ISO 27001 vs SOC 2 certification: what’s the difference?

Are you looking to boost your data protection practices but can’t decide whether to follow the guidance of ISO 27001 or SOC (Service Organization Control) 2?

If so, you’re in a familiar position. They’re two of the most popular information security and risk management frameworks in the world, and each one has its benefits.

Let’s take a look at which one is right for you by reviewing five key compliance aspects.

1. Scope

SOC 2 and ISO 27001 cover a lot of the same topics, with their security controls including processes, policies and technologies designed to protect sensitive information.

In fact, one study suggests that the two frameworks share 96% of the same security controls.

The difference is which of those security controls you implement. Both the ISO 27001 standard and SOC 2 state that organisations only need to adopt a control if it’s applicable to them, but the way they approach this differs slightly.

ISO 27001 focuses on the development and maintenance of an ISMS (information security management system), which is an overarching method of managing data protection practices.

To achieve compliance, you must conduct a risk assessment, identify and implement security controls and review their effectiveness on a regular basis.

SOC 2, by contrast, is a lot more flexible. It comprises five Trust Services Criteria: Security, Availability, Confidentiality, Processing Integrity and Privacy, but only the first of those is mandatory.

Organisations can implement controls related to the other principles if they want, but it’s not necessary to achieve certification.

2. Market applicability

Both frameworks are recognised globally, but SOC 2 is more closely associated with North America.

If you’re based in that region, you’ll find that both SOC 2 and ISO 27001 are common. Outside of North America, ISO 27001 is much more popular.

3. Certification process

You must complete an external audit to certify to either framework.

The only difference in this process is who conducts the audit. ISO 27001 certification must be completed by a recognised ISO 27001-accredited certification body, whereas SOC 2 certification can only be performed by a licensed CPA (Certified Public Accountant).

There’s also a slight difference in what certification looks like. Organisations that pass the ISO 27001 audit receive a certificate of compliance, whereas SOC 2 compliance is documented with a formal attestation.

4. Project timeline

The certification process is similar for ISO 27001 and SOC 2, with three stages you must complete.

First, you should conduct a gap analysis to work out which areas of the framework you’re already compliant with and where you need to make improvements.

As part of this process, you should also define your security objectives and which areas of your organisation will be covered.

Next, you should identify which security controls are appropriate for your organisation and take the necessary steps to implement them. This includes documenting your practices and establishing a method to review and improve your methods.

The final step is the audit. Many organisations conduct an internal audit before contacting an accreditation body, as it gives them the opportunity to address any final errors that they identify.

Once you’re confident in your compliance practices, you can contact a certification body and arrange an external audit.

How long this process will take depends on the amount of work you have to do to bring your practices up to scratch. Broadly speaking, it should take about two or three months to implement SOC 2, and three to six months to implement ISO 27001.

Which framework is right for you?

Hopefully this blog has helped you decide whether your organisation is better suited to SOC 2 or ISO 27001. The former is easier and less expensive to implement and maintain, but it’s also less rigorous.

ISO 27001 involves more work, but it does more to protect organisations from information security threats.

We have a wide selection of tools and consultancy services to help you certify to ISO 27001. Those leaning towards SOC 2 should check out our SOC 2 Audit Readiness Assessment and Remediation Service.

This two-part consultancy service helps your organisation evaluate its audit readiness and highlights the corrective actions you should take to make sure you’re meeting the framework’s requirements.

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