In today’s interconnected business environment, organizations are increasingly relying on third parties and vendors for critical business functions. While these relationships can provide efficiency and cost savings, they also introduce significant cybersecurity risks if not properly managed. Recent high-profile data breaches like Target, Equifax and others were caused by vulnerabilities in third party systems.
The largest was the Cam4 data breach in 2020 which exposed more than 10 billion data records. As a result, managing and mitigating third party cyber risks has become a top priority for security teams.
Role Played by Threat Intelligence in Managing Third Party Risk
This is where threat intelligence can play a crucial role. Threat intelligence provides contextual information about existing and emerging cyber threats that may impact an organization and its third party ecosystem. In 2023, cyber threat intelligence market value was estimated at 11.6 billion US dollars and is expected to exceed 21 billion dollars by 2027. By leveraging threat intelligence, organizations can take a proactive approach to identifying areas of risk and compromise associated with third parties. By the beginning of 2025 and the end of 2024, the burden and cost of cyber attacks on the global economy are predicted to be above 10 trillion dollars. Here are some key ways threat intelligence enables more effective third party risk management:
Enrich Vendor Assessments
Most organizations conduct some level of third party due diligence of security practices before partnering. However, these assessments provide just a snapshot in time and may miss recent threat activity relevant to the third party. Threat intelligence can augment vendor assessments by providing additional context about recent threats, breaches and vulnerabilities associated with the third party. This may include compromised credentials, malware infections, botnet activity, dark web exposure, and other red flags.
Monitor for Emerging Threats
Third party risk management requires continuous monitoring beyond initial third-party cyber risk assessments. Even if a vendor has solid security practices, new threats emerge constantly. Threat intelligence feeds can be monitored for new vulnerabilities, attacks, and compromises related to third parties. If a vendor’s systems become infected with ransomware or compromised by an APT group, threat intelligence can provide an early warning, allowing the organization to quickly assess potential impact and risk.
Verify Security Claims
Many third or fourth parties make security capability claims that are difficult to verify or validate and together with third party it mandates the need for fourth party risk management as well. Threat intelligence provides insight into the robustness and efficacy of security tools and practices. For example, a vendor may claim it has not suffered any ransomware attacks. Historical threat reporting could uncover information about past undisclosed attacks. Threat intelligence paints a clearer picture of risk that moves beyond a vendor’s self-reported security posture.
Not all cyber threats present an equal level of risk. Threat intelligence provides important context around observed threats and vulnerabilities that enable more accurate risk assessments. For example, botnet activity on a vendor network may seem initially alarming. But with added context that the botnets are targeting a different industry, geographic region, or system component, the risk can be properly scoped. Threat intelligence enables risk prioritization based on context that may not be evident through assessments alone.
Inform Mitigation Strategies
When a credible threat or compromise related to a third party is uncovered, threat intelligence aids development of risk mitigation strategies. Detailed reporting on adversary Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs), compromised credentials, and other indicators of compromise inform more tactical responses. Threat intelligence provides insights that help organizations determine the most effective controls, access restrictions, and other mitigations based on the adversary tradecraft.
Map Attack Surface
Threat intelligence can aid in identifying the different ways an adversary can gain access to a third party’s systems and data, also known as attack surface mapping. By collating threat data on all known compromised vectors such as phishing, exploits, credentials theft, misconfigurations, etc. the attack surface can be modeled to focus risk mitigations against the most likely threats. Attack surface analysis provides focus for properly securing critical systems and data accessed by third parties.
Improve Incident Response
When a third party suffers a confirmed breach or incident, threat intelligence speeds investigation and response. Detailed threat reporting that characterizes the adversary’s goals, capabilities, and historical targets helps internal incident responders coordinate more efficiently with the third party’s response teams. Understanding the adversary profile enables responders to more quickly identify impacted systems, determine what data was accessed, and support forensic evidence gathering. Threat intelligence ultimately helps minimize breach impact, reduce recovery time, and build resilience.
While no security control is foolproof, approaching managed third-party risk assessment with threat intelligence delivers more comprehensive security visibility. Both internal and external threat data can provide actionable intelligence at each stage of the vendor risk lifecycle – from assessments and onboarding through continuous monitoring. Threat intelligence arms security teams with contextual threat awareness that reduces blind spots, prioritizes risks, and enables faster response. As third parties become more deeply integrated into core business functions, maturing threat intelligence capabilities provide a key advantage in protecting increasingly complex business ecosystems.