CYBERSECURITY EDUCATION
What to know about customer security questionnaires.
A security questionnaire is a document or set of documents that are sent by one business to another to assess and document the security, privacy, compliance and other controls of another.
Why do I need customer security questionnaires?
What do customer security questionnaires look like?
How do I create customer security questionnaires?
What is wrong with other options?
How do I maintain customer security questionnaires?

Why do I need customer security questionnaires?

You need to know that you are sending your data to a safe place where the access to it will be controlled, it will be used for only approved purposes and it will be handled using industry standards. Similarly, if you are connecting your internal network to another, you will want to know that you will not be blindly exposing your infrastructure to the risks of another.
Your customers and partners want the same thing.

Requesting vendors to complete questionnaires for you

When asking others to complete questionnaires for you, you are not only protecting yourself, but are protecting your customers. It is important to create a vendor management program that is thorough. This will help your information security team manage risks that come about from the potential flaws in your vendors' security, privacy and compliance programs.
You will be able to assure your customers by sharing details about your vendor management program with them.

When prospects and customers require questionnaires of you

Your customers and prospects also seek to protect their internal environments and customers. It is important that they ask detailed questions of you so that they can report their findings to their internal team, as well as their customers.
This process creates a business ecosystem where you trust your customers, their customers trust them and so forth. Data and technologies are then able to connect and move across businesses freely with less overall risk and common standards of integrity.

What do customer security questionnaires look like?

Above is a brief look at a customer security questionnaire.

Variations

Customer questionnaires will range from one to tens of pages. They will ask different questions based on many criteria.

How do I create customer security questionnaires?

Customer security questionnaires may be created on a case-by-case basis, but are typically templated in a vendor management process. It is likely you will send a similar document to your prospects and customers repeatedly.

Creating a questionnaire to give to others

You will create a questionnaire to give to others based on many factors which will include: your own security, privacy and compliance program and standards; your certifications and commitments; existing customer requirements; industry standards; specifications related to the type of data that you will send to them or the type of systems you will use from them.
You cannot assume that a company has strong security, compliance and privacy because they are a large company or established brand. These are not correlated. It is important to ask specific and detailed questions of partners and vendors regardless of size, reputation or your familiarity with their founder.

Creating a response to a questionnaire from others

It is important to set aside the necessary amount of time to be thorough, detailed and completely honest to your prospects and customers. You may complete your response directly into the document provided, if allowed. In other circumstances, you will respond in a separate document. Some will allow that you send over your SOC 2 document to them in lieu of responding to specific questions.

How do I track my responses to large volumes of questionnaires?

If you are receiving a large volume of customer security questionnaires, it will be difficult to track, implement and prioritize the customer requirements that you commit to. VioletX works with companies who experience this workload.
For companies that manage this function internally, it is important to assign this task to an employee that is well-versed in both security and compliance, and is familiar with your certification documents, security programs and customer agreements.

Operate with complete honesty

It is highly recommended to always be fully honest on customer security questionnaires and to meet the agreed upon requirements. You will be open to liability if you are intentionally or unintentionally incorrect.

How do I maintain customer security questionnaires?

It is important to systematically track your customers' requirements, as well as the life of the security questionnaire. You will likely manage multiple questionnaires across multiple clients. It is important to store these documents where they are easily accessible and to know your differing service-level agreements.
You can use your customer security questionnaires to expand your documentation and certifications, such as your SOC 2. Your customers can create a feedback loop of market expectations that guide your growth and maturity to pace your industry.
Customers may send follow-on questionnaires with expanded expectations. This may occur during the renewal process, but also at any time. It is important to keep all versions of your customer agreements together for reference to ensure you are meeting expectations and are not open to liability.

Disparate details across customers

Security questionnaires share commonalities across customers, though many will bring forward unique expectations and technicalities. You may agree to enhanced or modified practices in order to secure a high-value customer. It is important to track anomalous criteria as it pertains to each customer and be able to reference these agreements.
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