4 best practices for communicating with third-party vendors who need privileged access

Granting third-party vendors privileged access to your IT systems requires a well-defined plan and effective communication. Here are the best ways to ensure you have both.

When your organization uses third-party vendors to help execute its business priorities, the individuals working for those vendors will likely need access to your IT and OT systems to perform their roles.

As an organization, your challenge is maintaining the security and integrity of your company's systems while still getting your vendors logged in to where they need to be. By implementing a vendor privileged access management (VPAM) solution, you can secure access for your third-party vendors while maintaining control and visibility into their system usage.

Managing that access should include a set of policies and procedures that both you and your vendors will need to follow. Here are some best practices for communicating with those vendors to ensure they stay compliant (while your company remains secure).

1. Document the scope of access

Vendors may need access to all your systems to do their jobs, or they may require access to specific sub portals within your more extensive network. Vendors typically only require access to specific applications, databases, or systems within your network. Using access controls to enforce Zero Trust principles, you can limit vendor access to the particular systems they need without creating a security vulnerability.

Your vendors must understand what they can access and when, so you'll want to create and document policies to guide them. Make sure you keep a record of the systems to which your vendors need access and share this information with the appropriate vendor point of contact (typically a project manager or lead).

This document should specify which systems and data the vendor will have access to and any limitations on their access. Be sure to highlight the varying access needs that different vendor reps may have, such as varying permissions or different applications.

Ask the vendor's project lead to share this document with all personnel and confirm they have all reviewed it. To maintain compliance, prohibit access to all individuals until they have acknowledged reading the document. An effective VPAM solution should provide users with terms and conditions they’ll need to agree upon login before they can gain access to your systems.

2. Establish clear protocols for requesting and granting privileged access

Even if you have a streamlined process for internal privileged access, if you don't have an established process for requesting and granting secure vendor access, managing and fielding access requests can become chaotic.

Create a process that captures the following journey:

  • How vendors can request access
  • Your organization's review process for each request
  • How your organization will communicate access approval
  • The vendor's reporting requirements when an individual no longer needs access
  • The organization's strategy for officially revoking access when it is no longer needed
  • The time frame in which vendors can expect all these activities to occur

By clearly defining your protocol, you align expectations for your organization and vendor. They'll be able to submit them quicker, creating a more seamless process for you to approve them. A VPAM solution can help automate this vendor access lifecycle to drive even greater efficiency for your IT team and increase the security of vendor access.

3. Review vendor access and privileges to confirm they still align with your company's needs

There may come a time when your vendors need to alter their access levels for legitimate business reasons. That's not necessarily bad – you can build some flexibility into your VPAM workflows that allows for this.

You'll want to avoid granting vendors access privileges that are beyond what they require. Sure, you can (and should) use tools that allow you to maintain visibility into any activity on your network, but you still want to enforce least privilege access policies for all vendors.

On a recurring basis, review and assess the access your vendors have. Do they have access to the systems they need to do their job? Do you need to restrict or limit access based on changing project requirements? This answer can vary depending on shifts in a project's size or scope, so consult your organizational team overseeing the project and the appropriate vendor lead.

One of the advantages of using a comprehensive vendor privileged access management solution is that it can help enforce least privilege access. Additionally, it ensures access is automatically revoked when no longer needed. Having the right solution won’t just help you avoid onerous access reviews but can also help fortify access to your systems with security features like granular access controls and multifactor authentication, minimizing the chances of exposing your critical resources to a data breach.

4. Create and share an incident response plan in the event of a security breach

If a security breach caused by or impacting your vendors does occur, you'll want a plan to mitigate any damage and recover quickly. Your plan should have the following:

  • A checklist of actions your vendors need to take
  • Responsible and accountable parties both within your organization and from the vendor team
  • A timeline for completing all tasks and delivering status reports – particularly essential for compliance during a data breach when every second counts

The last thing you want is to find yourself caught unaware, reacting to a breach, and developing a response plan on the fly. Documenting your incident response plan and sharing it with vendors before a breach helps you stay proactive.

Set aside time to go over the plan with your vendors so they understand what you expect from them in terms of reporting and responding to an incident. Having a well-defined program with clear roles and responsibilities makes it easier for everyone involved to minimize damage once you've detected a threat.

A vendor communications plan for your organization

Implementing these best practices sets up a clear line of communication between your organization and your third-party vendors. They'll appreciate the transparency and clarity. Additionally, these measures protect your sensitive data and systems while allowing vendors the access they need to do their jobs.

Looking for more insight into how to manage your organization's cybersecurity posture when it comes to secure vendor access? Download "The State of Cybersecurity and Third-Party Remote Access Risk."