Protecting your customers’ sensitive information is just one part of doing your data security due diligence. But to ensure that you meet compliance standards and have the right security precautions in place, it helps to have a framework you can build from.
That’s where strategic security frameworks like ISO 27001 and SOC 2 come in. But what do these two systems cover, and what are the differences between them? We’ll help you learn all you need to know about ISO 27001 and SOC 2, so you can pursue the right certification for your business.
ISO 27001, or ISO/IEC 27001, is a framework that sets up standards and requirements for an information security management system (ISMS). This framework was created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a non-government, independent organization created to help build standards for technology and manufacturing. ISO 27001 certification helps ensure security across a number of organizational assets, including financial information, third-party data, and employee and customer data.
To get your ISO 27001 certification, you need to have an accredited registrar audit your organization. In the U.S., these auditors are affiliated with the ANSI National Accreditation Board. There are two different stages of the audit:
SOC 2, or Service Organization Control 2, is a framework that helps people upgrade their compliance systems and risk assessments. It covers the five Trust Services Criteria: security, availability processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.
Although you can choose to look at all of these areas during the audit process, "security" is the only mandatory category to achieve compliance and meet the framework's standards.
There are two types of SOC 2:
SOC 2 is not a certification — it's an attestation report. To achieve compliance, your organization must prove that it can meet the framework's standards.
To begin, you’ll need to pick which type of audit you want to complete and which of the Trust Services Principles you will include. Once you’ve put all of your documentation for the chosen principles in place, an external auditor from a licensed firm, like the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), will complete the review.
The auditor will:
The report will state whether or not you’ve met the SOC 2 standards or if there are areas of improvement to address before you can receive an attestation report.
Even though ISO 27001 and SOC 2 are both security frameworks, there are significant differences between the two. Let’s dive into those key differences now.
The first key difference between ISO 27001 and SOC2 is scope. While these frameworks cover many similar topics, they do look at a few different security controls. ISO 27001 focuses on developing and maintaining an ISMS, the overarching system for managing data protection within an organization. On the other hand, SOC is a much more flexible framework: You can pick and choose which of the Trust Services Principles you want to look at and structure your audit accordingly.
Another difference between the two is who is in charge of managing compliance. For ISO 27001, a registered auditor needs to come and run the audits to determine whether or not your organization can be ISO 27001 certified. SOC 2, however, is attested by licensed Certified Public Accountants, or CPAs. Many accounting firms will have a SOC 2 sector in which they have licensed CPAs for SOC 2 audits.
While any business can get either type of certification, your physical operation locations matter. Typically, only companies in North America will get a SOC 2 attestation report. ISO 27001, the international standard certification, is used in all other parts of the globe as the primary framework for network security. If your business operates outside North America, then only ISO 27001 will be relevant to you.
While all industries can earn compliance certifications, SOC 2 typically applies to service providers of all industries, as these organizations protect their own data and their customers'. ISO 27001 is for all organizations of any size or industry and is more popular for large companies that operate worldwide. ISO 27001 tends to be considered a more stringent process, which many large companies in different industries prefer.
Another key difference is the certification process. While both ISO 27001 and SOC 2 go through an audit and security process by a licensed professional, they have different outcomes and final rewards. At the end of the ISO 27001 audit, you will receive a certification. At the end of either type of SOC 2 process, you will receive an attestation report which can be documented and shared to prove your compliance rather than a certification.
The final key difference between ISO 27001 and SOC 2 is the project timeline. In both cases, you begin by completing internal audits and prep work so that when you call in the auditor, you have your security processes documented and ready to be analyzed.
For SOC 2, it takes about two or three months to prepare, and the results will come in after the audit period has passed. With ISO 27001, it takes about three to six months to prepare for the audit. Then, once the formal audit is complete, another six months to a year to receive your certification.
While there are differences between ISO 27001 and SOC 2, there are also some important similarities.
They are both created to provide processes, policies, and technologies to protect sensitive information and ensure that companies have strong security measures in place. And no matter which one you use, you will need to prep your organization, document your security processes, and test your systems to prepare you for when the auditor comes.
ISO 27001 is the better framework choice if you are primarily concerned with creating an ISMS, as this framework helps you put together your information management security system. It’s also the best option if your company operates globally, you have locations outside of the U.S., or you have international clients. It’s a standard that’s recognized around the globe, so it will have more weight in global markets. It’s also a more rigorous standard recognized by all industries and regions.
SOC 2 is a better option if you already have an ISMS in place and just want to check to see how well your security standards are holding up. It’s a less extensive and less expensive option as well — especially if you want to complete SOC 2 Type 1. It’s commonly used in North America, and if you don’t have a customer base outside of that region, it can be the better option to test operating effectiveness. It also helps you customize your audit and select which Trust Service Principles you want to test for beyond security.
Staying compliant with regulation standards is essential, especially as the risk of security breaches continues to rise. Either ISO 27001 certification or SOC 2 compliance will help your organization manage your data security systems, and the path you choose depends largely on your industry, scope, and operating locations.
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