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What is ISO 27001?

Updated: Feb 9


ISO 27001 is a globally recognised international standard for managing information security. It provides a framework for implementing and maintaining an effective Information Security Management System (ISMS) that is designed to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of an organisation’s information assets.


The standard has been around since 2005. Before that was a British standard, BS7799, and ISO 27001 is now one of the world’s most widely adopted information security standards.

As a standard, it applies to all organizations of any size. The bar provides a systematic approach for identifying, assessing, and managing information security risks. It is designed to be flexible so that organisations can tailor it to their needs and requirements. The standard also ensures that organisations comply with legal, regulatory, and contractual requirements related to information security.

The ISO 27001 standard consists of ten sections, each outlining a set of requirements organisations must meet to achieve certification.

The ten sections of the standard are:

  1. Scope: The scope outlines the boundaries of the ISMS, including the assets, processes, people, and technologies that the ISMS is designed to protect.

  2. Normative references: This section lists the standards and other documents that are referenced in ISO 27001.

  3. Terms and definitions: This section provides definitions for terms used in the standard to ensure a common understanding of the concepts and terminology used.

  4. Context of the organisation: This section requires organisations to define the internal and external context of their operations and to identify the risks and opportunities associated with the context.

  5. Leadership: This section outlines the responsibilities of top management in establishing and maintaining the ISMS.

  6. Planning: This section requires organisations to develop a risk management strategy and plan to identify and address risks to the organisation’s information assets.

  7. Support: This section outlines the resources and support required to implement and maintain the ISMS.

  8. Operation: This section requires organisations to implement the ISMS and ensure that information assets are protected against threats.

  9. Performance evaluation: This section requires organisations to monitor, measure, analyse, and evaluate the effectiveness of the ISMS.

  10. Improvement: This section requires organisations to continuously improve the ISMS to ensure that it remains effective in protecting information assets.

Annex A refers to the list of information security controls an organisation can implement, as outlined in section 6.1.3 of the standard. The list is not exhaustive, and additional controls can be added as needed. However, any control added must be justified, and any control from Annex A that is not included must also be justified. It is important to note that excluding any requirement specified in Clauses 4 to 10 is not acceptable.


ISO 27001 Accreditation


Organisations seeking certification against ISO 27001 must show compliance with clauses 4 through 10 and an appropriate set of security controls. Accreditation is achieved through an external audit by an accredited certification body. In the United Kingdom, the accreditation body is UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service).

The audit assesses the organisation’s ISMS and determines whether it meets the standard’s requirements.

The process usually follows the following steps.


  1. Gap Analysis: Although not technically required, gap analysis against the standard is usually recommended. If outsourcing, gap analysis is completed as part of the implementation but can be done independently.

  2. Stage 1 Audit: This audit focuses on clauses 4 through 10, ensuring the ISMS is in place and demonstrable as running. The audit will also be used to determine your readiness for Stage 2 by discussing your security control set.

  3. Stage 2 Audit: A re-review of your ISMS for changes and a deep dive into your security control set to ensure you meet each control’s control objective.


During an audit, one of four outcomes will be marked against each control:


  • Compliant: the implemented control meets the expectations of the standard.

  • Opportunity for Improvement: Although compliant, the control could be improved.

  • Minor Non-Conformity: A minor lapse in a control; this could be a missed audit or missed review.

  • Major Non-Conformity: A breakdown of the control; this would be no audits completed, no reviews carried out or a high number of Minor NCs in one area.


Only a major NC will result in a failing audit, and corrective action plans may be needed for any minor NCs.


Benefits of achieving ISO 27001

Implementing ISO 27001 has several benefits for organisations.


  1. Improved data security: Implementing ISO 27001 helps organisations protect sensitive information against unauthorised access, theft, or loss.

  2. Compliance with regulations and laws: ISO 27001 provides a framework for complying with data protection regulations and laws, such as GDPR and HIPAA.

  3. Increased customer trust: By demonstrating adherence to international security standards, organisations can build trust with customers and partners and gain a competitive advantage.

  4. Improved risk management: ISO 27001 requires organisations to identify and assess information security risks, and implement controls to mitigate them, leading to a more secure and resilient information security posture.

  5. Better business continuity planning: By incorporating business continuity planning into its risk management processes, an organisation can minimise the impact of security incidents and ensure the availability of critical systems and data.

  6. Improved information management processes: ISO 27001 helps organisations streamline information management processes, leading to increased efficiency and better use of resources.

  7. Competitive advantage in tender bids: Demonstrating adherence to ISO 27001 can give organisations an edge in competitive bidding situations, especially in industries where information security is a high priority.



Compliance with the standard can also improve the organisation’s reputation and credibility with stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, and investors.


Implementing ISO 27001 can also help organisations reduce the costs associated with information security incidents. By identifying and addressing risks to information assets, organisations can prevent costly incidents such as data breaches and avoid associated costs such as fines, legal fees, and reputational damage.


Overall, ISO 27001 is an essential standard for all organisations that handle sensitive information. Organisations can establish a systematic and comprehensive approach to information security management tailored to their needs by implementing an ISMS based on the standard. The standard provides:


  • A framework for identifying and addressing information security risks.

  • Ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.

  • Improving the organisation’s reputation and credibility with stakeholders.


What does ISO 27001 cost? Read our article on the cost of ISO27001 here

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