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12 June 2024

Why managing third-party access is critical for modern businesses

Imagine for a moment that you have a set of master keys that unlock all the doors to your house and garage. You’ve decided to hand them out to everyone who comes to visit – whether it’s friends, relatives, work colleagues, tradespeople or even the postman – to give them free access to do whatever they need without your intervention each time. But, as a result, they can walk in and out of your property any time they want, and you have no way of knowing when they came in and what they did while there. 

This obviously sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it sums up many organisations’ position on third-party access to their systems. While collaborating with third-party vendors is essential for driving efficiency and innovation, it also introduces significant risks without effective privileged access management controls.  

Effective management of third-party access can enhance an organisation’s security posture, streamline audit and compliance efforts, increase productivity through automation, and optimise costs associated with managing external privileges and licenses across the enterprise. This blog will explore how third-party access works, why it’s so important to know who has access to what and when, and the best solutions to unlock the benefits mentioned above. 


What is ‘third-party access’?  

Third-party access refers to the act of giving external vendors and service providers secure access to business-critical systems like SAP, Salesforce, or M365. This access is normally granted so that they can perform important activities like administration, maintenance, or management. It’s common for organisations to rely on external suppliers for internal IT system, application, and infrastructure support, which requires them to grant these third parties privileged access to both on-premise and cloud-based systems.  

Generally, this means assigning a licence, provisioning a VPN for access outside of the corporate network, and access to a privileged account for whatever activities are being carried out. However, in many cases, the access provisioned is only needed very occasionally by each third-party user, which can lead to unnecessary cost and risk implications.  


Why third-party access needs to be properly managed  

At a typical large organisation, a vast range of external suppliers will log into internal systems in any given week, ranging from building maintenance and contractors to suppliers, consultants and IT services providers. While this is all part and parcel of normal business operations, leaving it unchecked and unmonitored could introduce serious risks.  

Inadequate management of third-party access could violate various regulatory frameworks such as ISO 27001, PCI, and NIS2, leading to non-compliance penalties. Additionally, this lack of visibility and control can hinder an organisation's ability to secure cyber insurance coverage. But perhaps most alarmingly, it heightens the impact of data breaches and malware infections, which can inflict serious financial, operational and reputational damage to any organisation.  

No business is immune to the risks of unmanaged third-party privileged access. For example, in March 2024, fast food giant McDonald's experienced a global IT outage, preventing its servers from processing payments and leading to restaurant closures around the globe. Although McDonald's said publicly that this was ‘not a cybersecurity event’, it was caused by a third-party provider making configuration changes within the McDonald’s environment. This means it most certainly was a cybersecurity event, a severe one that impacted McDonald’s sales, its staff productivity, and its reputation, all demanding substantial resolution costs. 


The solution: Privileged Access Management 

Privileged Access Management (PAM) solutions represent the best way to address third-party access management in the modern business landscape.  

A PAM programme employs a policy-driven approach to regulate which individuals can access sensitive systems and data, specifying the types of privileged actions permissible under different circumstances. PAM solutions safeguard authorised access by creating, storing, and managing privileged credentials like passwords and keys within an encrypted vault, enabling total oversight of the lifecycle of all privileged accounts.  

Implementing PAM enables organisations to monitor the activities and conduct of every privileged user and account, including those external to the business. The leading PAM solutions incorporate concurrent licence model capabilities, removing the need for permanent assignment of licences, and enabling secure remote access into environments without using clunky VPNs.  

Additionally, enterprise-grade analytics capabilities empower organisations to demonstrate compliance to auditors and executives effortlessly. This integrated approach allows IT and security teams to collaborate seamlessly in protecting privileged users, preventing unauthorised privileged actions, and optimising costs. 

Managing third-party access with a cohesive, organisation-wide PAM solution offers several key advantages: 

  • Improved security posture by closing a major security gap around vendor access. 
  • Reduced risk through tighter controls and monitoring of vendor-enabled sessions, minimising the attack surface. 
  • Boosted productivity through automation that saves the IT team valuable time, and reduced access-related friction for the workforce. 
  • Simplified auditing with detailed activity logs that enable greater real-time visibility and easier compliance reporting. 
  • Better oversight covering third-party suppliers with granular policies that enhance governance. 
  • Faster onboarding for external vendors, that can be smoothly integrated into the business from day one using repeatable and proven models. 

In summary 

Managing third-party privileged access is crucial for safeguarding your organisation's sensitive data, systems and reputation. By adopting a comprehensive PAM solution, you can protect your business from harm and bridge the gap between secure collaboration and operational efficiency, unlocking the full potential of your third-party relationships. 

Find out more on how to harness the business advantages of better third-party access management in our upcoming webinar by registering here.