A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the ISO 27001 Standard

A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the ISO 27001 Standard 1

Implementing the industry’s best Information Security practice with ISO 27001 Standard can foster growth and effectively improve your organization’s cyber security program. Let us see how your business can leverage with the certification in hand. 


Information security is today the top priority for organizations worldwide. The number of data breach incidents is increasing at an alarming rate and has surpassed the previous year’s records (up by 17%). 

This has compelled businesses to focus on implementing industry best practices and ISO standards for information security and management. ISO27001 Standard is one such international standard for Information Security that helps businesses effectively secure their sensitive information.

Adopting the Information Security Standard is not an obligation but is definitely seen as a good practice to ensure the protection and management of data. Besides, gaining this certification reassure customers that your organization has taken all the necessary measures to maintain maximum data security. Elaborating more on the ISO27001 Standard in detail, we have today explained the framework and its audit control requirements for the benefit of our readers and organizations like you looking to achieve the certification. So, let us first understand the ISO27001 Standard before getting into the details about its audit control requirements and other details.

Let’s hash it out.

What Is ISO 27001?

ISO27001 is an International Standard on Information Security Management. The Standard provides a framework that helps your organization establish processes, policies, and procedures that promote the security of data and management of information security systems. The framework outlines the security control implementations that can help you navigate through the complicated maze of Information Security Management Systems.  The framework comprises a combination of processes, policies, and procedures of listed controls outlined in the standard. The framework covers the following related to the management of Information Security Management Systems (ISMSs):

  • Information security rules,
  • Process for defining roles & responsibilities,
  • List of controls that can help organizations manage Information Security & Management Systems.

However, the standard developed is flexible and does not mandate specific security controls since the applicability greatly depends on your industry, business operations, environment, and risk exposure. So, you can simply adopt ISO/IEC 27001 standard and select specific information security controls based on the applicability and information risks to your organization’s critical data.

Why ISO27001 Matters For Your Business?

ISO 27001 standard although not a mandate but is a requirement in many industries where organizations deal with sensitive data. Implementing this ISO Standard helps you protect your organization’s sensitive data against various cyber threats, compromise, and theft. Further, holding a certification proves that your organization is secure and can be trusted. The certificate works as evidence to customers, stakeholders, and regulatory bodies that your organization is committed to ensuring the security of sensitive data that it deals with.

For an organization of any size or industry, ISO 27001 certification is truly beneficial as it adds value to your business and also helps build a strong reputation in the industry. The security measures implemented as per the standard prevent the possibility of huge monetary loss and hefty fines and penalties incurred due to data breaches or security incidents (fine of up to €10 million, or 2% of the firm’s worldwide annual revenue for a data breach as per GDPR regulation). So, organizations holding ISO27001 certification will always have an edge in the industry since businesses would prefer working with organizations that are ISO 27001 Certified.

ISO27001 Audit Controls Explained

The ISO 27001 standards are industry practices that are required to be implemented to bring the risks to acceptable levels. The standard comprises a comprehensive list of 114 controls under sub controls, which fall within 14 main categories.Let us take a look at the 14 categories to understand what they comprise and how they help identify and mitigate the security risk to the organization.

 1. (Annex A.5) Information Security Policies

Establish policies & procedures that support your organization’s Information Security Practices in alignment with the ISO27001 requirements. These policies and procedures documented need to be reviewed and updated regularly to comply compliance with the standard and achieve ISO 27001 certification from the auditors.

2. (Annex A.6) Organization of Information Security

Your organization is expected to establish a comprehensive framework that ensures the implementation of necessary security controls. Further, it requires you to clearlydefine the roles and responsibilities of individuals within your organization’s Information Security Department to ensure accountability and enforcement of defined security measures.

3. (Annex A.7) Human Resource Security

Human Resource Security implies conducting awareness and training programs for your employees and the third-party contractors that you deal with. Both employees and contractors must be aware of the responsibilities of their defined role towards your organization’s information security practices. They need to be aware of the security processes established within your organization and accordingly follow the established guidelines.

4. (Annex A.8) Management of Assets

Your organization mustestablish a secure process that protects your sensitive data and critical assets. For that, your organization must identify, categorize and manage all the sensitive data within the organization based on their asset class. Thereafter, implement security measures based on the risk exposure.

5. (Annex A.9) Access Controls

Access Control is all about having in place measures and process that ensures only authorized individuals to access to critical data. This should be based on the roles and responsibilities of individuals defined by your organization. Your organization must establish a system, and application access control only to authorized individuals to prevent any incidents of unauthorized access and data theft.

6. (Annex A.10) Cryptography

Your organization must implement data encryption techniques for the security, and confidentiality of critical data. The practice ofcryptography should be a part of your organization’s data security program for building strong data security measures within your organization.

7. (Annex A.11) Physical and Environmental Security Practices

Physical Environment is also an important consideration that should be accounted for by your organization.  So, you must accordingly implement necessary measures within your organization to prevent unauthorized physical access in the office premises where the data is stored. This includes having locker systems, maintain physical logs access, and other physical access control measures.

