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Third-party security questionnaires: 5 pitfalls to avoid as CISO

Jelle Groenendaal
Jelle Groenendaal
June 12, 2024
0 min read
Third-party security questionnaires: 5 pitfalls to avoid as CISO


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As a CISO, managing third-party risk is a critical part of your job. One common tool is the third-party security questionnaire. These questionnaires are designed to assess the security posture of your third-parties, such as vendors, suppliers, and partners. However, many CISOs encounter significant challenges with these tools. Based on our conversations with risk management experts and users, we have identified 5 key pitfalls CISO's should avoid to ensure better response rates, accuracy, and reliability. Here are the insights and solutions derived from these discussions.

Pitfall 1: Overly complex questionnaires

Complexity is the enemy of efficiency. Many security questionnaires are too long and complicated. Vendors often face dozens of these requests, and lengthy forms can lead to fatigue. When a questionnaire is too intricate, vendors may rush through it, increasing the risk of incomplete or inaccurate responses. Additionally, open-ended questions can be particularly challenging and time-consuming for vendors to answer.

Solution: Simplify your questionnaires. Focus on the most critical aspects of security that align with your security and risk management strategy. Use clear and concise language and prioritise questions that address the core security controls relevant to your business. Stick to closed questions, which are easier to answer and provide more consistent data. Closed questions can help streamline the process and improve the quality of responses.

Pitfall 2: One-size-fits-all approach

Not all vendors pose the same level of risk. A one-size-fits-all questionnaire does not account for the varying risk profiles of different vendors. Applying the same stringent criteria to a low-risk vendor as you would to a high-risk one can waste time and resources. Some organisations are more critical to your operations than others, making it imperative to perform more in-depth assessments for those high-impact vendors.

Solution: Tailor your questionnaires to the risk level of each vendor. Develop tiered questionnaires that align with the risk exposure. For example, a cloud service provider might need a more detailed questionnaire than a small vendor. Conduct deeper assessments for critical vendors to ensure their security posture meets your standards. Our platform can automates this for you.

Pitfall 3: Assessing third parties in isolation

In many organisations, various departments such as sustainability, compliance, procurement, and security often conduct separate assessments of third parties. This lack of coordination and alignment leads to several issues. Suppliers may receive multiple, overlapping requests for information, causing confusion and frustration. Assessing third parties in isolation makes it challenging to obtain a comprehensive understanding of supplier risk. Each department might only consider risks relevant to their specific domain, missing the broader picture.  

Solution: Establish a centralised, coordinated approach to third-party assessments. Get a shared questionnaire or assessment tool that addresses the key concerns of each department. This unified tool should be designed to capture information relevant to all relevant risk domains. By consolidating requests into a single, comprehensive assessment, you reduce the burden on suppliers and improve the quality and consistency of the information gathered.

Pitfall 4: Ignoring industry best practices

Ignoring industry best practices in third-party security questionnaires can create significant inefficiencies and frustrations for both your organisation and your suppliers. When questionnaires do not adhere to common frameworks like ISO 27001, NIST, or CIS, suppliers are often forced to answer the same questions repeatedly, each time in a different format. This repetitive process not only increases the workload for suppliers but also leads to inconsistent data that is difficult to compare and analyse.

Solution: Stick to common frameworks such as ISO 27001, NIST, or CIS and use references to these frameworks in your questionnaires. For instance, instead of crafting unique questions about data encryption, you can refer to specific controls in ISO 27001 that address this issue. By aligning your assessments with well-established industry standards, you can streamline the process for both your organisation and your suppliers.

Pitfall 5: Not explaining the ‘why’

Many organisations fail to explain why completing the questionnaire is important. Without understanding the purpose and significance, vendors might not prioritise these requests, leading to delays and subpar responses.

Solution: Clearly communicate the importance of the questionnaire to your vendors. Explain how their responses impact your organisation's security and compliance efforts. Highlight the benefits of a thorough assessment, such as building a stronger partnership and ensuring mutual security. This transparency can motivate vendors to provide accurate and timely responses. Use video-explainers and involve senior leadership to stress the importance of compliance.

Bonus pitfall: Only relying on questionnaires

Questionnaires are a valuable tool, but they should not be your only method of assessing third-party risk. Sole reliance on questionnaires can lead to gaps in your understanding of a vendor's security posture.

Solution: Complement questionnaires with other assessment methods. Conduct on-site visits, request security certifications, and perform or demand regular audits. Use automated tools or security rating providers to continuously monitor your vendors' security practices. This multi-faceted approach provides a more comprehensive view of your vendors’ security.


Third-party security questionnaires are a valuable tool in your third-party risk management arsenal. However, avoiding these common pitfalls can significantly improve their effectiveness. By simplifying questionnaires, tailoring them to risk levels, ensuring coordination among teams, and aligning with industry best practices, you can enhance the reliability and accuracy of the information you receive. As a CISO, these strategies will help you better manage third-party risks and protect your organisation’s sensitive data.

Jelle Groenendaal
Co-founder & CMO

“Aside from large corporations such as ING Bank or KBC, we value contributing to the bigger picture. That’s why we’re currently supporting The Ocean Cleanup project with our technology"

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Jelle Groenendaal