ISO 27001 vs SOC 2: 6 Key Differences Explained

ISO 27001 vs SOC 2

Determining what certification your organization should pursue can be a challenge, it’s important to know what standard will best suit your organization and why.  

ISO 27001 and SOC 2 are top choices to be able to prove that your organization is cyber resilient, but which one is best and why? SOC 2 and ISO 27001 cover many of the same topics, the main difference between them is that ISO 27001 is an international certification focused on proving that your organization has an information security management system (ISMS) that is in place and operational, while SOC 2, a United States based framework, focuses on proving that specific security controls and processing integrity have been implemented to protect customers data. 

This article will break down the key differences between ISO27001 vs SOC 2, with the aim of helping your organization make the cost-benefit calculation for each.

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Quick Intro to ISO 27001

ISO 27001 is an international standard that describes best practices for an Information Security Management System. Organizations must identify information risks and have security controls in place to remediate them. ISO 27001 can apply to organizations of all sizes and industries. 

Using ISO 27001, you will be able to protect your organization’s information systematically, specifically addressing three principles: people, processes, and technologies. An important benefit of developing an ISMS and being ISO27001 certified is your organization can prove its reduced risk of security breaches.

A Quick Intro to SOC 2

SOC 2 is a compliance framework that helps to define how customer data is managed based on the five trust services criteria principles – availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. It was created to ensure the privacy and security of customer information by auditing the design and effectiveness of controls over a specific time period.

Having a SOC 2 attestation provides assurances to potential clients your organization can securely manage and protect customer privacy and data. Complying with SOC 2 means that your organization has facilitated the implementation of data security and internal controls to meet industry security standards. A SOC 2 attestation proves the operational effectiveness of business systems. 

There are key differences between a SOC 2 attestation report and ISO 27001 certification. The main difference being SOC 2 is not a certification, it is a framework, proving adherence to which will gain your organization a SOC 2 attestation report. SOC 2 is primarily reserved for businesses operating in the United States.  

ISO 27001 is an internationally recognized formal certification that opens up business opportunities outside of the United States and requires a fully functioning Information Security Management System.

Overlap between the two standards ranges from 30-90%, meaning that working towards either standard helps prepare you for the other.

The Benefits of ISO 27001 vs SOC 2

ISO 27001 and SOC 2 have differing priorities. ISO 27001 has the goal of assuring your organization has a fully operational security framework for managing data while SOC 2 is focused more specifically on showing that your organization has implemented required data security controls.

ISO 27001 is an internationally recognized security certification standard, utilizing universal standards. An ISO 27001 certification requires your organization to prove that you have developed and maintained an Information Security Management System, it also reviews the design, implementation, and operational effectiveness of the same.

SOC 2 audits are regulated by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and may only be completed by an external auditor from a licensed CPA firm. SOC 2 audits can be customized to your business. Essentially, a SOC 2 audit will assess current data security practices that are already established.

Because ISO 27001 requires a complete Information Security Management System is it significantly more extensive, and expensive than SOC 2. 

The benefits of ISO 27001 compliance include protecting your organization from security threats, which in turn protects your organization’s reputation. It provides internationally recognized proof that your organization takes security seriously and can be trusted with privacy management – this gives your organization a competitive advantage to winning future business as well as continuing business with current customers.

Additionally, current customers and clients are less likely to need to audit your organization, as your ISO 27001 certification answers most third-party required audit questionnaires.

Last, but certainly not least, ISO 27001 assists with compliance with legal and regulatory requirements and in turn may prevent legal and regulatory fines. 

There are also many benefits of a SOC 2 attestation. With a SOC 2 attestation, you can indicate that your organization has maintained an advanced level of information security and ensures sensitive information is handled responsibly.

Having a SOC 2 attestation gives your organization an advantage over your competitors that may not have the ability to demonstrate their compliance. Having a SOC 2 attestation shows that your organization has a refined security posture protecting your systems and networks.

SOC 2 requirements overlap other frameworks making it easier to show your customers that you comply with those requirements as well.

A SOC 2 report gives you the ability to prove your organization’s robust security posture.

Both standards go a long way in providing assurance to your customers that your organization takes security and privacy seriously.

How Long Does Each Certification Take?

ISO vs SOC 2 timeline

Certification/attestation timelines for both certifications can be broken down into three parts: readiness, internal assessments/remediation, then the formal audit.

