Build the best vendor access management program in 3 easy steps 

With the continued rise of high profile data breaches caused by third parties, many organizations are becoming aware that in order to maintain the security of their network and systems, they need to create and implement a solution for specifically managing access for their vendors. However, this may seem like an impossible goal due to a couple of different factors, like a large number of vendors, multiple access solutions, and competing constituencies both within the organization and outside (i.e. application owners, IT and network departments, and vendors). The ultimate goal is to maximize security and reduce risk while allowing vendors access to the resources they need. In other words, you want (and need) to find a way to balance security and efficiency. To achieve this objective, several key elements should be considered when building a vendor access management program, and its foundation should be centered around the concept of "least privileged access” - a guiding principle that can help mitigate vendor risk.

Outsourcing to vendors is a known risk

For many enterprises, outsourcing functions to third-party vendors is a common and strategically sound practice. Companies can focus on their strengths while letting vendors, as well as cloud-based applications and networks (such as AWS and Salesforce's Commerce Cloud), manage CRM, back-office, e-commerce infrastructure tasks, and pretty much anything else imaginable. Though this isn't new information, it's well-known that while outsourcing to vendors does have many benefits, such as increased efficiency and lower costs, it also comes with an increased risk if you don't do it right. The main reason this happens is that some solutions for providing remote vendor access allow third parties to access to everything - so, the entire network or a whole system. With these remote access solutions, it’s all or none - no shades of gray, no granular refinement possible, and you're giving the keys to the kingdom (your network) to external people you don't hire or fire when you aren't even giving that access to all internal employees. In order to allow vendors onto your network in the most secure and efficient way possible, let’s look at the three primary pieces that should go into building an organization’s vendor access management program.

3 primary pieces of the vendor access management puzzle

In general, an optimal vendor access management program should allow organizations to receive the secure support they need while maintaining control, minimizing risk, ensuring industry compliance, and creating audit trails.

1. Maintain continuous control

The first overarching goal is to make sure you always take steps to maintain continuous control. Know your third-party vendors, continuously stay aware of what they are doing, and always utilize the least privileged access principle - limiting access to only those resources a vendor requires. Without clear visibility into remote networks and third-party systems, it can be hard to know if a current or potential vendor may be vulnerable or compromised. Ensure you identify possible red flags quickly so you can take steps to protect your network from cyberattacks and other threats to your data. If you don't have control over your vendors, you don't have control over your network. 

2. Identify and implement essential tools

Up next, a vendor remote access program should identify and implement the essential vendor risk management tools - that is, include a set of specific features and tools for authenticating, auditing, and controlling access by employees and third-party vendors. An optimal solution should incorporate tools that will:

  • Assure compliance with all regulations as well as company policies
  • Administer identity and permissions by roles
  • Manage passwords and incorporate multi-factor authentication
  • Support complex remote support by vendors and single sign-on (SSO) across all platforms
  • Securely manage, rotate, and insert privileged credentials
  • Track and monitor all activity of all users to facilitate early intervention and full accountability
  • Control access across multiple operating systems and devices
  • Provide granular, directory-based access controls and scheduling

Without having a platform that is able to do the above, you're leaving your network (and reputation) open for damage-- and we all know how bad the headlines can be when it comes to a data breach, ransomware attack, and anything in between.

3. Improve workflows and user interfaces

To increase the probability that your vendor access program will be met to the fullest degree, reviewing and continually improving workflows and user interfaces is a key element. Usability is an essential element for encouraging compliance with your processes; the easier a process is to carry out, the more vendors will actually do it. To this end, an optimal vendor access program should strive to control remote access for all vendors with easy and intuitive tools, as well as standardize and integrate remote support on a single platform.

Key takeaways

Building an optimal vendor access management program involves three main steps:

  1. Maintaining continuous control (using least privileged access as a guiding principle)
  2. Identifying and implementing the essential vendor risk management tools
  3. Continually improving workflows and user interfaces.

Note that taking these steps is not a temporary task or a periodic, once-in-a-while endeavor. It is an ongoing process, one that must remain active throughout the lifecycle of each vendor an enterprise interacts with. Whether you work with just a few vendors, or you're maxing out an Excel spreadsheet filled with vendors, one thing is certain: your network and systems are only as safe as the security practices of your weakest partner. So get to know your third-party vendors, maintain that knowledge over time, and know what they are doing at all times; following these best practices will help ensure that your organization is fully protected from potentially devastating threats.

Next step: Getting to know your vendors

We have seen that knowing more about your third-party vendors, and maintaining that detailed knowledge, is a good strategy to follow as part of a safe and secure vendor access management program. To learn more about the importance of implementing a platform, how to lower the risks of cyberattacks that stem from a third party, and to detect third-party cyberattacks faster, download our helpful eBook that goes over how to ensure your company's cybersecurity strategy is well-rounded.