How Schools Can Reduce Third Party Vendor Security Risks

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How Schools Can Reduce Third Party Vendor Security Risks

Educational institutions in the UK, including schools, often work with dozens of third-party vendors to provide numerous services to students and staff. However, this reliance on third-party vendors can introduce considerable security risks if the school does not maintain a proper vendor risk management (VRM) program.

Types of Third-Party Vendor Services in schools

In the UK, schools may use a variety of third-party vendors to provide various services. Here are examples of third-party vendors that schools may use include:

  1. Student information systems: Vendors that provide software and services to manage student data, such as student demographics, grades, and attendance.
  2. Online learning platforms: Vendors that provide online learning platforms and resources for distance learning, such as virtual classrooms and e-learning materials.
  3. Communication tools: Vendors that provide communication tools, such as email, instant messaging, and video conferencing.
  4. Educational resources: Vendors that provide educational resources, such as textbooks, curriculum materials, and assessments.
  5. IT support: Vendors that provide IT support, such as network infrastructure, servers, and technical support.
  6. Security service: Vendors that provide security services, such as security cameras, intrusion detection, and access control systems.
  7. Payment gateway providers: Vendors that provide payment gateway services for online transactions.

These are only a few examples of vendors that schools use in the UK. Schools may also use other vendors depending on their specific needs and the services they provide.

Types of third vendor security risks faced by schools

As schools in the UK increasingly rely on technology to support teaching and learning, they are also becoming more vulnerable to vendor security risks. These risks can come from a variety of sources, including software providers, hardware manufacturers, and managed service providers. Here are a few examples of vendor security risks that schools should be aware of:

Unpatched software

Schools may be using software that is no longer supported by the vendor, which means that it is not receiving security updates. This can leave the school vulnerable to cyberattacks that exploit known vulnerabilities in the software.

Weak passwords

Many schools use cloud-based services provided by vendors, such as learning management systems or student information systems. These services often rely on weak default passwords that can be easily guessed by attackers.

Insufficient data encryption

Some vendors may not provide sufficient data encryption to protect sensitive student and staff information. This can leave the school at risk of data breaches if an attacker gains access to the systems.

Inadequate vendor security policies

Schools may be using vendors that do not have sufficient security policies in place to protect the data they are handling. This can leave the school at risk of data breaches or other security incidents.

Data breaches 

Vendors may not have adequate security measures in place to protect the data they collect and store on behalf of schools.


Vendors may inadvertently introduce malware into a school's network, which can cause damage and disrupt services.

Insider threats

Vendors may have employees who have access to sensitive information and who may misuse that access. 

How to reduce third party risks 

·   Conduct thorough due diligence: Before engaging with a third-party vendor, conduct a thorough due diligence process to assess their security posture. This should include reviewing their policies, procedures and compliance with relevant regulations and industry standards.

·   Implement vendor risk management program: Establish a vendor risk management program that includes regular risk assessments, security audits, and monitoring to identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities.

·   Use contracts and service level agreements to set security expectations: Include specific security requirements in contracts and service level agreements to ensure that vendors understand and meet the organisation's security expectations.

·   Communicate with vendors: Have open communication with vendors regarding security and be sure that vendors are aware of the organisation’s security expectations. Ask vendors for evidence of their security controls, such as certificates of compliance with industry standards.

·   Monitor for security incidents: Have incident response plans in place and monitor for security incidents that may be related to third-party vendors. This can include monitoring for suspicious activity on the organisation's network or for data breaches that may have been caused by a vendor's security weakness.

·   Continuously monitor and assess vendors: Regularly assess and monitor third-party vendors to ensure their security posture is in compliance with the organisation’s expectations.

·   Limit access to sensitive data: Limit the access third-party vendors have to sensitive data, and ensure that all data shared with vendors is encrypted.

·   Have an incident response plan: Have an incident response plan in place, in case a security incident occurs and that it includes the actions that need to be taken in case of a data breach or a cyberattack.

It's important to note that vendor security risk assessments are ongoing and should be regularly reviewed. The technology landscape is constantly evolving and so are the potential risks, hence it is important for schools to stay up-to-date with the latest security threats and vendor risk management best practices. 


Schools in the UK rely on a variety of third-party vendors to provide various services to students and staff. However, this reliance on vendors can introduce significant security risks if proper vendor risk management is not in place. Schools need to be aware of the types of vendor security risks they may face, including unpatched software, weak passwords, insufficient data encryption, and inadequate vendor security policies.

To reduce these risks, schools should conduct thorough due diligence before engaging with vendors, establish a vendor risk management program, and continuously monitor and assess vendor security. By implementing these best practices, schools can reduce vendor security risks and ensure the safety of sensitive student and staff information.

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