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SOC 2 vs ISO 27001: Key Differences Explained

Information security has become increasingly important to people in the digital age, making it crucial to the success of your organisation. Information security practices include applying controls that mitigate the risk of unauthorised access and loss of confidential information. It is important to take the necessary steps to prevent data breaches and demonstrate a proven commitment to protecting your customers’ information.

SOC 2 and ISO 27001 are both widely used information security frameworks and certifications that come with their benefits. This article outlines the differences between the frameworks, to help you understand whether your organisation should become compliant with one – or both!

A quick overview

  • SOC 2 proves conformity to defined security pillars through audit reports. ISO 27001 outlines the requirements for an ISMS.
  • SOC 2 is mainly used by service providers in the United States, while ISO 27001 is applicable across industries worldwide.

    Let’s take a look at each framework in detail.

In this article

What is SOC 2?

Systems and Organisation Controls (SOC) 2 was developed by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). It is a voluntary standard of compliance for service providers and has two types: Type I and Type II. In general, a SOC 2 certification is issued by external auditors.

Type I Reports Type II Reports
Vouches for the service’s systems and investigates whether the chosen controls support the organisation’s objectives and principles. In addition to the information provided in a Type I report, Type II reports detail the operational efficiency of these controls.
Reports reflect system performance at a point in time. Reports reflect system performance over a 6-12 month period.

 

SOC 2 compliance hinges on five principles or Trust Service Categories (TSCs); security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. Demonstrating full compliance with all five TSCs gives your organisation a competitive advantage, especially in industries that require higher compliance standards, such as the financial sector. 

What is ISO 27001?

ISO 27001 lays out the specifications for implementing and managing an information security management system (ISMS). It is the international standard for information security and is a more rigorous compliance process that addresses people, processes and technology. 

The ISO 27001 framework contains best practices chosen from a list of 114 Annex A controls that cover all areas of an organisation; organisational issues, human resources, information technology, legal issues and physical security. These controls are identified and implemented based on a risk assessment. 

Based on this, an ISMS ensures the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of important information by addressing security issues across the organisation. To obtain an ISO 27001 certification, organisations must choose an independent accredited certification body. 

To tackle the question of which framework better suits your organisation, let’s take a look at some background information and how SOC 2 and ISO 27001 differ from each other. 

At DataGuard, we provide a range of services around information security, including consultation for ISO 27001. Learn more about our ISO 27001 consultancy services here.

What are the main differences between SOC 2 and ISO 27001?

Both SOC 2 and ISO 27001 assure customers and stakeholders that their data is protected. As a result, there is some overlap between the controls of each framework as they both address the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information; they both aim to instill trust in your customer base by mitigating information security risks, and require an independent assessment of security controls.

SOC 2 and ISO 27001 are widely recognised certifications and organisations can benefit from completing both. However, here are some ways they differ, to help you decide if one is better suited to your organisation.

  SOC 2 ISO 27001
Geographical Scope SOC 2 is commonly used by North-American organisations. ISO 27001 is an international standard for information security.
Market applicability SOC 2 is useful for all service companies that store user data on the cloud, such as SaaS companies. ISO 27001 is applicable for organisations of all sizes and industries.
Certification issuing body SOC 2 certification comes in the form of an attestation report issued by a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA). ISO 27001 certification is issued by an accredited registrar of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) certification body.
Use SOC 2 audits an organisation’s information security level based on TSCs and principles. ISO 27001 is a continuous effort designed to implement and maintain an ISMS and improve overall security.
Criteria SOC 2 certification is based on a set of 64 criteria split across five TSCs. ISO 27001 certification is a risk-based approach that entails selecting from 114 Annex A controls across 14 categories
Cost The Cost of SOC 2 will depend on whether you are pursuing a Type I or Type II report. ISO 27001 typically costs 50% more than a SOC 2 report as it is a more rigorous compliance process.
Validity of Certification SOC 2 Type II reports are more sought after than Type I reports, and they must be renewed annually. A point-in-time audit is required during the first year of the three-year of commitment to ISO 27001 certification. Following this, annual “surveillance” audits are needed.
Timeline SOC 2 (specifically Type II) takes 12 months to complete ISO 27001 can take between 12-18 months.

