ISO 27001 Certification

ISO 27001 Certification, Is It Really Worth It?

For the last decade, ISO 27001 certification has been the de facto standard for security programs across the globe. The only problem is, few organisations can be bothered with it. In the years of its existence, I have been asked about implementing a total of twice.

Why?

The reasons are numerous, and vary from organisation to organisation. However, they most often fall within these categories. The client has:

  1. never actually heard of it;
  2. doesn’t care about cybersecurity;
  3. thinks it’s too difficult;
  4. thinks it’s too expensive; and
  5. cannot see a return on investment (ROI).

But the biggest reason I have not been involved in ISO that much?… The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Which coincidentally, began at almost the same time.

All by itself, PCI has sucked the security budgets out of enough organisations that there was little left for anything else. And if I’m honest, because of PCI, I haven’t had to go looking for any other work.

Think about that for just a minute…

A very basic, controls-only standard, related to a single form of data, that’s not even a law has driven enough business my way that I have not had to worry about diversifying.

And frankly, I still don’t, but with what’s going on here in the EU, we are all going to need something better. From the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to the Payment Services Directive (PSD2), the regulatory landscape is finally making real security a necessity.

It follows therefore that organisations will begin looking to ISO for options.

And that’s really the point, can the ISO standards actually help, or is the 2700X series just a bunch of meaningless paperwork? At first glance, it certainly looks that way, and few organisations choose to go any further. And the ones that do, get so lost in the paperwork that they forget why they are doing it. It’s only when the framework is fully customised and implemented, that you see its true and significant benefits.

However, before you look to ISO, you absolutely MUST do your homework! You have to know exactly what an Information Security Management System (ISMS) is, why you’re doing it, and how you’re going to keep it going. If you can’t answer those questions, don’t start, because you will never cross the finish line.

The biggest killers of ISO certification projects, are, in this order:

  1. Grossly underestimating the level of effort;
  2. Doing it just to land a big contract (or for marketing purposes);
  3. Tying the certification to an overly aggressive deadline;
  4. Ignoring the expert help; and
  5. Having no business goals in mind.

These are usually exacerbated by not getting senior leadership support, and then failing to tailor ISO to your needs. So what organisations end up with 99 times out of 100 is a stalled project and an external consultant taking all the blame.

ISO 27001 certification is bloody difficult…

…just accept that from the beginning. It requires commitment from every aspect of your organisation, and will only be effective if you enable the culture shift necessary to embrace it properly.

Strangely enough though, it actually looks fairly simple, as the ISO 27001 standard itself is only 30-odd pages long and only 114 controls. However, for every 1 of those controls, there are an average of 4 additional aspect to consider from the NINETY-odd page ISO 27002. Then, if that’s not enough, you must show some kind of evidence that you actually doing what you say you are!

For example, the very first ISO 27001 control is “A.5.1.1 – Policies for information security – A set of policies for information security shall be defined and approved“. Sounds simple enough until you realise that there are a minimum of 19 suggested ‘Implementation Guidance’ factors behind it.

From requiring that Information Security Policies address; “business strategy” and “regulation, legislation and contract“, to the suggested ‘examples’ of “policy topics”, A.5.1.1 becomes a project all by itself. Then, assuming you get all this paperwork together, you have to ensure that the policies are; “communicated to employees and relevant external parties in a form that is relevant, accessible and understandable to the intended reader, e.g. in the context of an “information security awareness, education and training programme” (see 7.2.2).” Finally, you then need to provide some ‘record’ that this is all implemented , or that you have a risk treatment plan in place that shows you’re going to get it implemented …how …and when.

There are 114 of these, and even if you decide a few of them are not relevant to you, you must fully justify their EXclusion.

Not trying to put you off, the implementation of an appropriate ISMS is one of the best things you can do for your business as a whole. Just make sure you start out the project for the right reasons, with the right support, and the right goals in mind. And for GOD’S sake, get an expert in for a day FIRST to show all major stakeholders what to expect BEFORE you commit to the full project!

I see ISO 27001 certification becoming a must-have for almost any business, but only if it’s done properly.

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