Vendor Risk Management Best Practices in 2024

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Vendor Risk Management Best Practices in 2024

Vendor risk management (VRM) is a critical component for organizations to effectively manage and mitigate the risks associated with third-party vendors and suppliers. In an era where outsourcing is not just a business strategy but a necessity, the importance of a comprehensive VRM program cannot be overstated. 

This blog delves into the best practices for continuous monitoring of vendor risks, highlighting the significance of vendor risk assessment, continuous monitoring strategies, third-party risk management, and vendor compliance tracking.

As businesses increasingly rely on external entities for essential services, the potential for operational, reputational, and compliance risks escalates. A robust VRM program goes beyond traditional operational metrics, focusing on a holistic approach to identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks throughout the vendor lifecycle. From the initial vetting process to continuous risk monitoring, VRM plays a pivotal role in safeguarding an organization’s assets and reputation.

What is Vendor Risk Management?

Vendor risk management (VRM) is a systematic approach to identifying, assessing, and mitigating the risks that come with outsourcing services or functions to third-party vendors or suppliers. 

This process is integral to an organization’s overall risk management strategy, as it addresses the potential threats and vulnerabilities introduced by external entities. The goal of VRM is to ensure that the engagement with vendors does not adversely affect the organization’s operations, reputation, or compliance posture.

At its core, VRM involves a series of steps conducted throughout the vendor lifecycle, including sourcing, selection, onboarding, continuous risk monitoring, and offboarding. It emphasizes the importance of thorough vendor risk assessment and the implementation of continuous monitoring strategies to manage and mitigate risks effectively. 

By doing so, VRM helps organizations maintain control over their external partnerships, ensuring that vendor-related risks are identified early and managed proactively. This is particularly crucial in today’s business landscape, where the reliance on third-party vendors is increasing, and the nature of the risks involved is becoming more complex and potentially damaging.

Best Practices for Effective Vendor Risk Management

Implementing best practices in vendor risk management is crucial for organizations to navigate the complexities of third-party relationships and mitigate associated risks effectively. This section explores the key strategies and methodologies that form the backbone of a robust VRM program. 

By adhering to these best practices, organizations can enhance their risk management processes, ensuring that vendor engagements contribute positively to their operational resilience and security posture. Let’s delve into the essential practices that can help safeguard your organization against the multifaceted risks presented by vendors and third-party suppliers.

  1. Maintaining an Accurate Record of Your Vendors

A comprehensive inventory of your third-party relationships is foundational to assessing and managing the risks they may pose. Surprisingly, only about 46% of organizations conduct cybersecurity risk evaluations for vendors that handle sensitive information. This oversight can be critical, as third-party vendors often do not adhere to the same level of security measures as your organization, making it vital to incorporate their potential risks into your third-party risk management strategy.

The financial repercussions of data breaches involving third parties were significant, with a global average cost of $4.29 million in 2019. It’s important to note that even minor security lapses at small vendors can escalate into major cyber incidents. A notable instance is the 2013 Target breach, which originated from an HVAC subcontractor and led to the compromise of around 40 million debit and credit card details.

Cataloging your vendors marks the initial step in establishing a vendor risk management program. It’s essential to recognize that security vulnerabilities can arise at any stage of the vendor lifecycle, including after the termination of the vendor relationship.

  1. Establishing a Structured Vendor Assessment Protocol

Rushing through the vendor onboarding process might seem like a shortcut, but it’s a surefire method to welcome high-risk vendors, potentially jeopardizing your information and data security initiatives. Utilizing vendor questionnaires is a cornerstone of any effective vendor risk management strategy, and for numerous sectors, it’s also a regulatory necessity.

However, traditional vendor questionnaires present challenges; they capture only a snapshot in time, can be subjective, and often require significant effort to develop. To address these issues, many organizations are turning to automated tools that streamline the creation, distribution, and evaluation of security questionnaires, offering a more objective approach to assessing vendor risks.

If you’re uncertain about how to begin, consider starting with a vendor risk assessment questionnaire template. This can serve as a solid foundation, allowing you to tailor the questionnaire by adding or removing questions to align with your organization’s risk appetite. A well-designed template can significantly reduce the operational burden associated with evaluating and integrating new vendors, ensuring security isn’t compromised in the process.

  1. Implement Ongoing Monitoring and Evaluation of Vendors

A significant limitation of traditional third-party risk management approaches is their static, point-in-time nature, which often results in costly and subjective assessments. The challenge of continuously monitoring and assessing the risk posed by individual vendors is a daunting task, even for the largest enterprises. A solution to this challenge is the adoption of security ratings.

Security ratings offer a quantitative evaluation of a vendor’s security posture, similar to how credit ratings assess creditworthiness. These ratings provide a dynamic, real-time measure of a vendor’s security health, improving visibility into their security practices.

Providers of security ratings deliver instant, non-intrusive insights into a vendor’s security stance, offering a comprehensive overview of performance and potential risks across your vendor ecosystem. This enables vendor management teams to keep a constant watch on individual vendors for emerging security issues.

