What is ISO 27001, and do you need it?

April 29, 20194 minute read

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If you’ve been in IT for a while, chances are you’ve come across this string of numbers and letters: ISO 27001. But what significance does it have to IT security, and does it matter for your organization?

Here’s an introduction to what this security standard is all about, why you might want to become certified, and some tips for pursuing certification if you decide to give it a go.

The 411 on ISO 27001

ISO 27001 is an internationally recognized security framework that, when properly followed, increases an organization’s security posture through adherence to a stringent checklist of best practices in IT security. You’ve probably seen it mentioned alongside other security frameworks, like PCI DSS, NIST, or COBIT. As IT Pro reports, this particular standard unifies a range of previously siloed processes and policies under a single management approach. Accordingly, it encompasses an array of important security practices from security incident management to physical security and beyond.

Many security professionals consider this framework the gold standard for information security management, and as such, it represents a rigorous and continual test of your organization’s security practices. At the end of the initial certification process, the certificant party receives an independent expert assessment to determine whether it has adequate measures in place to protect its data. If not, the assessor will describe what actions must be taken to remediate any issues they’ve found. Once your organization has earned its certification, you will need to submit to an annual review to keep it.

Does your organization need to get certified?

You may be thinking, “This all sounds great, but does my organization really need to invest the time and money it would take to get certified?” After all, the process is exhaustive, and it’s not like IT pros are blessed with an abundance of free time. Moreover, certification requires a fair amount of internal collaboration within an organization, and chances are your colleagues also have plenty of existing priorities on their plates.

With that said, this certification can be worth pursuing if it helps you advance one or more of your existing security goals, like bringing order to unruly IT security processes or demonstrating compliance. You may be able to kill two birds with one stone and come out of the process with a shiny new certification to show for it. You might even be able to reduce the costs associated with indiscriminately tacking on security solutions that don’t fully mitigate the actual risks your business faces.

The certification is also valuable from a marketing perspective—it can increase a buyer’s confidence in your security practices, leaving them more inclined to do business with your organization. Some of your vendors and strategic partners have likely gone through the process already. If your competitors have already received their ISO 27001 certifications, you may want to become certified yourself to keep pace with them.

Depending on your industry, obtaining this certification may even be compulsory from a compliance standpoint. Prospective clients in certain sectors may also press you to become certified to win their business. Even if none of these reasons apply in your organization’s case, taking the trouble to get certified can prove you have a strong commitment to implementing best practices in information security—something that third parties and a variety of stakeholders will no doubt appreciate.

Tips for pursuing certification

ISO 27001 certification can offer many benefits, but it’s also a considerable undertaking. While there is a tool kit available for IT professionals who want to implement this IT security standard at their organizations, properly doing so requires a considerable amount of specialized experience and expertise. It’s a good idea to determine whether you have the in-house capabilities necessary to pursue certification or whether it would be better to partner with an accredited external resource who can successfully shepherd your organization through the process.

Whether you’re conducting a test run internally or partnering with an independent certified auditor, performing a pre-audit before the official audit can help you identify any weak areas in security management that need shoring up and allow you to address them proactively. Likewise, it’s best to be precise when preparing documentation, as any vague or incomplete writeups could get flagged for further investigation. Additionally, you may want to consider using specially designed tools to help you centralize the management of your preparation and documentation.

ISO 27001 may seem like yet another IT cipher to decode, but it’s actually a clear and straightforward management process for identifying and addressing security risks on a continual basis. While getting certified can involve a fair amount of virtual elbow grease, your organization may find that the benefits are well worth the effort.

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