RSAC insights: How ‘TPRM’ can help shrink security skills gap — while protecting supply chains

By Byron V. Acohido

Third-Party Risk Management (TPRM) has been around since the mid-1990s – and has become something of an auditing nightmare.

Related: A call to share risk assessments

Big banks and insurance companies instilled the practice of requesting their third-party vendors to fill out increasingly bloated questionnaires, called bespoke assessments, which they then used as their sole basis for assessing third-party risk.

TPRM will be in the spotlight at the RSA Conference 2022 this week (June 6 -9) in San Francisco. This is because third-party risk has become a huge problem for enterprises in the digital age. More so than ever, enterprises need to move beyond check-the-box risk assessments; there’s a clear and present need to proactively mitigate third-party risks.

The good news is that TPRM solution providers are innovating to meet this need, as will be showcased at RSA. One leading provider is Denver, Colo.-based CyberGRX. I had the chance to sit down with their CISO, Dave Stapleton, to learn more about the latest advancements in TPRM security solutions. For a full drill down of our discussion, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are key takeaways:

Smoothing audits

CyberGRX launched in 2016 precisely because bespoke assessments had become untenable. Questionnaires weren’t standardized, filling them out and collecting them had become a huge burden, and any truly useful analytics just never happened.

“Sometimes you’d get a 500-question questionnaire and that would be one out of 5,000 you’d get over the course of a year,” Stapleton says, referring to a scenario that a large payroll processing company had to deal with.

CyberGRX created an online exchange to serve as a clearinghouse where assessments could be more efficiently – and usefully – administered. Digital transformation had taken hold; so their timing was pitch perfect.

“Usage of third-party vendors has escalated exponentially in the past 10 years, and businesses also rely on them for more sensitive and critical activities,” Stapleton noted.

Moving the questionnaires to an exchange model meant introducing a standardized crowdsourcing approach to compiling and making available what was previously bespoke assessment data. This also made remediation – i.e. getting third-party vendors to mitigate potential risks and maintain compliance with audit benchmarks – much smoother.


This alone was a huge improvement. “The exchange model has been quite revolutionary,” Stapleton says. “We were able to reduce the level of effort for both third parties and their customers. Third parties get fewer requests so they can focus more time and energy on security; customers have one place they can go to get the data they need.”

Cyber risks profiling

CyberGRX’s global cyber risk Exchange caught on quickly. But, the company founders never intended to stop at simply cleaning up bespoke  assessments. The exchange has proven to be a perfect mechanism for fleshing out much richer cyber risk profiles of third-party vendors. It does this by ingesting and correlating data from a wide array of security-related  datasets.

This folds in fresh intelligence that goes far beyond the ground covered in traditional bespoke assessments, which are merely the starting point. Questionnaire answers get cross referenced against cybersecurity best practice protocols put out by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, namely NIST 800-53 and NIST 800-171.

CyberGRX is also able to leverage real-time threat intelligence feeds by partnering with leading threat intelligence vendors. These vendors integrate their abilities to monitor malware circulation and cyber-attack activity in real time within the Exchange platform, including staying alert for any signs of third-party vendor cyber assets turning up in murky parts of the Dark Web.

Another function of the Exchange is to analyze a third-party vendor’s “firmographics” – publicly known details such as geographic location, industry type, target markets, business performance and organizational structure. So contextual industry background and fresh threat landscape intel gets continually infused into traditional audit findings. Stapleton characterizes this as “cyber risk intelligence” profiling.

“The idea behind it is that this is a process of collecting the right data, creating your own quality data and performing very complex analysis in order to produce actionable results,” he says.

Cyber hygiene boost

This enrichment of the check-the-box approach to third-party risk assessments is paying off on a number levels, he says. Material productivity gains derive from risk managers on both sides spending much less time mucking with bespoke audits. “”Our methodology provides security and risk professionals with next-level insights that empower them to quickly make decisions in regards to risk management. Therefore, spending less time on mitigating risks and more time focusing on other important initiatives”,” Stapleton says.

More nuanced benefits accrue, as well. For instance, as more substantive vetting of third-party vendors gains traction, the overall level of supply chain cyber hygiene gets boosted. Third parties quickly discover that checking boxes isn’t going to be enough; first-party enterprises gain clarity, in a very practical sense, on security practices they need to prioritize.

Observes Stapleton:  “It’s a combination of capabilities that produces something that is truly actionable, specifically for the purposes of improving third party risk management outcomes.”

The ceiling for strengthening security postures – of third parties and first parties alike — is high. For instance, Stapleton described for me how CyberGRX can now correlate firmographics to threat intel feeds and audit data to provide innovative new services that were unheard of just a couple of years ago.

For one, the exchange can now reliably predict how a vendor will respond to a risk assessment without having them input any information. Thus, an enterprise can weigh whether to accept a given supplier — without necessarily administering a full-blown assessment audit.

For another, the exchange is continually improving its capacity to granularly gauge a third-party vendor’s exposure to a high-profile vulnerability or even a certain type of exploit known to be circulating in the wild.

“We can map to something like the MITRE ATT&CK framework and perform an analysis that tells you which of your third parties are most likely to be vulnerable to something like Log4J.”

What’s more, advanced third-party risk mitigation can also help offset the cybersecurity skills shortage. “We’re putting our security professionals back to work instead of filling out spreadsheets,” Stapleton asserts, “and we’re giving enterprises information they can use to start working with their third parties today to improve security of the supply chain.”

This is one part of igniting a virtuous cycle. New cloud-centric security frameworks, like Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) and Secure Access Services Edge (SASE) Access, and new security tools – to advance detection and response, as well as properly configure all cyber assets —  must take hold as well. I’ll keep watch and keep reporting.


Pulitzer Prize-winning business journalist Byron V. Acohido is dedicated to fostering public awareness about how to make the Internet as private and secure as it ought to be.

(LW provides consulting services to the vendors we cover.)


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