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Third-Party Risk Management Programs at a Crossroads

Organizations are starting to adapt their third-party risk management (TPRM) programs to address new and emerging risks outside of the information technology (IT) realm.
July 15, 2022
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Editor's note: This article was originally published on securitymagazine.com.

Amid record numbers of third-party data breaches, supply chain disruptions and the war in Ukraine, organizations are starting to adapt their third-party risk management (TPRM) programs to address new and emerging risks outside of the information technology (IT) realm, the Prevalent 2022 Third-Party Risk Management Study found. Between February and March 2022, Prevalent surveyed leaders directly involved in TPRM to understand how organizations are navigating today’s third-party challenges and staying ahead of future risks.

TPRM is at a crossroads and much more needs to be done, the study reveals. The study found seven key observations about the state of third-party risk management today:

  1. Organizations are paying more attention to non-IT security risks, but not enough. Information security, business continuity and data privacy and protection were rated as the top three risk types, which shows that organizations are acknowledging that third-party risk is higher than IT security risks. However, organizations continue to overlook less-quantifiable risks that could still lead to compliance violations, fines or negative reputational impacts, such as modern slavery, anti-money laundering, anti-bribery, and corruption risks.
  2. TPRM may be getting more strategic. Study results show that organizations are generally aligned around the strategic risk reduction goals of their TPRM programs — and that operational concerns such as cost, compliance and efficiency are secondary. Notably, executives have a fairly even view of TPRM goals across all areas, although they are primarily driven by risk reduction. Speaking of executives, more than 75% of respondents indicated that their TPRM program has more visibility among executives and the board compared to last year.
  3. Manual methods for assessing third parties persist, but dissatisfaction runs high. Forty-five percent of respondents indicate that they are still using spreadsheets to assess their third parties. The use of dedicated TPRM solutions grew by 14% from 2021 to 2022, and the use of governance, risk and compliance (GRC) tools and security rating services rose slightly from last year.
  4. Organizations are concerned with increasingly damaging third-party security incidents, but use disparate tools to detect, investigate and resolve exposures. The top concern among organizations in the survey is a third-party data breach or other security incident stemming from vendor security shortcomings. In fact, 45% report experiencing a data breach or other security incident connected to a third party in the last 12 months. Most organizations use data breach monitoring (51%), cybersecurity/dark web monitoring (45%), vendor assessments (manual/spreadsheet-based) (43%), and proactive self-reporting (43%). Organizations should be aware of the risk of using multiple, non-integrated tools to close the loop on their third-party incident response lifecycle.
  5. Organizations are waiting over two weeks for third-party incident resolution. 29% of respondents indicated that it would take them more than a week to determine which third parties were impacted by an incident, with 35% saying it would take up to two days to determine whether it would result in a disruption in service. 47% of respondents said it would be another week before they knew when the third party had completed its remediation or mitigation steps. It takes about two and a half weeks for organizations to remediate any third-party incident. That’s a lifetime for an organization to be vulnerable to a potential exploit.
  6. Third-party risk audits are getting more complex and time-consuming. Seventy-four percent of respondents said they had to report on third-party data privacy and protection controls, with information security controls coming second at 57%. Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) topics — a relatively new risk area — rank in the middle at 23%, and 18% of respondents indicated they had to report on human trafficking and slavery regulations.
  7. Third-party risk management discipline falters as vendor relationships progress. About 75% of respondents are tracking risks at the sourcing/pre-contract due diligence and onboarding stages of the third-party relationship. That leaves about a fourth of companies that don’t conduct risk assessments at this crucial stage, meaning they’re exposed to potential risks from the start of the relationship. Between 61% and 68% of respondents are tracking risks at the “business as usual” phases — assessing and monitoring ongoing management. Fewer than half of respondents are tracking contractual risks and risks at the offboarding and termination stage of the relationship.

While third-party risk management teams are making progress toward a more strategic approach to TPRM, there is still room for improvement. Security leaders seeking to grow and mature their TPRM programs as they relate to incident response, compliance and the vendor lifecycle can take three steps.

  1. Expand assessments beyond IT security to unify teams under a single solution and simplify audits. By unifying non-IT risk intelligence with the results of traditional cybersecurity and data privacy assessments, organizations can enrich visibility into supplier risks, elevate the strategic value of the TPRM program, and improve reporting.
  2. Automate incident response to reduce cost and time. Organizations should automate incident response by investing in mature tools and processes that reveal potential impacts by continuously tracking, scoring and managing cyber, business, reputational and financial risks in a single platform.
  3. Close the loop on the third-party lifecycle. Security, compliance and operational issues can crop up at any time during a vendor or supplier relationship, so it’s important to address risk at each stage of the third-party lifecycle.

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