ISO 27001 implementation checklist: a step-by-step guide

ISO 27001 checklist

As cyberattacks and data breach risks increase, businesses are hard-pressed to look for solutions. An effective cybersecurity approach should combine countermeasures against external attacks and risks within the organization.

International Standards Organization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) developed a 27001 standard that serves as a framework for an internal organization’s Information Security Management System (ISMS). They describe organizations' approaches to IT security and privacy.

It’s also possible to receive an ISO 27001 certificate that confirms that your organization’s internal ISMS is aligned with the best IT security practices. However, receiving it is no small feat — it can take many hours of work to get accreditation.

For this reason, we’ve prepared the following guide to help you navigate through ISO 27001 compliance.

What is ISO 27001, and what does it do?

ISO/IEC 27001 is an international IT security management standard published by the ISO and IEC organizations. It outlines how businesses should approach various cybersecurity areas, from policies to staff training. This serves as the basis when an enterprise forms its internal policy — ISMS, which documents all these procedures in greater detail. Its function is to minimize the risk of cybersecurity accidents and damage from data breaches.

It’s not the only standard developed by the joint ISO and IEC organizations. There are also ISO 27002, ISO 27004, and ISO 27005 standards that detail how to control IT security controls, measure security effectiveness, and outline risk management procedures. Even if you’re planning to implement other standards, ISO 27001 will likely have to be implemented first.

Who needs ISO 27001?

ISO 27001 provides a framework for ISMS building, so it’s a completely different approach than HIPAA or GDPR. Rather, an organization becomes compliant if its ISMS follows the criteria established by ISO 27001. It isn’t a requirement that any law would enforce, though.

Organizations voluntarily seek ISO 27001 compliance as it’s regarded as a badge of trust. Clients and other businesses regard organizations with ISO 27001 certification as more secure. This can mean that it will be easier to convince others to enter partnerships or sell your product and services.

In addition, it’s a helpful framework when you want to improve your organization’s cybersecurity. Thoroughly following ISO 27001 guidelines can reduce critical risks and mitigate potential damage, making an organization more resistant.

The standard isn’t mutually exclusive to other regulations like HIPAA or GDPR. It’s often the case that taking steps to reach ISO 27001 compliance will make your compliance easier when following other mandated regulations.

ISO 27001 checklist

ISO 27001 accreditation is a long and time-consuming process. Smaller organizations may do it faster, but larger ones will almost universally take the longest time to be certified. Before you start, here’s an ISO 27001 checklist that should help you to keep on track when pursuing accreditation.

1. Appoint an ISO 27001 team

The first step of ISO 27001 accreditation will be assembling a team responsible for ISMS implementation. Naturally, you’re going to need a leader to drive the project.

The team should devise a project mandate plan detailing information security objectives, timeframe, and costs as with any other initiatives. This will be a useful document when evaluating the progress made and detailing what still needs to be done.

2. Build your ISMS

The first step toward ISO 27001 accreditation will be building your internal ISMS. It should be extensive and define the organization’s expectations for employees when handling sensitive data and dealing with IT systems. The plan should also outline what should be done if the expectations aren’t met.

A good piece of advice is to abstain from copy-pasting pre-made ISMS from other organizations. Your ISMS will be the most effective if it’s tailor-made to align with your company’s business case. It’s a good opportunity to consider what particular risks your organization faces and what can be done to protect against them better.

In addition, the policy should cover internal procedures. Employees should know existing security practices and know why they’re needed. The company’s approach should also be detailed in ISMS so that every organization member would be on the same page regarding cybersecurity.

3. Define the risk assessment methodology

Risk assessment methodology should be regarded as one of the key priorities in your ISO 27001 checklist. It’s a systemic approach to understanding various risks, potential impacts, and likelihoods. This step shapes what the security model will focus the most on.

The route to risk assessment will begin with identifying what assets need to be kept safe. Based on their scope, protection objectives should be established, placing your resources and assets within some hierarchy of importance. After that’s done, it’s necessary to look into specific vulnerabilities that could be leveraged to access sensitive data. This should help you get an action plan that will improve your compliance and increase your organization’s security.

4. Conduct a risk assessment

A risk assessment will be an execution of the plan that you outlined in step #3. Based on your considerations of what risks might interfere with a company’s objectives, you’ll need to determine their likelihood. It might be an option to rely on cybersecurity statistics, your company’s exposure, market presence, and security setup.

Not all risks’ severity will be identical. Probability and impact will be critical factors when determining their danger. You’ll also need to assess tolerance for each identified risk.

This step should end with a risk assessment report documenting all the steps taken during the risk assessment process. This is a central piece of your ISMS security policies.

5. Write the Statement of Applicability

Statement of Applicability details your organization’s system security scope. List all controls and highlights applicable in your case and which aren’t. The document also explains approach justifications and describes the implementation plan.

The document also contains softer information like organizational profile, design principles, suppliers selection principles, and employees’ roles and responsibilities. This ties into a unified SoA requirements implementation within a unified framework.

6. Create a Risk Treatment Plan

The Risk Treatment Plan is closely tied to the SoA plan and details how its controls could be implemented in your organization. The plan should be based on your organization’s IT assets and the identified risks.

