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Nearly every business is in the business of acquiring and storing customer data. The question now becomes, how do you properly house this information according to regulations? Ensuring cybersecurity compliance should be a top priority, as a security breach can lead to significant financial losses, legal troubles, and a lack of consumer confidence. Businesses have a variety of ways to meet security compliance requirements and best practices — with two common audit options being SOC-2 and ISO 27001.

These two compliance audits have different methods, but are focused on the same goal: data protection. Neither option is inherently better, but the choice of which one to invest in is dependent on the business’s needs, expertise, resources — and ultimately, preference.

We’re deconstructing the overarching details of SOC-2 and ISO 27001 compliance, as well as the benefits, and the differences between these two security audits. In order to best protect sensitive information, businesses need to make informed decisions regarding their compliance behaviors. However, keep in mind that a security plan should be holistic in scope and focused on prevention, not incident response.

What is SOC-2 compliance?

Service Organization Controls (SOC) are a set of security standards created by the AICPA, that assess and rate the competency of an organization’s information control. The audit focuses on five different areas:

  • Security
  • Availability
  • Processing integrity
  • Confidentiality
  • Privacy

These five areas are seen as the necessary control levers that must be in place and properly addressed to ensure data security is maintained. The specific criteria for what makes up these areas are as follows:

  • Security is the protection of information and systems from unauthorized access. This includes the use of IT security infrastructures such as firewalls, two-factor authentication, and other cybersecurity architecture in place.
  • Availability is focused on whether the infrastructure, software, or information is adequately maintained for operation, monitoring, and regular maintenance. This criteria also looks at if your company maintains acceptable network performance levels and is actively looking to mitigate potential external threats.
  • Processing integrity ensures that systems perform their functions as intended and are free from error, delay, omission, and unauthorized or inadvertent manipulation.
  • Confidentiality addresses your ability to safeguard data that should be restricted to unauthorized personnel. This includes client data intended only for employees, sensitive company info, or any other data protected by law, regulations, or agreements.
  • Privacy examines the security ability to hide and prevent identifiable information from being found. This information generally includes name, SSN, address information, or other identifiers such as race, gender, ethnicity, or health information.

What is ISO 27001 compliance?

ISO 27001 is a framework created by the International Organization of Standardization to help companies best oversee their information security management systems. Risk management is a key part of ISO 27001, as it helps identify where strengths and weaknesses lie within a company’s security plan and architecture. This compliance guide is broken down into 12 standards:

  1. Introduction – describes what information security is and why an organization should manage risks.
  2. Scope – covers high-level requirements for an information security management system (ISMS) to apply to all types or organizations.
  3. Normative References – explains the relationship between ISO 27000 and 27001 standards.
  4. Terms and Definitions – covers the complex terminology that is used within the standard.
  5. Context of the Organization – explains what stakeholders should be involved in the creation and maintenance of the ISMS.
  6. Leadership – describes how leaders within the organization should commit to ISMS policies and procedures.
  7. Planning – covers an outline of how risk management should be planned across the organization.
  8. Support – describes how to raise awareness about information security and assign responsibilities.
  9. Operation – covers how risks should be managed and how documentation should be performed to meet audit standards.
  10. Performance Evaluation – provides guidelines on how to monitor and measure the performance of the ISMS.
  11. Improvement – explains how the ISMS should be continually updated and improved, especially following audits.
  12. Reference Control Objectives and Controls – provides an annex detailing the individual elements of an audit.

From there, the ISO 27001 looks at practices in 14 different control areas. The audit examines how these areas are being monitored, secured, and addressed within a company.

  1. Information Security Policies
  2. Organization of Information Security 
  3. Human Resource Security 
  4. Asset Management 
  5. Access Control
  6. Cryptography 
  7. Physical and Environmental Security
  8. Operations Security
  9. Communications Security 
  10. System Acquisition, Development, and Maintenance
  11. Supplier Relationships 
  12. Information Security Incident Management
  13. Information Security Aspects of Business Continuity Management 
  14. Compliance 

What are the benefits of each?

Both SOC-2 and ISO 27001 compliance audits and practices are well-respected in the security industry. Any business actively achieving these recommendations and internal cybersecurity examinations is taking a proactive step toward a holistic security program. These two compliance frameworks offer several benefits that will make any business or organization safer and better prepared for data breaches/attacks.

Benefits of SOC-2

A SOC-2 compliance audit offers flexibility and customization to the organization. With this audit, only the area of security is technically required, with the remaining four being optional. Additionally, a SOC-2 audit provides two evaluation types. The first, Type 1, examines your security controls and program from a single point in time. Type 2 looks at your security over a longer period, such as six to 12 months. SOC-2 audits can also be performed virtually, a beneficial feature during the era of COVID-19 and an increasing remote workforce.

From this audit, your organization will be able to know:

  • Normal operating conditions, and how to best internally monitor for suspicious or abnormal security behaviors or results.
  • Which tools are necessary to identify and alert for a data breach or attack.
  • What information is relevant to the problem, identify the scope of the issue, and how to restore data integrity and system safety.

Benefits of ISO 27001

ISO 27001 is an intensive, documentation-heavy audit that has numerous diagnostic points that are examined. If all points are met with satisfaction, a certification will be administered to your organization. An ISO 27001 certification holds respect among stakeholders and consumers. This certification is internationally recognized and affirms that your organization is taking necessary steps to mitigate outside threats and protect sensitive information.

From this audit, your organization will be able to know:

  • If your ISMS is in scope and compliant with regulations.
  • What security vulnerabilities exist in your organization, and how they should be addressed within your ISMS and other technologies.
  • What documentation updates are necessary regarding internal security protocols and practices.

What are the differences between them?

Again, both a SOC-2 report and ISO 27001 certification are positive investments in your company’s cybersecurity wellbeing. It assists in the credibility of your business to ensure clients and stakeholders that you are taking the necessary steps to protect information and your enterprise. Essentially, both compliance audits are the security community’s version of a SWOT analysis. However, a few key differences exist:

  • A SOC-2 delivers a report at the end of the audit — the ISO 27001 does not.
  • The ISO 27001 can be certified and holds worldwide acceptance — the SOC-2 is an attestation.
  • The ISO 27001 must be conducted in-person — the SOC-2 can be done virtually.
  • ISO 27001 audits want to see an ISMS in place for ongoing data security.
  • ISO 27001 compliance audits are generally more expensive and take longer to finalize compared to SOC-2 audits.

Need help with cybersecurity compliance?

If you’re looking for more guidance on how to move your cybersecurity program forward, CDG can help. We are shifting the cybersecurity consulting paradigm to address the needs of mid-market, cloud-native or cloud-reliant companies who are experiencing rapid growth.

Founded in 2016 by global security expert Lou Rabon, our nimble team draws on decades of experience and diverse technical expertise to deliver a full spectrum of information security advisory and implementation services on a fixed-cost basis. Our right-sized, results-driven approach will help you meet your immediate needs, but also ready you to navigate what’s ahead. Get in touch, and see what results are possible for your organization.

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