Key Considerations When Completing Security Questionnaires

In a perpetually threatened digital landscape, security is paramount for businesses to consider when prioritizing the privacy of their customer’s data. As a business grows and scales, consideration for the security of its partnerships also has to be a top priority. As technology becomes more sophisticated, so do the potential threats to it. This makes deeper due diligence a necessity in business partnerships where any level of private data is exchanged. As a result, security questionnaires as a pre-requisite for consideration of any formal business partnership are now becoming more standardized than ever before. These questionnaires serve as a means to assess the cybersecurity practices of potential partners and ensure that sensitive information remains properly safeguarded. If you find yourself tasked with completing such security questionnaires, here are some key considerations to keep in mind:

Getting Started

Understand the Purpose

Before diving into the questionnaire, it's crucial to understand why it's being asked of your business and ensure that the questionnaire is suited to the nature of your business partnership. Is the assessment focused on data protection, compliance with industry standards, or overall cybersecurity readiness? Be sure that the contact issuing the questionnaire understands the nature of your partnership so you can give them the information they need. For example, a lengthy questionnaire focused on protecting Personal Health Information, or PHI, may not be relevant for a vendor that is procuring company t-shirts since their business doesn't interact with that data. Having a clear understanding of the purpose will help you tailor your responses accordingly.

Collaborate Internally

Completing a security questionnaire often requires input from various departments within your organization. Engage with your IT, legal, compliance, and data security teams to gather accurate and comprehensive information. This collaboration ensures that you present a well-rounded view of your organization's security posture. Applications like (SPIO) can help you organize all of your security-related policies, procedures, and evidence so that your team has a centralized location to access the information you need. It’s also recommended that you save any questionnaires as you complete them so that you can reference those in the future.  

Review Questionnaire Thoroughly

Take the time to thoroughly review the questionnaire before answering any of the questions. This will help you identify any ambiguous or complex questions that may require further clarification or collaboration with other internal departments. Moreover, it allows you to allocate responsibilities to different teams or individuals for answering specific sections. 

Understand Your Medium

Some questionnaires you receive might be a simple Google doc, Word doc, or spreadsheet, but others may be via online application portals. While some systems might look straightforward, be aware that some questionnaire systems will expand the number of questions based on your answers. A questionnaire that appears to be only 150 questions could be much more by the time you’re finished answering everything. Be sure to give yourself and your security team ample time to complete these in the agreed-upon timeframe. 

Answering the Questions

Provide Accurate Information

Honesty is paramount when completing security questionnaires. Ensure that you provide accurate information about your organization's security practices, policies, and measures. Misrepresenting your security measures could lead to misunderstandings down the line and potentially damage your reputation, as well as creating liability and risk for your own business. Every business partnership is unique, and so are the security risks associated with them. Tailor your responses to the specific context of the partnership. Highlight security measures that are directly relevant to the nature of the collaboration and the sensitivity of the shared data.

Demonstrate Compliance

Many business partnerships demand certifications upfront, and not all businesses have them, which is okay. If your organization adheres to specific cybersecurity frameworks or standards such as ISO 27001 or NIST, provide evidence of your compliance to those for consideration. This could include risk assessments, audit reports, or relevant policies and procedures. Jemurai frequently performs internal audits for our customers against these frameworks to help them assess any gaps and have objective evidence to present to their business partners in these processes. 

Explain Mitigation Strategies

In instances where you might not fully meet certain security requirements, outline the mitigation strategies you have in place. This demonstrates your commitment to addressing potential vulnerabilities and reducing risk. Ensure that your internal team is in agreement about what communications are public versus confidential when it comes to your internal systems, and share any information or mitigation strategies accordingly. 

Be Mindful of Confidentiality

While it's essential to provide accurate information, ensure that you're not revealing sensitive or proprietary details that could potentially harm your organization's competitive advantage. Many organizations will ask for copies of your policies, pen tests, and more as part of their request list. Before your team blindly answers any questions and gives away that documentation, ensure that your team is all on the same page about what should and should not be shared externally. Additionally, ensure that any Non-Disclosure Agreements are in place where applicable. 

Illustration of two people shaking hands in front of an image of business document.

Finishing Up

Maintain Ongoing Communication

Answering a security questionnaire shouldn't be a one-time task. Keep the lines of communication open with your business partner regarding any updates or changes to your security practices. This ongoing dialogue fosters transparency and reinforces a culture of trust.

Completing security questionnaires for business partners is a time-consuming, but crucial step in ensuring the security of shared data and maintaining the integrity of collaborative relationships. By understanding the purpose, collaborating internally, tailoring your responses, and giving yourself enough time, you can navigate these assessments effectively. Remember, these questionnaires are not just checkboxes; they're opportunities to showcase your commitment to cybersecurity and build lasting partnerships based on trust and security. If you’d like to partner with Jemurai and let us handle the burden for you, you get in touch with our team here.

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Caitlin Potter

Security Manager

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