ISO 27001 vs SOC 2 Certification: What’s the Difference?

Want to improve your data security but can’t decide between ISO 27001 and SOC 2? 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.

But what is the difference between SOC 2 and ISO 27001? Let’s look at which one is right for you by reviewing five key compliance aspects.


Scope

Both SOC 2 and ISO 27001 have security controls that involve processes, policies and technologies to safeguard sensitive information.

One study suggests that the two frameworks share 96% of the same security controls. The difference is which of those security controls you implement.

ISO 27001 and SOC 2 agree that organisations should only use controls when needed, but their approaches are slightly different.

ISO 27001 focuses on the development and maintenance of an information security management system (ISMS). An ISMS provides a systematic approach for managing an organisation’s information security.

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

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

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


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.


Certification process

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

The only difference in this process is who conducts the audit. A recognised ISO 27001-accredited certification body must complete ISO 27001 certification.

In contrast, a SOC 2 attestation report 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.


Project timeline

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

  1. Conduct a gap analysis to determine 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.
  2. 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 processes.
  3. The final step is the audit. Organisations often audit themselves before seeking accreditation, so they can fix any mistakes they find.

Once you’re confident in your compliance practices, you can contact a certification body and arrange an ISO 27001 or SOC 2 audit.

The length of time this will take depends on the amount of work needed to meet the standards.

It should take about two or three months to implement SOC 2 and three to six months to implement ISO 27001.


Which framework should you use?

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.

Our experts are happy to discuss which option is right for your organisation.

We specialise in IT governance, risk management and compliance services, focusing on cyber resilience, data protection, cyber security and business continuity.

A version of this blog was originally published on 29 January 2019.

19 Comments

  1. Jimmy Tan 29th June 2020
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