Information security is of growing importance for organizations. With more technological advancements, there is more opportunity for security breaches and mishandled data. The reputation of your company relies on your ability to protect sensitive customer information. For this reason, many organizations are looking to become certified in information security management. This can be achieved in a few ways, but the most prominent method is obtaining information security compliance, awarded by a third-party certification body. There are various frameworks to choose from when earning security compliance, but two of the most common are ISO 27001 and SOC 2. While similar, these frameworks hold some prominent differences that you should be aware of before making your decision. We will go through the six most pertinent aspects of these certifications and how the two compare.
An important aspect of both ISO 27001 and SCO 2 involves defining the scope of your ISMS. Both frameworks are designed to instill trust with customers that you are protecting their data, each covering important components of this, such as confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Part of determining your scope includes determining security controls, which these two, in particular, share 96% in common. This means that both frameworks will thoroughly cover the majority of security protocols in your organization, which also means that if you complete one of these, you are well into the process of completing the other. Furthermore, both ISO 27001 and SCO 2 state that organizations only need to complete the controls that apply to them – but the way they approach this differs.
In terms of scope, SOC 2 focuses primarily on proving the security controls that protect customer information have been implemented. This process is more flexible than its alternative, comprising of five trust principles; security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. Alternatively, ISO 27001 goes a bit more in-depth, requiring users to prove that they have an ISMS in place to manage their information security program on an ongoing basis. As a result, several additional controls are added to verify that your management system is in place and regularly reviewed for conformity to the ISO 27001 standard. Additional required processes include conducting a risk assessment, identifying and implementing security controls, and reviewing their effectiveness on a regular basis.
As both of these frameworks are very reputable, they are very similar in market applicability. Both serve as proof of implementing proper security protocols and will be accepted by most clients as such. In this sense, both serve as adequate third-party testimonies to a strong information security program. The only significant difference between these two in terms of market applicability concerns international business. In this case, ISO 27001 is more widely acceptable by clients in global regions, while SCO 2 is more closely associated with North America. For this reason, you may want to consider ISO 27001 over SCO 2 if you are conducting business internationally.
Both ISO 27001 and SCO 2 are highly accredited independent, third-party attested certifications to confirm your level of security as an organization. With either framework, an external audit is required. The only difference is who will perform the said audit. A licensed CPA must perform the external audit for SOC 2, while ISO 27001 requires a recognized ISO 27001-accredited certification body to complete the audit. Essentially, one is specifically trained for the certification at hand, while the other is an industry-wide professional. Furthermore, organizations that pass the ISO 27001 audit will receive a certificate of compliance while SOC 2 compliance is documented with a formal attestation.
The next comparison is regarding cost, which is likely one of the most significant deciding factors for an organization. Before discussing the difference in pricing for these two certifications, it is important to recognize that pricing will vary across the industry and will be dependent on the scope of your specific certification project. With that said, ISO 27001 typically costs 50-60% more than SOC 2. This may be a daunting fact, but it is likely due to the additional documentation required by auditors to prove that you have an ISMS in place. There are options to reducing this cost, such as utilizing prebuilt policies and controls by providers. Still, those will not be as specific to your organization as if you create them yourself.
Whichever certification you choose, it will be a timely process. Both certifications require thorough risk analysis and documentation, consisting of gap assessment/plan definition, implementation/evidence collection, and the audit/certification. Because ISO 27001 and SOC 2 share most of the same security controls, the implementation and evidence collection time will be similar. But as mentioned with cost, ISO 27001 requires a more thorough documentation process. As a result, ISO 27001 will require about 50-60% more time than SOC 2, usually taking 12-18 months to complete. Again, this is due to the additional process and documentation required to install an operating ISMS. In contrast, SOC 2, split into two types, will take approximately three to six months for Type I and another three to six for Type II, totaling about a year. Both certifications are time-consuming processes, but they are critical to enhancing your information security system. Consider the time you have available to dedicate to this process, and with that, how in-depth you want your security protocols to be.
As is required by most certification bodies, both ISO 27001 and SCO 2 need to be renewed periodically to remain valid. ISO 27001 includes a three-year commitment where you will undergo a point-in-time audit in year one, followed up by an annual renewal each year after. SOC 2 is a bit more complex in terms of renewals. The point-in-time variant is named the Type I report, but most enterprises will also request a Type II report. The second report will require your organization to demonstrate the effectiveness of your security controls for a set period of time, usually one year. Once this is complete, SOC 2 Type 2 will need to be renewed annually.
As you can see, both ISO 27001 and SCO 2 carry significant benefits in enhancing your organization's information security. While there are prominent differences to note between the two, either will set you on the right course to strengthened information security practices. While SOC 2 is an easier and less expensive process to implement and maintain, it is less rigorous. Alternatively, ISO 27001 requires more time and effort and thus cost, but it does more to protect organizations from security threats. Whichever you choose, you will be optimizing the security of your company's information and reaching compliance. Hopefully, this blog has helped you discover the right fit for your organization's needs and guide you to prioritizing your information security management system.