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ISO 27001 Audit Explained: Requirements, Key Steps and Best Practices

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Complying with International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission 27001 (ISO/IEC 27001) is crucial for ensuring robust cybersecurity practices within your organization and safeguarding your crucial assets. Demonstrating your dedication to information security and acquiring ISO/IEC 27001 certification can help your organization establish an effective framework for managing information security, leading to lowered cybersecurity risks and an increase in trust among your clients and partners.

Before an organization can achieve ISO/IEC 27001 certification, it needs to undergo an audit. Our comprehensive guide equips you with a checklist for ISO 27001 audit and effective methods for acing the audit and maintaining long-term compliance.

What is ISO 27001 and why do you need it?

ISO/IEC 27001 is an international standard for information security management systems (ISMS) that defines the best practices for safeguarding your sensitive data and mitigating cybersecurity risks. It can help your company establish a robust system for managing data security risks and demonstrate your commitment to ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Three main principles of information security

At its core, ISO/IEC 27001 is centered around:

Information security management systems. The focus of ISO/IEC 27001 is the ISMS. The standard covers numerous aspects of information security management, including the creation, implementation, maintenance, and long-term improvement of an organization’s ISMS. 

Risk management. ISO/IEC 27001 focuses on a risk management approach. Organizations are required to identify, assess, and continuously monitor information security risks and opportunities. This involves analyzing critical assets, defining risks associated with them, and evaluating the potential impact of various security breaches. Organizations should take a systematic approach to managing risks and specify the appropriate actions to mitigate them.

Continuous improvement. ISO/IEC 27001 encourages organizations to regularly review and refine their information security processes and controls, adapting to technological changes, business processes, and cybersecurity threats.

Legal and regulatory compliance. The standard emphasizes the importance of IT compliance with applicable laws and regulations to ensure that organizations protect their sensitive data.

Documentation and control. ISO/IEC 27001 requires organizations to document information security policies, assets, procedures, processes, people, systems, and controls needed. Every aspect of the ISMS should be recorded and well-maintained.

By implementing the standards set forth by ISO 27001, your organization can benefit from:

  • Enhancing your information security
  • Reducing the attack surface
  • Improving your overall operational efficiency
  • Ensuring organization-wide protection
  • Raising cybersecurity awareness among your personnel 
  • Saving costs on potential security incidents
  • Increasing trust among your customers, stakeholders, and partners.

Achieving ISO/IEC 27001 certification is relevant for organizations of any size and domain that deal with information and data. ISO/IEC 27001 compliance is fast becoming essential for companies operating within industries that are particularly susceptible to cyber-attacks:

The ISO 27001 security audit: main goals and types

The ISO 27001 security audit is the mandatory process for obtaining ISO/IEC 27001 certification. The audit evaluates your ISMS to ensure that it’s adequately implemented, operated, monitored, and continually improved to mitigate information security risks.

Key objectives of an ISO/IEC 27001 Audit

Ensure ISMS is implemented effectively

Identify any gaps and non-conformities

Review incident management

Provide recommendations on ISMS improvement

The advantages of performing an ISO/IEC 27001 audit include:

Enhanced risk management. By assessing the effectiveness of your ISMS, the audit can help you identify security gaps and, thus, address information security risks more proactively and enhance your overall risk management practices.

Regulatory compliance. In the process of preparing comprehensively for an ISO/IEC 27001 audit, organizations will automatically meet some requirements of standards and regulations such as the GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, SOX, and others.

Continual improvement. The ISO 27001 certification process promotes continuous assessment by identifying areas for improvement within the ISMS.

In brief, the ISO 27001 security audit is a critical process for evaluating and validating the effectiveness of your information security strategy, driving continual improvement, and increasing trust among your stakeholders.

Types of ISO 27001 audits

There are two main types of ISO/IEC 27001 audits: internal audits and external audits.

Main types of ISO/IEC 27001 audit

An internal audit is a type of assessment that you initiate and perform on your own to prepare for passing an external audit. The key goal of an internal audit is to review and evaluate the effectiveness of your information security policies, controls, risk management procedures, and overall security processes.

