The increase of third-party vendor data breaches is an opportunity for startups to do security from the get-go

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How Cyber-savvy is your company?

By Patrick Coomans

The speed of digital transformation forces large enterprises to increasingly make use of smaller software-based tech companies in order to keep up with the pace of their competition.

Meanwhile, data breaches continue to dominate the headlines. A worrying observation is that cyber criminals are targeting large enterprises more and more by targeting their suppliers, leading to a steep increase in third-party vendor data breaches.

As a result, large enterprises are increasing the time and energy they are spending on making sure their suppliers have implemented the highest security standards through recurring cybersecurity risk assessments and lengthy questionnaires. After all, there is a lot at stake; if consumer data is breached, the enterprises remain responsible. Most large enterprises have a rigid approach to procurement and third-party vendor risk management, and they try to transfer their risks to their suppliers as much as possible. In reality, however, most of the often-smaller suppliers don’t have the financial power to survive if their end customers’ data would be breached.

This is a more significant challenge for software companies who offer digital solutions in Financial Services; so-called FinTech and Tech-for-Fin companies. By opening the banking ecosystem through API’s (Application Programmable Interfaces), banks and financial institutions risk being compromised through integrations with the fintech company. Thus, some CISO’s even say their third-party vendors have become their biggest CyberSecurity risk.

This creates a tremendous opportunity for digital startups and scale-ups to differentiate themselves by doing security right from the start. Studies have shown that it’s easier and a lot cheaper to build proper security if it’s done in the beginning.

Moreover, we’ve noticed that if companies treat security as a mere compliance check-in-the-box, or even as an afterthought, it is a guarantee that a data breach will occur sooner rather than later. When we look at the most prominent cases where data has been breached, all of those companies had certifications such as ISO27K or PCI DSS. Nevertheless, they were breached.

As Christian Moldes wrote in the Journal of Cyber Security and Information Systems:Organizations can be compliant but not secure: why is it that PCI-Certified Companies Are Being Breached? Organizations must continue to focus on the goal of safeguarding customer data, not just pass the PCI DSS assessment. Consumers are counting on organizations to secure data in transit while providing appropriate level of vulnerability management and overall risk management.

Security should be embedded in the DNA of every software company.

Approaches to innovations such as “design thinking” and “minimum viable product” shouldn’t be interpreted as “we can add security much later”.

It is great to build a Minimum Viable Product just to demonstrate a business idea and a valuable concept, but once that conceptual piece of software is taken to the next level, it should be redesigned from the ground up with proper business continuity and embedded cyber security measures. Too often, we see a demonstrator evolve to become a product that then needs a full “2.0” redesign in order to meet the minimum security and continuity requirements, which is very costly and time consuming.

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