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ISO 27001

What is ISO 27001, and does your company need to comply? Here's what you need to know about this security standard.
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ISO 27001

The need for information security has risen exponentially in the past few years, with identity theft increasing by 42% and 68% of the businesses reporting their cybersecurity risks have increased. As a result, businesses cannot function without proper security measures to protect their information.

One such measure is ISO 27001, an internationally recognized standard for information security management. Below, we provide an overview of ISO 27001 and everything you need to know about information security management.

What is ISO 27001?

ISO 27001 or IEC 27001 is an international standard specifying the requirements for an Information Security Management System (ISMS). An ISMS is a systematic approach to managing sensitive company information to keep it secure. The objective of ISO 27001 is to help organizations keep information assets secure.

Importance of ISO 27001

ISO 27001 is essential because it provides a framework for businesses to follow to keep information assets secure. The standard also helps businesses to identify and manage security risks.

Moreover, by getting ISO 27001 certification, companies can show their partners and customers that their data is protected against malicious attacks. Since ISO 27001 is an international standard, it is universally accepted and benefits all businesses, irrespective of their geographical location and scale.

Many businesses already have information security controls. However, if they lack an ISMS, the alignment of the security controls with business needs is affected. Therefore, compliance with ISO 27001 ensures the following for businesses:

  • Continuous Improvement: The ISO 27001 indicates that companies must continuously improve their ISMS. It leads to a reduction in the number of security incidents and improves security controls.
  • Protection of Assets: The standard helps businesses protect their information assets from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, or destruction. For instance, the US alone reported 156 million data leaks or exposures in 2020.
  • Compliance with Laws and Regulations: By complying with ISO 27001, businesses can also ensure compliance with international standards. Besides boosting customer and partner trust, it also benefits the internal functions, such as reducing security challenges.

Who Created ISO 27001?

The International Organization for Standardization created ISO 27001 in 2005. It is based on an earlier standard called BS 7799-1, created by the British Standards Institution.

The standard is regularly updated to reflect the latest changes in technology and security threats. The most recent version of ISO 27001 was published in 2013.

What is an ISMS?

To comprehend the efficacy of ISO 27001, it's vital first to understand what an ISMS is. An ISMS is a system for managing an organization's sensitive data and ensuring its security.

It includes people, processes, and IT systems applying a risk management process. The goal of an ISMS is to minimize the risks to information security and reduce the potential for security incidents. An ISMS is comprised of three parts:

  • Policies: These are a set of high-level directives that outline an organization's overall approach to information security.
  • Procedures: These are detailed instructions that explain how to implement the policies and achieve the objectives of the ISMS.
  • Controls: Controls are specific measures taken to protect the information in the workplace.

Three ISMS Security Objectives

According to IBM, businesses suffer an average cost of $3.86 million for a data breach. To make matters worse, it takes approximately 207 days to identify a data breach. An ISMS can lower this risk, protecting organizations from monetary and reputational damage.

ISO 27001 essentially aims to protect three main aspects of an organization's information. These are:

  • Confidentiality: It refers to protecting data from unauthorized access or disclosure. Thus, only authorized personnel in the workplace should have access to specific information.
  • Integrity: It aims to protect information from unauthorized alteration or destruction. Thus, only authorized personnel can make changes to the information.
  • Availability: This objective ensures that authorized users access information when they need it. The authorized personnel should be able to access the information as required.

An organization must implement controls to protect these three aspects of information security. But before implementing any controls, the enterprise must first identify the risks to its information.

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How to Implement ISO 27001?

The ISO 27001 safeguards or controls are practices an organization has to implement to lower the risk levels in the workplace. These controls may be legal, physical, organizational, personnel, or technical in nature.

There are 114 controls in the ISO 27001. They are listed in Annex A and dictate how to keep organizational risk at acceptable levels.

  • Organizational Controls: Companies can implement these controls by defining specific rules that spell out the behavior of systems, software, users, and equipment. For instance, an Access Control Policy can be put in place to regulate who can access certain information. 
  • Technical Controls: Technical controls are implemented through technology, such as encryption and firewalls. An organization could encrypt its data to protect it from unauthorized access.
  • Operational Controls: Operational controls limit or restrict the actions of users. They dictate what users can and cannot do. For instance, an organization could have a policy limiting the number of failed login attempts before a user's account is locked.
  • Management Controls: Management controls are implemented through management decisions. They direct and guide organizational behavior. For example, an organization could have a policy that requires all data to be backed up.

What Does the ISO 27001 Certification Process Entail?

In the ISO 27001 certification process, an organization undergoes an assessment by a third-party auditor. The auditor evaluates the organization's ISMS to ensure it meets all the requirements of the standard.

If the ISMS is compliant, the organization is then issued a certificate. The certificate is valid for three years and must be renewed at the end of that period. The certification process has two parts:

  • The certification body (CB) reviews the organization's ISMS documentation.
  • The CB conducts an on-site assessment of the organization's ISMS. The auditor also interviews important staff members to verify activities concerning ISO 27001.

During the documentation review, the CB will evaluate the organization's ISMS policies, procedures, and records. The auditor will also look at the organization's risk assessment methodology and treatment plans.

The on-site assessment is conducted to verify the implementation of the ISMS in the organization. The auditor reviews documents, such as security records and logs. Moreover, the auditor interviews employees to get their feedback on the ISMS.

They will then prepare a report detailing the findings of the assessment. Finally, the report is sent to the CB for review. If the CB is satisfied with the report, it will issue a certificate to the organization.

Who Needs to be ISO 27001 Compliant?

Any organization that wants to protect its information assets can implement the ISO 27001 standard. The standard is relevant to all organizations, regardless of size, industry, or location.

ISO Survey 2017 found a 20% increase in ISO 27001 certifications from the previous year. Organizations that deal with sensitive customer data, such as financial institutions and healthcare providers, are encouraged to implement the standard. It's mainly because a data breach could have severe consequences for these organizations.

For instance, a Critical Insights report showed that healthcare cybersecurity attacks affected 45 million patients in 2021, up from 34 million patients in 2020.

Final Words

ISO 27001 is a comprehensive standard that outlines how organizations can manage their information security. By implementing the standard, organizations can keep their risk at acceptable levels.

The ISO 27001 certification process entails a review of the organization's ISMS documentation and an on-site assessment of the ISMS. Organizations that want to protect their information assets are encouraged to implement the standard to improve customer satisfaction, partner trust, and in-house data security.

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