ISO 27001 vs SOC 2 – Key Differences Explained

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ISO 27001 and SOC 2 are among the world’s leading information security management frameworks. They both take a strategic approach to risk management, which is pivotal for preventing data breaches, but how do you know which framework is right for you?

When it comes to ISO 27001 vs SOC 2, there is no simple answer. They both cover the three pillars of information security—confidentiality, integrity, and availability—and encourage organizations to adopt applicable controls to protect their sensitive data.

The main differences are in the way the two frameworks are implemented and the benefits they provide.

You can learn more about ISO 27001 and SOC 2 in this guide and discover which framework suits your needs.

What Is ISO 27001?

ISO 27001 establishes best practices for information security. It was developed by the International Organization for Standardization—more commonly known as the ISO—with its framework built around expert advice from committee members and industry leaders.

The standard sets out the specifications for implementing an ISMS (Information Security Management System). It contains policies, processes, and technologies, giving organizations a structured way to manage their data protection and privacy practices.

One of the biggest benefits of ISO 27001 vs SOC 2 is its flexibility. Its framework provides guidelines rather than fixed requirements, making it suitable for organizations of all sizes and sectors. Meanwhile, its internal architecture fits in seamlessly across departments.

It gives organizations the structure to identify information security risks and implement safeguards to manage them. It’s also compatible with other management system standards, making it ideal for organizations seeking an integrated approach to risk management.

Learn more about ISO 27001.

What Is SOC 2?

SOC (System and Organizational Controls) is a set of reports designed to assess the effectiveness of an organization’s information system policies, processes, and technologies.

Service organizations use these reports to show the effectiveness of their controls. There are three types of SOC report, each addressing a defined business requirement.

SOC 2 focuses on information security and the safeguards organizations have adopted to protect sensitive data. It was developed by the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) and is built around the Trust Services Criteria:

  • Security—securing systems and data from cyberattacks, breaches, and other unauthorized disclosures.
  • Availability—ensuring that sensitive data and systems can be accessed when needed.
  • Processing integrity—maintaining the accuracy and reliability of information.
  • Confidentiality—restricting access to data so that only authorized personnel can view it.
  • Privacy—adhering to data privacy principles and applicable laws.

The only mandatory section is ‘security,’ and organizations must decide which others are pertinent to them.

SOC 2 reports provide a structured and standardized way for organizations to assure stakeholders they are committed to information security. By completing the reporting process, organizations prove they have robust controls in place. This can foster trust and transparency with customers, partners, and stakeholders.

Interested in cloud-based data security? Read our guide to cloud data protection.

ISO 27001 vs SOC 2 - data security checking

SOC 2 vs ISO 27001: Understanding the Differences

Although SOC 2 and ISO 27001 are both internationally recognized frameworks for information security, they have several differences.

Scope and Applicability

  • ISO 27001 is an international standard featuring a flexible framework for organizations of all sizes and sectors. Although the same specifications apply universally, they can be customized to suit each organization’s risk profile.
  • SOC 2 is designed just for service organizations, such as cloud providers and data centers. Its framework focuses on objectives relevant to this sector and risks identified in the Trust Services Criteria, but that doesn’t make it suitable for universal use.

Structure and Controls

  • ISO 27001 contains a set of specifications to implement an ISMS. Organizations build that system by performing a risk assessment and selecting controls that address identified threats.
  • SOC 2 provides a way to evaluate existing information security practices. The framework is built around audits and reports assessing security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.

Certification vs. Attestation

  • ISO 27001 gives organizations the option to have their ISMS certified. This involves a third-party assessment conducted by a certification body, and that certification is recognized around the world.
  • SOC 2 cannot be certified against. Organizations instead receive an attestation report from a CPA (Certified Public Accountants) firm. The process isn’t as complex as an ISO 27001 certification audit, but it doesn’t provide such a thorough evaluation nor offer the same benefits.

Industry Neutrality

  • ISO 27001 contains a customizable set of controls that should be adopted only when the organization deems them relevant. This makes the standard suitable for organizations of all sizes and sectors.
  • SOC 2 focuses on service organizations, and its controls prioritize risks relevant to this sector.

Integrated Approach

  • ISO 27001 uses the same high-level structure as other popular ISO standards. Organizations that have already implemented one can take a similar approach, with the ISMS fitting neatly alongside other ISO management systems.
  • SOC 2 takes a specific approach that doesn’t necessarily align with other risk management strategies. Even SOC 1 and SOC 3, which form the rest of the SOC suite, use a different reporting approach.

Effective Duration

  • ISO 27001 certification is valid for three years, although organizations must complete surveillance audits annually. They should then book a new external assessment as the expiry date nears.
  • SOC 2 has two separate sets of conformances. Type 1 reports are carried out on a set date each year, whereas Type 2 audits are carried out over at least six months.

Download our free ISO 27001 checklist.

What Do ISO 27001 and SOC 2 Have in Common?

Although ISO 27001 and SOC 2 differ in certain ways, they both prioritize robust security controls built around a flexible framework.

While ISO 27001 is more adaptable, SOC 2 is not entirely inflexible. It gives the option to choose relevant Trust Services Criteria (apart from the mandatory security criteria) in the same way that ISO 27001 requires organizations to select from a list of controls.

The result is often similar, with some organizations implementing up to 96% of the same controls.

Another similarity between ISO 27001 and SOC 2 is that they encourage organizations to systematically identify and assess information security risks. The emphasis on risk aligns with the broader goal of safeguarding against cyberattacks, data breaches, and unauthorized access.

Likewise, transparency is a critical component of both. ISO 27001 certification and SOC 2 attestation give customers and suppliers confidence in an organization’s commitment to information security and data protection.

ISO 27001 vs SOC 2 - data servers

ISO 27001 vs. SOC 2: Which One Is Right For You?

The stakes for effective information security couldn’t be higher, with IBM’s 2023 Cost of a Data Breach Report estimating that organizations spend almost $4.5 million responding to data breaches.

An information security framework such as ISO 27001 or SOC 2 is an excellent way to manage those risks, but you must pick the right one to suit your requirements.

SOC 2 is certainly a choice for organizations within the service sector because its framework is tailored to this industry. The reporting process is also comparatively easy to complete, with a narrower scope and a less demanding assessment.

By contrast, ISO 27001 is industry-neutral, making it appropriate for organizations in all sectors—including service providers—but the implementation process is longer and can be more complex.

But your organization’s sector and budget are just some factors to consider. You must also remember that SOC 2 only assesses existing practices, whereas ISO 27001 provides a framework to implement security controls.

As such, you might not pass a SOC 2 audit if you don’t already have robust information security practices in place. It might not be a question of ISO 27001 vs SOC 2, but how the two frameworks work alongside each other.

ISO 27001 provides a more in-depth approach to information security and includes the essential components covered in SOC 2’s Trust Services Criteria. Organizations looking to bolster their information security practices before a SOC 2 assessment can use the specifications outlined in ISO 27001 to plan their project.

For most organizations, ISO 27001 certification is a powerful, internationally recognized solution that is incredibly flexible and suitable for all sizes and sectors of business. In comparison, the service sector may reap the benefits of conformity and decide whether to support these efforts with a SOC 2 report.

To learn more about ISO 27001 Controls, read our guide.

As an accredited assessment body, Orion Registrar can support your certification project and help you decide between ISO 27001 vs. SOC 2.

Find out how you can get started.

Written by

Julian Russell

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