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Third parties leave your network open to attacks

Ryan Francis | June 9, 2017
With the Target example as the high-water mark, enterprises need to worry about the lack of security on the part of third-party providers that have access to internal systems.


Third-party risk management

The market has pushed forward with third-party risk management programs to answer this dilemma. A program such as this would tell if a third party was located offshore or onshore, use a corporate issued device or a personal device, have had a background check performed, and whether they will be performing a critical function for the organization.

"When it comes to the cyber world, vendors must demonstrate that they understand security and have a mature security program in place, including policies and employee training," noted Asher DeMetz, manager- security consulting at Sungard Availability Services. Any third-party systems connected to the company's network would need to have a proper business function and owner, and align to the company's own security program (secure, monitored, controlled).

"The software or hardware would need to be validated with the correct security controls and attestation of security testing, and possibly compliance. If the third party is making configuration changes, these would have to go through proper change-management channels to ensure that they align to the security program and don't introduce risk into the environment," DeMetz added.

Risk management involving external actors can be a very challenging activity for a variety of reasons, said Bluelock Director of Engineering Derek Brost. "There are two major factors for consideration. First, is sufficiently involving legal counsel to ensure contractual designation of responsibility, diligence and due care. As a backstop, this should also permit enforcement or litigation related to reclaiming loss or damage if things go awry. Second, is allocating continuous resources for proper control and oversight of external activities in the form of authentication management, timely activity analysis, and especially audit review."

Unfortunately, businesses commonly involve third parties for cost reduction or "quick fixes," so an adequate level of investment may not be considered in the budget or overall cost for administering external actors, said Brost. However, like all risk management activities, these costs need to be considered up-front as part of the overall tolerance and loss potential.

Kennet Westby, president and co-founder of Coalfire, said every organization should have a robust third-party vendor management program that is built to support the validation that critical vendors are delivering on their committed services. Part of that vendor management process should be to validate that your vendor has internal security controls. If your vendor management program requires these third parties to operate at an even greater standard than your internal controls, you can actually reduce risk more than if internally managed.

That brings us to identity access management. As SecZetta explained in a blog post, no person or department is in charge of managing non-employee identities (people data) and their relationships at most companies. IT might provide access, but the initial access and managing of non-employee changes is charged to HR or procurement.


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