Compliance isn’t security: Why organisations should go beyond certifications

Achieving certifications like ISO 27001 or TISAX® is viewed as the gold standard in information security. They provide a framework for organisations to manage their information security management systems (ISMS) and assure stakeholders of their commitment to security. That’s all correct. The question is, does compliance also make you secure?

True security requires a broader, more dynamic approach that extends beyond the constraints of certification standards. So, while certifications are a great start, they shouldn't be seen as the ultimate goal. To truly protect information assets and ensure long-term success, organisations need to go beyond certifications. Here’s why.

This article covers:

 

Getting certified is just a snapshot in time

Certifications represent a snapshot of your organisation's security posture at a specific moment in time. Nobody knows where you might be a year or even two months from that moment. You may launch a new product, enter a new market, or implement new technology that exposes you to new threats.

So, getting certified is a critical step, but it’s only the beginning. Cyber security is dynamic, and a certification can’t guarantee that its standards will be maintained continuously without ongoing effort and vigilance.

 

Minimal compliance or the issue of complacency

Achieving certification often involves meeting the minimum requirements set by the standard. This approach can lead to complacency, where organisations do just enough to get certified but don’t strive for continual improvement. This is dangerous as it can create a false sense of security.

Certification can help win new business, but maintaining and improving your infosec practices is what actually helps mature your ISMS.

 

Lack of maturity assessment

Certifications like ISO 27001 don’t typically include maturity levels within their frameworks. This makes it challenging to effectively assess and communicate your organisation’s ISMS maturity, both internally and externally.

To improve information security maturity, set measurable goals, such as increasing the percentage of employees trained on specific security topics each year. For example, start with 60% trained in the first year and aim for 70-80% the following year. And then regularly update training to cover the latest threats.

 

Cybercrime is increasing

Remote work, cybercrime, and geopolitical uncertainties all exacerbate information risks today. Because of this new reality, your organisation may be more vulnerable, especially if a certification is treated as a mere checkbox.

More and varying threats

Cyber security threats are constantly changing. New vulnerabilities, attack vectors, and sophisticated cyber attacks emerge daily, especially due to AI. Relying solely on certifications can create a false sense of security, as these standards may not always keep pace with the latest developments. To stay ahead of the curve, be proactive and continuously update your security practices to protect your assets.

Real-time threat response

Certifications often focus on having the right controls and procedures in place, but they don't always address the need for real-time threat response. Effective information security involves monitoring, detecting, and responding to threats as they happen.

Watch video: Incident response strategies: Navigating today's threat landscape

True security means being ready to spot and handle threats as they come. Use continuous monitoring to keep watch and have a clear plan for responding quickly. Regular updates and tests ensure your cyber response plan works against new threats.

 

Better risk management and resilience

Good information security is based on sound risk management. And getting ISO 27001 certified doesn’t necessarily mean your risk management is on point.

For effective risk management, align your security strategy with your business goals and know what you want to achieve with certifications like ISO 27001. This also helps get support from management.

Identify critical assets

Understand what assets are critical to your organisation’s operations and revenue generation. This includes data, systems, and personnel. Document the risks to these assets and assign risk owners. Work together to cover all potential risks, especially ones that could shut down your operations and affect revenue flows.

Assess risks continuously

Risk assessments shouldnt be one-time events but continuous processes that adapt to new threats and changes in your organisation’s environment.

Implement comprehensive controls

Beyond the basic controls required for certification, implement additional measures tailored to your specific risks and operational context.

Build organisational resilience

Resilience means preparing for and responding to incidents. This includes having business continuity and disaster recovery plans, conducting regular drills, and ensuring critical processes can withstand and quickly recover from disruptions.

 

 

Creating a security-conscious culture

A certification might prove that your organisation has specific protocols, but it doesn't necessarily mean that security is ingrained in the culture. A security-conscious culture means that every employee understands information security's importance and role in maintaining it.

Take Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) as an example. You might implement MFA but fail to enforce it properly, leading to security gaps. To avoid this, make security practices relatable and ensure everyone understands their importance. Explain how MFA protects both personal and organisational data. Everyone, from IT teams to end-users, should know how to set up and use MFA correctly and do so willingly.

Training and awareness

Tailor security training to different roles within your organisation and update it regularly to address new threats. It’s equally important for your employees to understand how to follow security protocols and know why they matter.

Engagement and communication

Regular communication about security issues, updates, and best practices helps keep security top-of-mind for all employees. You can engage in what can be referred to as “drum-beat” communication: use your internal platform to share quick tips and reminders weekly or monthly so everyone stays aware and engaged.

