ISO 27001 vs SOC 2: What is the difference?

ISO 27001 vs SOC 2: When it comes to data protection guidance and compliance, your options can appear confusing, and there are many different information security standards developed by various organisations. Some can be very specific to industries, while others may only be applicable to particular countries or regions.

Two of the most common of these compliance standards are ISO 270001 and SOC 2, and while there may be a great deal of overlap, it is important to : their differences and benefits before choosing which is best for your organisation.

What is SOC 2?

SOC 2 is a type of audit report, providing a detailed assessment regarding an organisation’s security, availability, confidentiality/privacy controls and processing integrity, based on their compliance with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ (AICPA) Trust Services Criteria (TSC). SOC 2 stands for Service Organization Control 2 and consists of two reports: type 1 report and a type 2 report.

A SOC 2 report is a customer-focused approach to information security, examining the logical and physical controls an organisation has implemented to manage and record data access, user authentication, as well as how ‘suspicious’ activity is reported and managed.

What is ISO 27001?

ISO 27001 (or ISO/IEC 27001:2013) is a widely known compliance standard for information security. Just one of the many standards that make up the ISO 27000 family, ISO 27001 is broadly considered to focus upon ‘high-level’ information security concerns.

Evaluating risks to information assets, such as IT systems and intellectual property, ISO 27001 requires an assessment of policies, processes and procedures used to mitigate potential risks.

This focus on the foundations of information security often means that by meeting ISO 27001 standards, an organisation is often closer to also meeting other compliance standards, for example the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

ISO 27001 vs SOC 2 Comparison

Scope

While both SOC 2 and ISO 270001 are designed to help better security practices and demonstrate reliability to customers and clients, they do differ in some minor ways.

For example, ISO 27001 focuses more so on the maintenance and development of an information security management system (ISMS), an overarching method of managing data protection practices. With ISO 270001, this process is typically ongoing.

Alternatively, SOC 2 audit is considered to be the more flexible of the two options, primarily focusing on proving the security controls that protect customer data have indeed been implemented.

SOC 2 is comprised of five Trust Services Principles: Security, Availability, Processing Integrity, Confidentiality and Privacy; only the first of which is mandatory.

While it is important to note these differences, it is also worth acknowledging that one study suggests that these two frameworks share around 96% of the same security controls.

Market Applicability

While both standards/frameworks are globally recognised, SOC 2 is generally considered to be more closely associated with organisations operating in North America.

Conversely, outside of the aforementioned region, ISO 27001 is far more popular and thus more global in its use.

Certification Process

With both compliance frameworks, to be certified, an organisation must complete an external audit.

To be certified as ISO 27001 compliant, a recognised ISO 27001-accredited certification body must complete this audit, whereas for SOC 2 accreditation, a report can only be completed by a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Also of note: organisations that pass the ISO 27001 audit receive a certificate of compliance, whereas SOC 2 compliance is documented with a formal attestation.

Cost

While some sources suggest that ISO 27001 can cost up to 50-60% more than SOC 2, it is important to understand that with either of these frameworks, costs can vary dramatically depending on the security controls and evidence gathering necessary to both achieving and demonstrating compliance.

Project Timeline

The certification process for both ISO 27001 and SOC 2 are fairly similar; being broken into three distinct stages.

Firstly, a gap analysis should be conducted to understand which areas of the given framework you are already compliant with, and where improvements need to be made.

Secondly, your organisation should identify appropriate security controls and take the necessary steps to have these implemented. This will include both documenting practices and establishing methods of review and improvement.

The final stage of this process is the audit. As with many forms of assessment, as to make any final improvements, an organisation would be wise to conduct their own internal audit prior to arranging for an accredited body to make their assessment.

Though there is no exact timeline (this will depend on many factors regarding your organisation), SOC 2 certification will typically take around 12 months to complete, whereas ISO 27001 usually requires around 12-18 months.

Which Should I Choose?

Ultimately, both SOC 2 and ISO 27001 should help your organisation improve overall information security practices and demonstrate to customers and clients a commitment to security; though which framework you decide upon will be largely down to the particulars of your organisation’s needs. With region, industry and organisational specifics all playing big roles in this decision, both are internationally recognised standards, with respective benefits and costs.

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