The amount of time required to achieve certification will vary greatly depending on factors such as business size, scope, and resource availability.

The readiness and internal assessment stages go hand in hand in preparing your organization for the certification audit with the external auditor. In these stages, your organization will need to establish scopes and objectives, perform internal assessments, then develop a plan for remediation and implementation. This is the most important, and labor-intensive portion of the certification process. Once remediation and implementation are complete you must have a plan for monitoring and reporting results. After completion of these stages, your organization will be well prepared for the audit.

Preparation for SOC 2 compliance for an organization going through its first assessment is expected to take between 6-12 months.

The most time is spent on readiness and internal assessment stages, remediations, and documentation. If you have gone through SOC 2 attestation in the past or your organization is going through your annual review then the process is greatly accelerated. 

The actual SOC 2 audit can take anywhere between five weeks and three months, before receiving your audit report.

All parts of SOC attestation readiness are contingent upon multiple factors, both internal and external including, but not limited to scope, scheduling, and the number of controls being assessed. 

ISO 27001 implementation in preparation for certification can take anywhere from 6 months to over 2 years.

Organizations often will onboard an ISO 27001 consultant to speed up preparation time as well as provide guidance and support throughout the certification process. Although hiring an ISO 27001 consultant is not a requirement, organizations utilize their expertise to ensure necessary processes, documentation, and tools are in place to prove an effective, operational Information Security Management System.

Additionally, a consultant will review your current environment and identify any areas of weakness before the final assessment.

There are two stages to an ISO 27001 audit, the first is the documentation assessment where your auditor will review ISMS documentation and decide if it meets ISO 27001 requirements as well as inform you of any gaps, this stage usually lasts a few days.

The second stage is the certification audit, where the auditor will review your compliance and adherence to the Information Security Management System. This stage can last from 6-10 days depending on interviews, physical site visits, and evidence review.

Once completed, the auditor can decide that you have fulfilled all ISO 27001 requirements, granting certification – or the auditor can ask that you address any non-conformities and provide you with a corrective action plan (CAP) then will monitor results before granting certification.  

How Often Must Each Be Renewed?

SOC 2 certification will remain valid for twelve months beginning the day the report is issued. SOC 2 audits are held on an annual basis.  

ISO 27001 certification is valid for three years, however, the auditor must surveil your adherence on an annual basis to maintain certification.

ISO 27001 vs SOC 2 Penalties

Compliance with ISO 27001 and SOC 2 is not legally mandated in the United States, so there are no penalties for noncompliance. However, being able to show your organization complies with one of these standards could help reduce fines and penalties in the event of a data breach. 

Different Numbers of Controls

ISO 27001 controls are divided into 14 categories, in those categories, there are 114 controls that must be adhered to. SOC 2 framework has 5 Trust Services Criteria (TSC) which have 64 individual requirements – note that SOC 2 has requirements and not controls. These requirements are dependent on which TSCs your organization chooses to cover with your SOC 2 audit. 

Differences in Cost

Implementation of ISO 27001 is much more extensive than SOC 2. ISO 27001 certification requires developing and implementing a security management system, costs of internal and external resources, actual certification, and annual assessments all must be considered in calculating the cost of certification.

ISO 27001 cost can vary greatly; estimates range from $5,000 to over $100,000 for a small to medium-sized business, including all readiness stages and the actual audit. 

The audit alone for SOC 2 can range in price from $12,000 to $20,000, with some reputable firms charging closer to $30,000.

A small to medium-sized business should expect to spend at least $50,000 on SOC 2 certification, inclusive of all readiness stages. 

ISO 27001 vs SOC 2: Which Should Your Organization Pursue?

Deciding which certification to pursue is solely dependent on your business needs. Paying attention to what your clients are requiring is one way that organizations decide what certification to obtain, however, there are times when one certification is preferable over the other.

If your organization does business with international clients, ISO 27001 is internationally recognized. ISO 27001 will provide greater coverage and opportunities for your organization.

SOC 2 audits may be preferred for organizations that already have a security management system in place and want to ensure their current standards and policies are functional. SOC 2 will likely suffice if you are only conducting business in the United States, and you are looking to save on costs.

Published by Denise McMillan - ISO 27001 Lead Auditor
Denise McMillan has over 10 years' experience providing IT infrastructure management, Governance and Compliance auditing management and remediation experience utilizing standards found in: ISO27001, COBIT, HITRUST, FEDRAMP, and NIST 800-53....
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