Leadership involvement

Senior management must be visibly committed to security. Their involvement can drive a culture where security is seen as a business enabler rather than a checkbox exercise. Leadership should integrate security into the overall business strategy, demonstrating its importance to your organisation’s success.

 

Growing trust and winning more clients

More attention to information security measures can be your organisation’s business advantage. Proactive and robust security practices build trust with customers, partners, and investors, providing a competitive edge.

You might also be interested: Top 5 challenges for CISOs in professional services

Customers and partners are more likely to do business with organisations that demonstrate a strong commitment to security. By going beyond the basic requirements of certifications, you can build a reputation for being reliable and trustworthy.

 

No organisation and no industry is the same

If we take ISO 27001, the standard doesn’t differentiate between industries. But each organisation and each business model faces varying information security risks. You’ll need a thorough understanding of your organisational context to protect your organisation well. The certification gives you a good base, but you’ll need to understand the risks most pressing to your business model to take adequate measures.

If you're in manufacturing

Availability is above all else for manufacturing organisations. Operational Technology (OT) systems are often targeted by malware aiming to disrupt production. When you merge OT and IT systems, you lose the "air gap," increasing vulnerability.

To mitigate this, you’ll need measures connected to availability: network segmentation to isolate sensitive areas, real-time monitoring to detect threats as they occur, patch management to ensure all systems are up-to-date, and intrusion detection systems (IDS) to identify and respond to suspicious activities.

If you're in tech

Tech companies vary widely in size, focus, and technology, making their information security needs just as diverse. A SaaS will primarily be concerned with downtime. MedTechs deal with highly sensitive data, while a data breach can severely damage a FinTech’s reputation. Tech businesses handle vast amounts of customer data and proprietary information, so their primary concern will be data confidentiality and integrity.

If you're in professional services

Professional services companies manage sensitive client data, making confidentiality a top priority. Here, robust application security measures, such as web application firewalls and endpoint detection response systems, help detect and respond to malicious activities.

 

How to know you’re not just compliant but also secure?

Let’s say five organisations got ISO 27001 certified, including yours. What sets the genuinely secure ones apart? It’s their commitment to identifying and governing their most significant risks. Certification gives you a good baseline, but it doesn't cover everything.

Regularly update your security goals based on your organisation's biggest risks. Make sure your team, processes, and tech evolve to address these threats. Avoid complacency by treating security as an ongoing effort, not a one-time project.

 

Your route to compliance and security

Organisations that only aim to achieve compliance are likely to struggle to maintain robust security posture. 

Compliance is about meeting the minimum requirements set by laws and regulations, and security is about risk management through the implementation of relevant controls. Merge the two – and you’re much better equipped for whatever comes your way.

Build your ISMS to comply with certifications like ISO 27001 and to keep your organisation’s information secure. We can show you how:

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the key difference between compliance and security?

The key difference between compliance and security is that compliance involves meeting specific regulatory and certification requirements, while security encompasses a broader, ongoing effort to protect information assets against threats. Compliance can be a static checklist, but security requires dynamic, continuous improvement and adaptation to new challenges and vulnerabilities.

Why do organisations need ISO 27001 certification?

Organisations need ISO 27001 certification to establish a recognised framework for managing information security. This certification helps demonstrate their commitment to protecting sensitive data, meeting legal and regulatory requirements, and building trust with customers, partners, and stakeholders by showing they adhere to international best practices in information security management.

What is ISO 27001 intended to ensure?

ISO 27001 is intended to ensure that organisations have a systematic approach to managing sensitive organisation and customer information. It provides a set of standards for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continuously improving an information security management system (ISMS), aimed at protecting data confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Why is ISO 27001 not enough?

ISO 27001 is not enough because it represents a snapshot of an organisation's security posture at a specific point in time and primarily focuses on compliance. True security requires ongoing effort, continuous improvement, and adaptation to evolving threats that go beyond the certification's requirements, addressing real-time risks and fostering a proactive security culture.

About the author

Dan Buss Dan Buss
Dan Buss

Senior Consultant Tech Practice

Dan Buss is a Senior Consultant for Tech Practice at DataGuard. Dan began his career in Human Resources, moving through various HR Management roles until he encountered ISO27001 in 2010. After implementing ISO27001, ISO9001, and ISO14001 certifications in a financial services company, he shifted his focus to information security. Dan leverages his people skills to build sustainable information security management systems (ISMS) centred around people. He’s an ISO27001 Lead Auditor, CISM, CRISC, and Certified Cybersecurity (CC). Dan's current role focuses on enhancing business security through risk management and improving ISMS maturity.

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