“On Feb. 8, MGH learned that an unauthorized individual gained access to electronic files stored on the system {Patterson Dental’ system, that is} and later confirmed the files contained some MGH dental practice information.”[1]

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The famous quote from 1997’s Titanic – “I’m on top of the world”- has come to mind recently after hearing of the “Panama Papers” leak involving Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which released information pertaining to shell companies owned by many of the world’s elite. The Titanic sank after ramming an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. Fast forward 104 years, and we are experiencing our own version of a well-oiled machine suddenly meeting its demise due to an unforeseen “obstacle.”

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As a life-long product manager, I’ve spent my share of long days enduring booth duty. And many of those days were spent in futile attempts to contort my product’s capabilities into a booth visitor’s challenge in Houdini-like fashion. Booth days are physically taxing under the best circumstances, but the mental strain of repetitively forcing a square product into a round problem is far more exhausting.

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