The main requirements of an internal audit are described in clause 9.2 of ISO/IEC 27001:

  • Clause 9.2.a: Conducting internal audits at regular intervals to assess ISMS compliance.
  • Clause 9.2.b: Ensuring internal audits adhere to ISO 27001 standards.
  • Clause 9.2.c: Planning, implementing, and maintaining the ISO 27001 audit program.
  • Clause 9.2.d: Defining audit criteria and scope for an audit.
  • Clause 9.2.e: Selecting an impartial team of auditors.
  • Clause 9.2.f: Reporting audit results to the management.
  • Clause 9.2.g: Documenting and storing information related to the audit process and results.

The external audit is conducted by a certification body, i.e., an external auditor. The stages of this type of audit usually include:

  1. Documentation review. The auditor assesses the documentation related to your ISMS.
  2. On-site audit. The auditor performs a field audit, conducting on-site assessments and interviews with employees.
  3. Analysis. The auditor evaluates the collected evidence per with scope of the audit.
  4. Reporting. The auditor reports their findings to you, including any identified security gaps or areas for improvement.

Internal Audit vs. External Audit

Comparison category

Purpose of
the audit

Conducted by

Scope of the
audit

Results
of the audit

Certification

Internal audit

Evaluating your ISMS’s effectiveness

Internal auditor

Focus on internal processes and controls

Identifying areas for improvement

Does not result in ISO/IEC 27001 certification

External audit

Certifying your ISMS’s compliance

External auditor

Focus on implementation of the entire ISMS

Determining compliance and making the decision

Results in ISO 27001/IEC certification

Note that receiving certification doesn’t mean you can relax your compliance efforts. Once you pass an external audit successfully, prepare to undergo surveillance audits and recertification audits.

  • Surveillance audits are performed by an accredited auditor at regular intervals to monitor ongoing compliance with ISO/IEC 27001 standards. Typically these are 6-month or 12-month intervals. 
  • Recertification audits are conducted at the end of the certification cycle. The certification is valid for three years, so your organization needs to undergo a recertification audit every three years. During this audit, an independent auditor verifies that your organization continues to uphold the requirements of ISO/IEC 27001.

Additionally, you could be required to undergo extra audits in response to security incidents, significant changes in your systems, and new standard regulations.

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The key steps to prepare for an ISO/IEC 27001 audit

Preparation for an ISO 27001 audit involves a comprehensive approach. Following the ISO 27001 audit checklist will help you pass an audit successfully:

ISO/IEC 27001 checklist

Create a plan for an internal ISO/IEC 27001 audit

Start by acquainting yourself with the ISO/IEC 27001 standard and its requirements. Once done, develop a thorough plan outlining the objectives, action steps, criteria, and resources required for the ISO 27001 audit process. Appoint a team responsible for proper ISMS implementation and set timelines.

Define the scope of your ISMS

Assess key processes of your information security management system. You need to identify all the information assets (physical and digital) and the procedures used to manage them.

Evaluate the current state of security in your organization. Consider what processes you already have that can support ISO/IEC 27001 certification. Are there any gaps or mismatches between your current procedures and ISO 27001 audit requirements?

Perform a risk assessment

Identify what assets need to be kept safe and perform a risk assessment. Compile the results of your risk assessment into a report, outlining potential insider threats and prioritizing risks based on the consequences they may bring to your company. Document all critical risks using the controls from Annex A of ISO/IEC 27001.

Create a risk treatment plan

Upon conclusion of your risk assessment, you need to create a risk treatment plan. The plan should outline all the controls, procedures, and IT assets used to manage and treat each of the identified risks.

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Complete the statement of applicability (SoA)

The statement of applicability (SoA) is an essential ISO/IEC 27001 document that needs to be introduced to an external auditor. It should include the controls selected to address specific information security risks identified during the risk assessment process. It should serve as a roadmap for implementing relevant security controls and demonstrate how your organization’s security practices align with your overall security objectives and compliance requirements. 

Implement relevant policies

Develop and implement policies and controls aligned with ISO/IEC 27001 requirements. Document procedures and processes for handling security incidents. Key policies should include:

  • Access control
  • Confidentiality
  • Integrity
  • Availability of information assets
  • Incident response
  • Third-party security.

Conduct employee training

Train your employees on your ISMS principles, practices, and procedures. Make sure all employees understand the purpose and significance of ISO/IEC 27001 compliance. You can even conduct a mock audit with your employees to help them see how the actual audit is performed, as well as find out what questions they may need to be prepared to answer.

