Security Risk or Feature Request – Software due diligence – who controls your reputation?

If you can think of a business process nowadays, there’s probably either an outsourced service or off the shelf piece of software that will perform it for you. As part of any outsourcing arrangement, due diligence will be performed. However, what happens when you buy a piece of software?

If an organisation suffers a data breach thanks to an outsourcing partner not living up to their part of the bargain, there’s always the potential to mitigate reputational damage through plausible deniability. However, when you install and manage a piece of software, whatever happens is all your fault, so what can you do to make sure that software vendors take your reputation as seriously as you do?

Security Testing – In an ideal world, software would undergo a rigorous testing regime. Back in the real world though, software will usually undergo an element of functional testing with security testing either being an afterthought or the end user’s problem. Before you buy software that your trusting with your reputation, ask the vendor for their most recent security testing results. If they try to make it your problem, look elsewhere. If they are an open approach (CANVAS LMS is a good example here), stick with that vendor and don’t let them go.

Remediation Process – Ask the vendor for their documented process for actioning vulnerability reports. If the vendor shows your a full process documenting risk assessment and communication procedures including a liberal sprinkling of response timelines, give them a tick in the box for this one. If they give you a blank look, their competitors may want to help you.

Do your own testing – So, if you’ve found the unicorn that is a vendor taking information security seriously, why would you want to do your own testing? Penetration testing arranged by a vendor will often take place in a sterile environment that doesn’t necessarily resemble the real world. A real world configuration may introduce previously undiscovered flaws.

Show me – The cynical part of me strongly believes that if a vendor smells a sale, they’ll. tell you whatever you want to hear, so don’t take them at their word, have them show you that they take the security of your customers’ data seriously.

Performing due diligence is just as important for COTS that could have an impact n your sensitive data as it is for an outsourcing partner. Above all else, if you find a vendor who uses the term “Feature Request” instead of the more commonly used “Urgent Security Fix” run away as quickly as you can – they’re not taking security of your information as seriously as you are!

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