Tue, Jul 2, 2019

People, Process and Technology in a Legal Vendor Cyber Risk Management Program


Successfully executing a thorough cyber risk process requires people with cyber risk expertise. If you do not have these SMEs as part of your full-time legal operations staff, you can secure their services in one of three ways:

  • Hire Resources: Many organizations use the concept of a business information security officer to play the role of cyber security SME for a business unit. Some corporate legal departments are large enough to have this role on staff, but you should consider whether you have the volume of work to keep someone in this role busy full-time. If you can justify the volume, then you should consider the cost. Senior cyber security experts in major metropolitan markets are commanding high salaries and have many opportunities available to them. Few of these experts have direct experience in the legal market. You will likely need to offer significant salary and incentives to secure such a full-time hire, and doing so quickly may not be possible with today’s labor market. Be prepared to endure both the timeline and the fully burdened cost if you choose to secure a full-time in-house resource to support this effort.
  • Leverage Internal Resources: Today, large enterprises operate information security departments that have a large degree of influence and high level of capability. These large firms have a significant set of talent and capabilities on staff and can address some of today’s most pressing cyber security issues. The question you must answer is whether you can leverage these resources for your program’s needs and at what cost. Sometimes these internal cyber risk assessment resources are only available through an existing procurement process that does not make sense for your legal vendors. Sometimes these resources are limited if another business unit has pressing issues, making their timelines long and unpredictable. Finally, these resources may come with cross-billed charges for their time that can approach the cost of either your own dedicated resource or dedicated external resources. 
  • Leverage External Resources: Outside vendors are a popular way to secure cyber security expertise on an as-needed basis. The plus side of this model is that you can often secure a high level of cyber expertise on short notice and use it when you need it, giving you flexibility to meet changing demands in your workload. You should consider the particular expertise in choosing your security consultant, including experience in cyber risk assessments and the legal vertical. Be prepared to pay a premium for these skills in an on-demand manner or to sign a longer-term agreement because these consultants are in high demand.

Defining the process for your Legal Vendor Cyber Risk Management program (LVCRM) will be critical to its success. Part 2: Develop Your Legal Vendor Cyber Risk Management Program details the risk management life cycle and has specifics on the elements you need to ensure your program addresses. If your LVCRM program is not yet well-defined, consider leveraging a service provider that can help you build out your process. Some providers have predefined processes that align well with the goals of a LVCRM program. Others will help you define your processes as part of their engagement. Consider how far along you are in your own development and choose support that will meet you where you are and get you where you are trying to go. Typically, these services are coupled with people, technology or both.


Using software to help build and run your LVCRM program is a must. Achieving best practices without the aid of technology is virtually impossible. You should also be diligent in your procurement process to ensure that any technology you choose optimally enhances your capabilities without limiting your program or providing a false sense of security with regards to your process, output or risk findings. 

In general, third-party risk technology breaks down as follows:

  • Assessments Only: The most basic technology used in third-party risk is offered in an assessment only model. While thinking of a questionnaire as a piece of technology may seem counterintuitive, a significant amount of technical thinking is often put into these best-of-breed assessments. An assessment should allow you to address the risks you have identified as being priorities for your organization, map to a standard and allow you to get a rich understanding of your vendor’s responses (beyond simply yes/no). On the other hand, an assessment should not be overwhelming for a vendor to complete and should be accessible to vendors that may not have cyber security or technical expertise on staff (which is common for smaller and mid-sized legal vendors). By leveraging an assessment that has been developed specifically for third-party risk assessments, you can significantly shorten your time frame to begin assessing vendors and avoid common pitfalls when creating an assessment internally and from scratch. Be sure to get buy-in from the requisite stakeholders on the assessment because the data returned from this exercise will serve as the bedrock for the rest of your process. 
  • Distribution and Collection Tools: A plethora of tools are available to help you distribute and collect your third-party risk assessments. In the smallest of organizations, these tools may be common manual tools, such as email. For organizations of any larger size, a dedicated software platform is a meaningful improvement and considered a best practice for achieving third-party risk assessments at scale. Some of these platforms are also paired with assessments, which can address two areas of technology with a single purchase. Others require you to bring your own assessment content to the platform. Be sure to understand which functionality is present in any vendor you are considering and understand how that functionality, or lack thereof, fits into your overall processes. While these platforms can significantly accelerate the distribution and collection process, you should understand what other capabilities are offered. Some may offer algorithmic validation or enforce certain rules (e.g., completeness, collecting required evidence). Be aware, however, that these platforms generally do not have functionality beyond returning completed assessments. As a result, you may be able to leverage these platforms to get to a large data set more quickly but will still be faced with the challenge of making meaning of that data and using it to drive better risk-based decisions, which can be difficult to do without the support of a technology platform. 
  • Analysis and Workflow Platforms: Recently, some vendors have begun creating third-party risk assessment platforms that are focused not only on the assessment and distribution/collection components but also have built-in capabilities to help your program perform analysis at scale, support the risk management workflow and even address remediation and ongoing monitoring needs. These platforms tend to incorporate assessment and distribution/collection as part of their overall capability, meaning that by purchasing one of these platforms you can get the highest level of functionality. A select few of these offerings can also be paired with managed services from the same vendor, resulting in a particularly potent combination of support for your LVCRM program. When evaluating these vendors, ensure that you understand how they support each of the program areas that you are building, their cost model (flat fee per year, per vendor assessment, per enterprise user, etc.) and what level of support you can expect at that price.
Other Benefits

Finally, as you consider your partners, ask if they can bring any other benefits in addition to their people, process or technology contributions. Some vendors can provide an accelerated review process through an exchange model, where they may have already completed reusable assessments on some of your vendors. In certain cases, a significant number of your vendors already may be present in this exchange, which can significantly shorten the time it takes for you to implement best practices.

Other aspects to consider are partners who can support additional elements of the risk management life cycle, including validation services – either on-site or remote – or specific support for remediation activities with your vendors. These validation and remediation capabilities will enhance your risk story in many ways. Validation ensures that your data is as accurate as possible and has been reviewed by experts prior to being used to make a risk-based decision. Remediation capabilities for vendors help answer the difficult questions around how you may be addressing the risks you’re discovering through this process. Both elements can be incredibly time-consuming to achieve on your own and often appear as tangential to the core elements of the LVCRM program. Thus, they are given lower priority for smaller teams or programs with resource constraints. Finding a partner who can help provide these capabilities will further enrich your program by more accurately identifying risks and more diligently working to manage them.

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