By integrating the ongoing insights provided by security ratings with the detailed analysis from periodic risk assessments, security teams can gain a more complete understanding of their overall threat landscape. This dual approach allows for continuous awareness and management of risks, bridging the gap between scheduled risk assessments.

  1. Setting Clear Vendor Performance Metrics

When entering into agreements with IT vendors or service providers, it’s crucial to establish specific cybersecurity metrics in addition to operational Service Level Agreements (SLAs). This is particularly important for vendors who handle sensitive information, such as Protected Health Information (PHI) or Personally Identifiable Information (PII). These vendors should also be mandated to conduct third-party risk assessments on their own suppliers, thereby reducing your vulnerability to risks from fourth-party entities.

For organizations covered under regulations like HIPAA, the responsibility for data breaches involving vendor-managed data falls on your shoulders. Beyond legal liabilities, any data breach can lead to significant reputational and financial losses. Therefore, defining and monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) related to cybersecurity is essential.

While determining which metrics are critical might seem daunting, focusing on a comprehensive set of indicators that cover various aspects of cybersecurity and risk management can provide a solid foundation. These metrics should offer insights into the vendor’s security posture, compliance with relevant regulations, and their ability to manage and mitigate risks effectively. By doing so, you can ensure a more secure and resilient vendor ecosystem.

  1. Addressing Fourth-Party Vendor Risks

The cybersecurity risk landscape extends beyond your immediate third-party vendors to include fourth-party vendors—those vendors your direct suppliers have contracts with. These entities introduce what’s known as fourth-party risk, necessitating a deeper layer of risk management.

Managing fourth-party risk is complex, primarily because your organization likely lacks direct legal agreements with these entities. This distance often results in less stringent risk management practices applied by third-parties to their vendors compared to the rigor you expect in managing your own third-party relationships. This discrepancy highlights a significant gap in comprehensive risk management strategies.

Effective fourth-party risk management can significantly reduce remediation efforts and overall risk exposure. It can streamline provider selection processes and enhance due diligence, risk monitoring, and review practices. Recognizing and addressing the risks associated with fourth-party vendors is crucial for closing the loop on your cybersecurity risk management framework, ensuring a more secure and resilient supply chain.

  1. Preparing for the Worst-Case Scenario

Acknowledging that not all vendors will align with your security standards is a critical aspect of vendor risk management (VRM). Incorporating business continuity planning, disaster recovery strategies, and incident response plans is fundamental to a robust VRM program. These elements ensure your organization is prepared to handle and quickly recover from any disruptions caused by third-party vendors.

Your plan for managing third-party relationships should include protocols for discontinuing partnerships with vendors who do not adequately address risks within an acceptable timeframe. The goal of business continuity planning within the context of VRM is to minimize the impact on your customers from potential service disruptions. 

Such disruptions could stem from various incidents, including technical misconfigurations like an improperly set up S3 bucket by a vendor or external events such as a natural disaster affecting a third-party data center.

  1. Ensuring Continuous Communication

Effective communication with your vendors is paramount. It’s essential not to take for granted that they understand your expectations. Clear and ongoing communication can significantly diminish misunderstandings and enable you to address potential issues proactively before they escalate into security incidents.

Moreover, it’s crucial to establish communication channels that extend upwards, ensuring that stakeholders are kept in the loop regarding your vendor risk management (VRM) activities. The most impactful VRM communications often take the form of cybersecurity reports, which should cover a range of topics, including:

  • The implementation of security measures across various risk categories, such as reputational and financial risks.
  • The effectiveness of risk mitigation efforts, evidenced by improvements in security posture.
  • Ongoing monitoring activities aimed at identifying and addressing new vulnerabilities.
  • Compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, including GDPR.
  • The efficiency and outcomes of the third-party risk management (TPRM) program.
  • Findings from cybersecurity audits, both internal and external.
  • Any critical risks that could affect the service level agreements (SLAs) established with vendors.

Creating comprehensive reports that summarize these aspects can facilitate better communication with both vendors and stakeholders, ensuring everyone is aligned on the VRM strategy and its execution. This approach not only enhances the security and compliance posture but also supports informed decision-making at all levels of the organization.


Successfully managing vendor risks requires a comprehensive strategy that includes accurate vendor inventories, thorough vendor assessment processes, continuous monitoring, clear performance metrics, attention to fourth-party risks, contingency planning, and effective communication. Implementing these best practices is crucial for safeguarding against the myriad of risks that third-party and fourth-party vendors can introduce to your operations.

As you strive to enhance your vendor risk management program, consider leveraging advanced solutions like those offered by Resilient X. Our platform is designed to streamline your VRM processes, from assessment to continuous monitoring, ensuring you stay ahead of potential risks. With Resilient X, you gain access to cutting-edge tools that simplify complex VRM tasks, making it easier to maintain a strong security posture and comply with regulatory requirements.

Discover how Resilient X can transform your approach to vendor risk management. Book a demo today and take the first step towards a more secure and resilient vendor ecosystem. Visit Resilient X to learn more and schedule your demonstration.

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