What Is ISMS? Advancing Security from Certification to Implementation

What Is ISMS? Advancing Security from Certification to Implementation

ISMS stands for “information security management system,” and is a documented system that describes your company’s approach to information security and privacy. It consists of the security controls that protect the confidentiality, availability, and integrity of company assets and protects them from data breaches, external threats, and vulnerabilities. Get up to speed on how an information security management system works, advantages of certification, top reasons why an ISMS can benefit your organization, and key steps to implement one. 

What Is an ISMS?   

An information security management system helps companies identify and address risks around their valuable data, information, and related assets. It works to protect a company from data breaches from bad actors, and functions as a protection against significant disruption and disturbances when and if they do happen. In addition, ISMS certification can be an important advantage when seeking potential clients and investors that want to ensure your business is meeting regulatory requirements.

How Does ISMS Work?

Your information security management system is a framework of policies and controls to manage security and risk levels across a company. The levels of control vary based on specific industry needs. Companies in healthcare, for example, may develop systems to ensure proper protection of patient information due to tight controls around sensitive data required in a highly-regulated sector. After policies are set, they are then implemented and operated throughout the organization. Once in place, the ISMS is revisited and adjusted as needed in a cycle of continual improvement. 

What Is the Purpose of an ISMS?

The ISMS functions as a system of record for how company data is handled and the documentation of best practices for information security. Determining what is ISMS materiality and what is worthy of inclusion, will impact the overall reach of a company’s ISMS. The ultimate purpose of the ISMS is to keep a record of a company’s policies and procedures for handling data breaches with regard to a variety of data and resources, and to limit the damage caused when an information security incident occurs. 

Six Reasons Why Your Business Should Implement an ISMS

There are many motivating factors that encourage organizations to put a solid ISMS in place, from data security to reducing costs and meeting compliance. Here are six reasons:

1. Security

An ISMS protects all forms of information, whether they are paper-based, maintained digitally, or in the cloud.

2. Resiliency 

The implementation and maintenance of ISMS increases a company’s resilience to cyber attacks and similar vulnerabilities.

3. Information Management

ISMS provides central storage for how a company manages sensitive data and keeps information safe. 

4. Agility

The ability to quickly respond to security threats is critical. Updating and adapting ISMS policies and procedures fosters the continual improvement of an ISMS. This evolution makes a company agile in response to changing technologies and threats.

5. Cost Savings

When initiating an ISMS, organizations will engage in a thorough risk assessment. Taking the time to properly assess your company’s security posture often leads to streamlining and process improvement that results in overall cost savings.

6. Compliance 

The act of enabling and maintaining an ISMS creates awareness of and compliance with security standards throughout your company. You may want to consider an ISO IEC 27001 certification, which is a good way to meet or exceed customer requirements, and informs potential clients and investors that your organization has a culture of compliance. The ISO IEC 27001 guidance also helps you achieve compliance with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), so your company will be positioned to meet the stipulations of the European Union’s data protection law.

How to Implement an ISMS at Your Organization

If you’re still wondering what is ISMS, thinking through implementation should end any confusion. The importance of information security cannot be overstated, and most businesses begin the ISMS process by establishing their objective, involving key stakeholders and senior management, and doing a risk assessment. After that, the steps include integrating ISMS and then seeking certification, if that is a goal.

Step 1: Establish Objectives

Working with senior leadership, make sure that your organization has confirmation of the overall goals from top management. Then establish the objective for the ISMS and set budget and resource allocations accordingly.

Step 2: Define Scope

As you develop your ISMS plan, you’ll need to consider your business, industry, and related priorities and regulatory requirements. Once you’ve reviewed those standards, your ISMS scope will be determined in line with those needs.

Step 3: Evaluate Assets

Evaluate company assets and do a risk assessment. Some categories include hardware (physical data storage, computers, phones), servers (physical and virtual), cloud services from third parties (vendors like Amazon Web Services, JIRA, banking, etc.), and customer information like PII and important client data. Anticipate what the loss or theft of these assets might result in, and create a risk management plan. 

Step 4: Integrate and Iterate 

With needs, scope and budget determined, companies are now prepared to integrate their ISMS. In action, the ISMS uses the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. Representing an iterative usage model, the PDCA is key for business processes that evolve over time. An ISMS is most effective when it is functioning, monitored, and then adjusted in a continual improvement cycle.

What Is ISMS PDCA Image

Step 5: Audit and Certification

This step is not mandatory, but if a company wants to proceed with certification in order to meet business needs and/or official compliance with ISO IEC 27001 and the GDPR, then a formal audit is required. To reach compliance, a two-step review process takes place. If approved, a three-year certificate is awarded. 

How Much Does an ISMS Cost?

The cost of ISMS varies based on the size of an organization, overall needs, and the choice of system. Organizations that pursue certification will have additional costs. The audit typically consists of two different reviews conducted approximately six weeks apart. Subject to change, estimates range from $5,000 for a company with less than 40 employees to $27,000 for a company with 2,000 employees. If your company uses an outside source to help with pre-certification efforts (risk assessment and other prep), then costs rise. During the post-certification period the ISMS is maintained, expect ongoing software or service costs plus the internal resources required to provide for ISMS continuation.

Start Protecting Your Organization’s Information Assets

So, what is ISMS? Ultimately it’s a pathway to improving your company’s data security, and it’s also a step toward ISO 2700x compliance and certification, if that is an organizational goal. By adopting an ISMS for your business, you will start protecting your company’s information assets and position your organization for higher sales in the long term because customers will want to work with you as a trusted vendor. The right compliance management software will assist you throughout this process — get started today!

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