8. (Annex A.12) Operations Security 

As a part of the security practice, your organization must look to secure facilities with sensitive data by implementing necessary safety measures like establishing well-defined operational procedures, logging, monitoring process, vulnerability assessments, and trackers to name a few. This is to protect against malware, data loss, unauthorized access, etc that could result in a data breach incident.

9. (Annex A.13) Communications Security

Communication Security refers to building strong security around a network with firewalls and antivirus applications to secure the transmission or flow of sensitive data within your organizations or to any contractors you work with. This is to ensure that the data your organization possesses is secured, maintaining its confidentiality, integrity, and availability within the organizational network

10. (Annex A.14) System Acquisition, Development, and Maintenance Process– 

Information security must be embedded within your organization’s systems, processes, and work culture.So, establishing proven security measures across systems is essential to address the security of internal systems and organizational processes, especially when services offered are over public networks.

11. (Annex A.15) Supplier Relationships

Protecting critical information and assets of your organization is not just your responsibility, but also of the third-party vendors who have access to it. So, to ensure accountability of your third party concerning the security of your sensitive data, your organization must sign a contractual agreement defining their roles and responsibility towards protecting the data. This simply helps maintain the agreed terms and conditions developed for information security and service delivery from the third party.

12. (Annex A.16) Information Security Incident Management Practices

Your organization should implement measures to manage and respond to security incidents. This is essential for ensuring business continuity and the prevention of operational disruption. So, on that note, you must have in place appropriate Incident Management programs and adopt an effective approach to responding and handling security incidents.

13. (Annex A.17) Information Security Aspects of Business Continuity Management

As a part of your information security program, you must also establish Business Continuity Management systems that ensure appropriate management of the business operation in case of an unforeseen event. Your organization must be prepared to handle situations that impact the regular operation and ensure smooth delivery of services, irrespective of an incident or occurrence of an unforeseen event.

14. (Annex A.18) Compliance Practices

You must determine the industry laws and regulations that apply to your business. This is to ensure compliance with such regulations and avoid penalties for non-compliance. Information security is a mandate in many international data privacy and security laws. So, identifying and adhering to requirements to achieve compliance must be a part of your organization’s information security and compliance program.

How You Can Implement ISO27001 Controls within Your Organization?  

Adhering to the requirements of ISO27001 and implementing necessary security measures and processes is essential for achieving the certification. The above-listed audit controls is a comprehensive ISO27001 requirement that can be implemented in an organization in the following way

Technical Controls

Technical controls typically include implementing hardware, software components in the systems and networks of the organizations. This primarily involves installing firewalls, antivirus software’s and having in place backups, that support the security needs and requirements outlined in the ISO27001 security Audit controls.

Physical Controls

Organizations need to establish necessary physical security controls that support the need to meet the audit control requirements of the ISO27001 Standard. This includes installing equipment and devices such as CCTV cameras, alarm systems, locks, registers, access logs, etc. Such implementation does not just build strong security measures but also prevents unauthorized access to sensitive data stored in the organization’s premises.

Organizational controls-

Organizations must define and establish necessary policies, procedures, and processes that are aligned with the ISO27001 control requirements. This is to ensure that every staff, employee, and relevant stakeholder follows the rules and ensures compliance.  Establishing information security policies, access control policies privacy policies, etc. will give help organizations in their path of compliance.

Legal Controls

Legal controls include having in place legal documents of contracts and agreements with the third party to enforce laws and regulations. These legal documents should include defined and shared responsibilities, rules, processes, procedures and expected guidelines to be followed for ensuring compliance. For example, it could be having in place Business Contractual Agreements, Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), Service Level Agreement (SLA’s), etc.

Human Resource Controls

This implies that initiatives such as establishing, Security Awareness Training, User Training Programs, and Internal Auditor Training, etc provides education, knowledge and helps develop skills and experience pertinent to Information Security. Conducting such programs is essential to make the employees aware of their roles and responsibilities and ensure compliance standards.

While the above-mentioned 5 controls form an integral part of the process of achieving ISO27001 Certification, your organization must initially run a quick assessment of the existing framework against the ISO27001 requirements to determine the gaps. Based on the reports generated from the assessment your organization should establish an effective management framework for implementing necessary controls. 

Key Take Away 

ISO 27001 certification process may seem to be a daunting task. Yet achieving it can be worth the effort, especially from the security and privacy standpoint. The success of ISO certification will be based on your understanding of the standard and implementation of controls aligned with your business objectives. This simply requires exercising controls by enhancing the current security measures and adding additional security controls in the IT systems, networks, and infrastructure. However, without a well-defined and developed ISO 27001 plan, implementation of the standard would be time-consuming and an expensive exercise. So, to achieve the certification and maintain compliance with the standard, understanding the framework and having in place an implementation plan is essential. Moreover, conducting awareness and training programs for employees is also critical. All of this should be backed by regular audits and reviews of the established frameworks, policies procedures, and documents that are necessary for improving and updating the management process in line with the ISO requirements and company goals.

Contributed by Narendra Sahoo Founder and Director of VISTA InfoSec

Written by Srikanth

Passionate Tech Blogger on Emerging Technologies, which brings revolutionary changes to the People life.., Interested to explore latest Gadgets, Saas Programs

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