* The certification processes for both SOC 2 and ISO 27001 can be broken down into three main stages: Gap Assessment/Plan Definition, Implementation/Evidence Collection, and Audit/Certification.

What are the similarities between SOC 2 and ISO 27001?

Now that you know the differences, here’s a quick overview of what these two certifications have in common.

  • Scope of certification: Since both certifications are designed to ensure that user data is protected, there is an overlap between the controls. So if you want to obtain both certifications in the future (after being certified for SOC2 or ISO 27001), this process may be easier as you are already complying with some of the requirements.
  • Issuance of Certification : Both certifications are issued by an independent third party certification body. 
  • Time to complete: For SOC 2 certification and ISO 27001 certification, they both require a similar amount of time to complete – if they follow the same three stages of certification; Gap Analysis/Assessment, Implementation, and Audit/Certification process.

SOC 2 vs. ISO 27001: Which should I choose?

Ultimately, both frameworks increase third-party confidence in your organisation’s information security practices. However, the choice will depend on your organisation's needs and how the chosen framework and its controls align with your current practices.

SOC 2 ISO 27001
For a current report on the efficacy of your information security framework. To adhere to an international standard of information security.
If you already have an established ISMS. If you want to establish an ISMS.
For a less rigorous certification process. For an extensive audit process.
If you have mainly North-American clientele. If you have international clientele.

Obtaining both SOC 2 and ISO 27001 certifications can be advantageous to your organisation. If you wish to choose one over the other, you must first understand the objectives of your organisation and the information security needs of your customer and stakeholders. Pursuing ISO 27001 certification is a more rigorous process as it demonstrates a stronger commitment to information security, making it more desirable in stringent industries. 

Let’s break down the processes of achieving SOC 2 and ISO 27001 compliance. 

How to become SOC 2 compliant?

SOC 2 is not a list of controls, tools, or processes that must be followed. Rather, it outlines the criteria required to maintain strong information security, allowing organisations to select the practices and processes that best suit with their goals and operations. Here is a basic breakdown of the steps needed to achieve compliance.

  • Enlist the help of an external auditor to examine your existing security standards and find out what works and what needs improvement. 
  • Following this assessment, select security criteria against the five TSCs. Document each security measure and measure their performance.
  • Build a roadmap with the help of your auditor, over the course of a few weeks, to achieve full compliance.
  • After a few months, conduct a formal audit to ensure that your SOC 2 systems are being appropriately managed. Provide evidence that you followed the correct processes.
  • Once you get certified, continue to undergo annual audits to keep your security measures updated.

How to become ISO 27001 Compliant?

ISO 27001 is applicable to any organisation that wants to strengthen their information security practices. This framework addresses security concerns across multiple domains of an organisation through an ISMS. Here are the key steps to becoming ISO 27001 compliant.

  • Design a project plan that defines your information security expectations.
  • Next, define the scope of your ISMS to determine what information is deemed necessary for protection.
  • Following a gap analysis and risk assessment with the help of an expert, determine which security controls must be implemented.
  • Implement these controls to mitigate the risks that were identified. Then, produce a Statement of Applicability and Risk Treatment Plan to your auditor as evidence of implementation.
  • Carry out training for all employees to become familiar with information security.
  • Document evidence that established controls are functioning in accordance with ISO 27001.
  • Carry out Stage 1 and Stage 2 certification audits with the help of an external auditor to get an ISO 27001 certification that will remain valid for 3 years.
  • Continue to analyse and review your ISMS to ensure you are remaining compliant. Periodic internal audits are important for this purpose.

SOC 2 vs. ISO 27001 : Closing thoughts

If your organisation operates within the financial or healthcare industries, and has US-based clientele, you may opt for an SOC 2 certification. In contrast, European clientele prefers ISO 27001. Ultimately, consulting with key stakeholders is the best way to manage information security expectations.

Whether one framework is better than the other is entirely dependent on your organisation's needs. Both SOC 2 and ISO 27001 come with their benefits, but it is likely that you may eventually need to pursue both certifications as your organisation grows, to cater to global clientele. Deciding which information security certification to obtain does not need to be a difficult choice. 

If you need help deciding what works best for you, speak with one of our consultants and get expert advice from industry professionals. Book an appointment

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