While cyber-attackers are increasingly targeting third-party suppliers as a way to get access to their clients, most companies do not evaluate the security readiness of their partners and software providers.
A group of 10 financial firms aims to remedy this lack of oversight with the release of guidelines advising companies on the best ways to evaluate the risk posed by their third-party suppliers. Security managers from Aetna, Capital One, Citibank, Morgan Stanley and Thomson Reuters formed the Third-Party Software Security Working Group, part of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, (FS-ISAC) and published the guidelines last month.
While the security assessment of third-party vendors is a common requirement for various compliance regimes, those evaluations typically boil down to self-assessment questionnaires and are only completed annually, Jim Routh, chief information security officer at Aetna told eWEEK.
"The controls that have been well established to evaluate third parties do not really reflect the change in the attack surface and are not comprehensive enough to have kept up with advances in security practices," Routh said.
Suppliers are a real source of security risk for companies, but one usually overlooked by businesses. In its 2013 Global Security Report, security services firm Trustwave found that 63 percent of compromised firms had outsourced a significant part of their information-technology operations.
"Outsourcing can help businesses gain effective, cost-friendly IT services," the firm's report stated. "However, businesses need to understand the risk their vendors may introduce and proactively work to decrease that risk."
Relatively few companies are working proactively with partners and suppliers to reduce security risks. Currently only 22 percent of companies collaborate with their third-party suppliers on incident response planning and only 20 percent of the companies polled evaluate the security of their suppliers more than once a year, according to the 2013 U.S. State of Cybercrime Survey published by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The working group's guidelines recommend that companies evaluate the maturity of their suppliers' software and product development efforts using a process known as the Build Security in Maturity Model, or BSIMM. Companies should also evaluate software for defects and vulnerability using static analysis. Finally, firms should evaluate their use of open-source software libraries and frameworks, the group advised.
Getting companies to adopt the evaluation of third-party risk will not be easy, said Routh.
"I don't have any illusions: The financial industry has attempted consistent application controls in third-party governance in many different ways," he said. "This is a way of putting a stake in the ground and say, 'These are the best practices today, and you should apply these going forward.'"