Prepare the documentation

Create and organize documentation required by the standard. The essential documents for ISO/IEC 27001 certification include:

  • ISMS scope statement 
  • Organizational information security policy 
  • Risk management method 
  • Risk register and treatment plan
  • Statement of applicability
  • Policies and processes required under Annex A of ISO/IEC 27001.

All the documentation should be clear, accurate, and up-to-date. 

Perform an internal audit

Appoint a person or team responsible for examining your ISMS and performing an internal audit. Ideally, this should be a non-biased person who was not part of setting up and documenting your ISMS. They should review all documentation and collect evidence on what is and what isn’t working. 

After you receive a detailed report with observations, address listed non-conformities and take corrective actions.

Run an external audit by an accredited auditor

Choose an external auditor who will evaluate your ISMS and confirm that it meets ISO/IEC 27001 requirements. An external ISO/IEC 27001 auditor may be an independent individual or organization that is accredited to perform audits according to the ISO/IEC 27001 standard. 

You can find external ISO/IEC 27001 auditors through various channels, from referring to official certification and accreditation bodies to asking for recommendations from peer organizations that have undergone ISO/IEC 27001 certification. When selecting an external auditor, it’s essential to verify their accreditation status, experience, expertise, and reputation in the field. 

How the external audit works:

An external audit happens in two stages. In Stage 1, the auditor reviews your ISMS documentation to make sure your organization has all the essential information security policies and procedures in place.

In Stage 2, the auditor reviews your business processes and security controls. Once both these stages are completed successfully, your company will be issued an ISO/IEC 27001 certification.

That’s not all.

Once you complete the ISO 27001 audit stages and obtain the ISO 27001 certification, it’s too early to let your guard down. It’s crucial to maintain continuous compliance by staying updated with new regulations, revising your policies, and implementing effective cybersecurity solutions to tackle evolving threats. 

How Ekran System can help you with ISO 27001 compliance

Ekran System can assist you with preparing for ISO/IEC 27001 audits and maintaining compliance afterward. Ekran System is a full-cycle risk management platform with rich functionality for meeting ISO/IEC 27001 compliance and acing the audit. 

Ekran System’s capabilities for ISO/IEC 27001 compliance

User activity monitoring. Ekran System allows you to monitor and record user activity on all endpoints. This ensures transparency and accountability, helping you guarantee compliance with the ISO/IEC 27001 requirements related to access control and monitoring.

Access management. Ekran System enables you to enforce your security policies by configuring granular access controls. This ensures that your employees have access only to the resources established in your security protocols.

Auditing and reporting. Ekran System generates comprehensive audit trails and reports, documenting all user activity. These audit logs can serve as valuable evidence during ISO/IEC 27001 audits.

Insider risk management. Ekran System allows you to deter, detect, and disrupt security risks. Protect your assets from unauthorized access, identify suspicious behavior, and stop security threats by deploying the platform. Enhancing your risk management strategy with Ekran System can help you comply with ISO/IEC 27001 requirements.

Incident response. Ekran System sends real-time alerts that let you swiftly detect incidents, take immediate action, and contain security threats, ensuring compliance with ISO/IEC 27001 requirements for incident management.

In addition, Ekran System supports continuous improvement measures by providing detailed insights into user activity, system performance, and security posture. By analyzing monitoring data, you can identify areas for improvement and refine your information security practices to maintain compliance with ISO/IEC 27001 requirements.

Conclusion

Achieving ISO/IEC 27001 certification is not just about protecting data — it’s also about instilling trust and confidence in your organization’s ability to handle information securely. ISO/IEC 27001 certification ensures that you manage sensitive information effectively, ensuring its confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Complying with all the standard’s requirements and acing the ISO 27001 certification audit requires thorough preparation — setting the right policies, assessing risks, preparing documentation, training your people, and implementing effective cybersecurity solutions. 

Ekran System offers a robust set of features to help you pass the ISO/IEC 27001 audit, get the certification, and maintain continuous compliance. From user activity monitoring to incident response and auditing, Ekran System provides the tools and insights needed to strengthen your information security practices and protect your sensitive data.

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