It will be used to coordinate further steps of ISO 27001 compliance.

7. Define how to measure the effectiveness of controls

Following the Risk Treatment Plan, you should also add some basis of evaluation for your implemented controls. This is a diagnostic measure that will help you identify areas in which your ISMS might be lacking. Since ISMS includes policies, processes, and controls, this should lead you into a wide scope measurement system.

Other metrics like security effectiveness and its efficiency could also benefit from clear evaluation guidelines. Not to mention that all stakeholders will greatly benefit from this data when making decisions. Keep in mind to ensure that your objectives are realistic and fit within a set timeframe.

8.Implement Controls & Procedures

All previously completed steps form a core of your ISMS, which means you can begin using it. This will require some overhaul within your company regarding the IT security approach.

You may spend a good amount of time at this step, depending on the extent of your risks and the potential solutions you’ve outlined. This step already contributes a great deal to your organization’s cybersecurity.

9. Implement Training & Awareness Programmes

After ISMS is established, your employees should be aware of the new changes. Being ISO 27001 compliant also means asking more from your employees to ensure that the company is safe from cyber threats. Therefore, all employees should be in the loop regarding your newly adopted cybersecurity practices. Cybersecurity awareness training would be a go-to solution.

As human error is one of the most frequent causes of data breaches, overlooking your employees and cyber awareness can have drastic consequences. Social engineering and phishing campaigns exploit the lack of cybersecurity awareness. Therefore, it’s a must to include in your ISMS.

10. Assemble required documents and records

Record management will directly contribute to your ISO 27001 compliance progress. Being certified will entail the requirement of proof of procedures and instructions applied in practice. It will be an undeniable example that your ISMS works in practice and not only on paper.

In addition, clear and concise records will help you monitor everything transpiring within your company’s walls. It’s a goldmine of useful data that, when examined, could help you to identify critical areas that still need improvement.

11. Monitor the ISMS

Depending on specific identified risks within your organization, you should create a mechanism for their monitoring. It’s an additional precaution when handling various risks, vulnerabilities, and other threats. Monitoring does provide some failsafe mechanism to keep your organization in check with ISMS standards.

This step also marks the coming together of your controls objectives and methodology approach. Monitoring lets you verify whether your results confirm that your objectives are reached. If they aren’t, you’ll have to perform corrective or preventative actions to amend the situation.

12. Conduct internal audit 

Internal audits can have numerous benefits to your organization. They highlight the areas that need improvement and give insight into whether your ISMS is still relevant. If the two have little in common, it provides insight into what could be adjusted to address your business problems better.

If possible, an internal audit should be performed without the involvement of those responsible for ISMS implementation. This will help keep it objective, and shortcomings won’t be swept under the rug. Do keep in mind that the bigger scope of your organization’s ISMS, the longer your audit will be.

Finally, the audit should be done periodically. It would be best to conduct an internal audit once every year or, at the very least — once in three years. An audit is an important part of your ISMS diagnostics and helps identify underlying problems that need to be solved.

13. Management review

Having your executive team on board with the ISMS is crucial. While it’s not essential to explain to them how every tiny detail works, a broad understanding of ISMS's strengths and weaknesses is something that benefits everyone. Sharing its status updates regularly means keeping everyone on the same page.

In the end, management will be the ones making the final say when it comes to security budget approvals and aligning business strategies.

14. Corrective and preventive actions

After internal audits, you should have a pretty good overview of your ISMS. The implementation team then should focus on making continuous improvements to ISMS to solve found issues.

It’s also important to treat the found problems as symptoms and focus on the underlying root cause. Continuous improvements to ISMS prevent it from becoming obsolete and resolve all non-conformities to the document within the organization.

What to look for in ISO 27001 implementation tools?

Numerous ISO 27001 implementation toolkits include various templates and resources to help your organization’s transition. The important thing to remember is that the toolkit will only function as a supplement to help your compliance journey. However, you’ll still need to filter it through your organization’s specifics. 

As for the implementation itself, most changes will affect your approach to cybersecurity. The majority of time will be spent educating employees and breaking harmful cybersecurity habits. Arguably, no tool would be useful in such scenarios.

How can NordLayer help?

NordLayer provides a Security Service Edge, part of the Secure Access Service Edge framework. It operates on the Zero Trust model that aids small to medium businesses modernize their cybersecurity countermeasures.

The principal NordLayer’s use case is secure remote access to off-site employees, emphasizing strict authentication and security. The framework is cloud-based. The setup can be controlled via a web dashboard and doesn’t require any additional hardware setup.

The service is built with a layered model preventing unauthorized users from accessing and ensuring high-performance connectivity from any part of the world. NordLayer addresses modern businesses’ cybersecurity needs by providing an easily deployable and scalable solution.

Get in touch with our team and discover more about our approach that could improve your organization’s cybersecurity status.

Disclaimer: This article has been prepared for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. We hope that you will find the information helpful. However, you should use the information provided in this article at your own risk and consider seeking advice on this matter from a professional counsel licensed in your state or country. The materials presented on this site may not reflect the most current legal developments or the law of the jurisdiction in which you reside. This article may be changed, improved, or updated without notice.

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