How to Pass an ISO 27001 Certification Audit

Satya Moutairou

18 Oct 2023

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to protect your organization’s sensitive data from cyber threats and attain an ISO 27001 certification. This guide provides a comprehensive overview for ensuring a smooth ISO 27001 audit of your information security management systems (ISMS). With this, you can confidently achieve and maintain an ISO 27001 certification without losing your mind in the process.

Understanding ISO 27001 Certification

ISO 27001 is an international standard that provides certification for information security management systems. It helps organizations protect their sensitive data and confirm that they are adhering to the latest safety protocols. ISO’s golden seal of approval reflects a company’s investment in personnel, processes, and technology necessary for robust protection of confidential assets. 

The Benefits of ISO 27001 Certification

Gaining ISO 27001 certification can be of tremendous benefit to your business. It shows you take information security seriously and helps you meet compliance requirements like GDPR or HIPAA regulations. While setting up and maintaining the necessary security controls may be expensive, ISO 27001 certification is beneficial, if not required, for gaining new customers and retaining existing ones.

Wondering if ISO 27001 or SOC 2 is right for you? Check out our comparison guide here. 

How to Prepare for the ISO 27001 Certification Process

The ISO 27001 certification process is a marathon, not a sprint. To ensure the external audit goes smoothly, you must establish its ISMS (information security management system), assign responsibilities, document procedures, and conduct risk assessments and internal audits. 

Establish and Scope Your ISMS

The first step of your mission is to define and specify the scope of your ISMS. This includes tailoring it according to the unique demands of your business, sketching out an information security framework, pinpointing key assets, and establishing clear objectives.

Your environment must be properly set up to provide evidence that you have accounted for all relevant security threats and established the proper safeguards. 

Clearly Assign Roles and Responsibilities

Prepping for an ISO 27001 audit is not for a lone wolf project; you will need to assemble a team of stakeholders. Clearly outline each participant’s role, duties, and responsibilities. Establish a common goal and meet regularly to keep everyone accountable and involved.

Creating this team of compliance defenders also helps develop and document reliable security protocols within your company.

Document Everything. Yes, Everything

Documentation is essential throughout the certification process. It specifically outlines security policies, procedures, and processes.

Having up-to-date documents ready for your external audit will make the whole process easier and more accurate. Document everything from controls in place to breaches or issues and how you remediated them. 

Perform a Risk Assessment and Gap Analysis

Once your ISMS and crack team of compliance enforcers are in place, it’s time to carry out a risk assessment and analyze any security gaps. This involves pinpointing potential hazards and calculating how they can affect information security within the organization. It’s like doing recon work so that protecting against threats can be prioritized properly. 

Build out a risk register (aka register log) so you can assess specific potential risks then develop and implement a risk treatment plan. Risk registers include information such as the risk category, potential impact, impact severity, treatment, treatment status, and residual risk. Data breaches, scheduling delays, or even floods to your data center are examples of risks to document. 

A gap analysis is another important step and should be conducted either by someone knowledgeable on your team or a professional outside party. A gap analysis examines your existing security management system and compares it to what is needed to meet ISO 27001 standards. Because it details exactly what your organization will need to do to gain certification, a gap analysis will chart your course forward and help you save time and money.

Perform an Internal Audit

One of the ISO 27001 requirements is conducting an internal audit to analyze your ISMS. An internal expert or a third-party firm can perform this audit, but if you choose someone internal, ensure they are independent from any of the controls they review.

Here is an overview of the steps to internal audits: 

  1. Comprehensive document review: Review documentation that describes policies and controls related to your information security management system.
  2. Determine timing and allocate resources: Set project milestones and get buy-in across all relevant teams.
  3. Monitor your ISMS: Observe how your ISMS works and talk to employees about the pain points involved.
  4. Perform audit tests and validate evidence.
  5. Create detailed reports that document the results of each audit test.
  6. Review collected evidence and compare it to your organization’s risk assessment plan and objectives.
  7. Share the internal audit report with management and stakeholders.

Preparing for Audits

The last stage is for an accredited certification body to conduct an external audit, which is a required step. To prepare, assemble all your evidence and prepare your teams so all your records are up to date and readily available. Remember, it’s a team effort!

ISO 27001 Controls and Requirements

As you move forward in the process of ISO 27001 certification, you must gain an understanding of how to apply the controls and prerequisites the standard outlines to manage your information security risks. prudently.

The Annex A contains 114 detailed regulations for implementing proper safety measures. You will need to submit documents, policies, and records to prove compliance with 27001 requirements. 

Annex A Controls

Annex A of ISO 27001 provides guidance through the 114 controls that reduce information security risks to your organization. These are split into 14 domains covering areas such as access control, cryptography, and physical security. Following these guidelines will ensure an effective ISMS capable of dealing with current cyber threats. It’s worth noting not all controls may be relevant depending o the size and complexity of your organization. The creation of this management system ensures comprehensive protection against potential info-security issues.

Mandatory Documentation

Documents you must have ready for your audit include:

  • ISMS Scope document 
  • Information Security Policy
  • Statement of Applicability and Records pertaining to employee training, skills, experience, and qualifications 

ISO 27001 Certification Costs and Timeline

Preparing for and maintaining an ISO 27001 certification is not a quick project. Preparing for the certification involves six phases

  1. Planning
  2. Scope and readiness
  3. Internal audit
  4. External audit
  5. Surveillance audits
  6. Maintenance

The costs of ISO 27001 vary depending on the size of your company and the security controls you have already put in place. Organizations with 10 or fewer employees might spend $10,000 on an audit that takes five days. For companies under 425 employees, the process can take 15 days and cost around $30,000. However, there are many other factors that will influence the cost and complexity of your audit, including the number of IT platforms and networks you use, outsourcing and third-party arrangements, and your ISMS complexity.

For more details on the costs associated with an ISO27001 certification, check out our pricing guide 

While obtaining an ISO 27001 certification is a long process filled with roadblocks and successes, being aware of what you need to prepare and meet standards will pay off in the short and long run. An ISO 27001 certification will demonstrate your trustworthiness, strengthen your compliance, and improve your security posture.