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Deciphering cybersecurity requirements in the Master Service Agreements (MSAs)

New and sophisticated cyber threats emerge daily in our Information Age, leaving most organizations vulnerable to many attack tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) without a solution. Moreover, as cybercrime continues to be a lucrative business venture for threat actors worldwide, governments and companies have also increased their investment in detective and corrective security controls to protect critical business assets.

According to the Cyber Security Breaches survey conducted by the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, two out of ten charities and over four in every ten enterprises in the UK are victims of cyberattacks every day. In addition, the survey discovered that small and midsize businesses (SMBs) often lacked the necessary countermeasures needed to protect themselves against basic cybersecurity threats. As a result, SMBs jeopardize their safety and security, and that of their third-party partners, just by conducting business operations below the security threshold line.

While cyber threats are evolving one the same pace as technological advances, larger organizations decided to include specific cybersecurity requirements into their master service agreements (MSAs). These agreements guide and dictate the unique connection between the organization and its assigned service providers within today’s cyber-threat landscape.

The Big Push for Cyber Risk Management

Cyber risk management focuses on assessing, analyzing, and responding to specific cybersecurity hazards in a company. A cyber risk assessment is always the first step in any cyber risk management program because it helps determine vulnerabilities and weaknesses within a corporate computing environment. For example, a financial institution might be using unpatched software to facilitate critical business operations for its partners and clients.

However, such poor security practices could be exploited by threat actors looking to leverage said financial institution’s legitimate access to attack their partners and clients. In such a scenario, a  security risk assessment conducted by a competent security partner will reveal the exploitable weakness before a threat actor discovers it.

A robust cyber-risk program is required before and during most third-party collaboration today to reduce transferable cybersecurity risks between business partnerships.  Such push for cyber risk management and security due diligence helps build mutual trust while keeping threat actors from critical business operations.

Uncovering the Cybersecurity Requirements in the New Master Service Agreements

Historically, MSAs outline the business and technological expectations of the parties partaking in a joint venture. This agreement binds the parties to uphold their end of the bargain, and it ensures that intellectual properties and trade secrets are equally protected. In addition, the MSA usually specifies the project scope, payment obligations, and other pertinent mandates.

However, new cybersecurity requirements have been added to the MSA in today’s threat landscape, concentrating on detective, preventive, and corrective security strategies to address cyber risks. As a result, larger firms often include specific cybersecurity policies, requirements, and standards into their MSAs to lower their proximity to cyber threats.

Some of the cybersecurity requirements included in the new MSAs are:

  1. Continuous Monitoring – pertains to tracking data assets within software and hardware infrastructures, including change logs, network traffic, access management, etc. In addition to occasional manual checks and balanced, most organizations leverage automated security monitoring tools to meet this requirement.
  2. Risk Assessments – these requirements comprise active (penetration testing) and passive security checks and audits to uncover security vulnerabilities or loopholes that threat actors could easily exploit. This cybersecurity requirement assures your clients and partners that your corporate security posture is resilient against potential security incidents.
  3. Incident Response – this security requirement ensures that organizations are equipped with the adequate tools, techniques, and processes required to respond to security incidents effectively.
  4. Cybersecurity Awareness Training – Human (cybersecurity) factors are the most important attributes when building a resilient security posture because people are the first line of defense against malicious activities. Therefore, MSAs tend to include clauses to ascertain the availability of corporate cybersecurity programs with continuous security awareness training. When correctly implemented, this requirement places your organization far above your competitors.
  5. Designated Cybersecurity Leadership – this requirement ensures an organization has a cybersecurity decision-maker who can align security objectives with business goals. Although many SMBs can’t afford to hire a full-time cybersecurity executive, the Chief Security Officer as a Service model delivers measured cybersecurity thought leadership and seasoned cybersecurity expertise for specific projects or contracts.

Selecting the Right Cybersecurity Partner to meet MSA Cybersecurity Requirements

Cybersecurity is a necessary component for any business with internet connectivity in the 21st century. However, due to the lack of proper resources, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), in particular, face challenges associated with maintaining a consistently robust security posture. Moreover, because good cybersecurity posture can be expensive and time-consuming, these businesses often forgo it—a fatal approach that can jeopardize the organization’s defensive security posture and that of their partners.

Thankfully, all hope is not lost for SMBs looking to leverage the expertise of the right cybersecurity partner to achieve similar cybersecurity protections as other larger organizations. Therefore, before engaging in an MSA, choosing a cybersecurity partner who can efficiently break down some of the complex cybersecurity requirements present in MSAs today is crucial.

Is your company looking for a cybersecurity partner to help explain and meet specific cybersecurity requirements in most corporate services agreements? Then, the following are reasons why selecting the right cybersecurity partner can help your company stay ahead of unannounced security audit checks:

  • The right cybersecurity partner is equipped with industry-specific experience, especially with security and privacy compliance frameworks.
  • The right cybersecurity partner provides a solution-based interpretation of cybersecurity requirements in the MSA to prevent unnecessary expenses on security controls that are not relevant.
  • The right cybersecurity partner discovers current and emerging security loopholes and provides efficient mitigation.

Conclusion

Technological advancements expose firms to various cyber threats, prompting large organizations to include cyber requirements in their new MSAs. This strategy determines the exact relationships that enterprises will have with their contractors based on their services. The goal is to work with businesses that have a strong cybersecurity posture.

To conduct business with large corporations, small and medium-sized firms must choose a credible cybersecurity partner. In addition, organizations must maintain adequate cybersecurity hygiene to prepare for the ever-changing cyber-threat landscape. By hiring a qualified cybersecurity partner, your organization can add an extra layer of defense to its computing infrastructure.