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

Person drafts a checklist for ISO 27001 compliance

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ISO 27001 is the internationally recognized standard for information security management. It demonstrates your organization’s commitment to protecting its information assets and building client trust. Achieving ISO 27001 certification not only boosts your organization’s reputation but also helps you stay compliant with ever-evolving data security regulations.

Moreover, ISO 27001 certification can give your organization a competitive edge as more and more clients seek partners who prioritize information security. With cyber threats on the rise and data breaches becoming increasingly common, having ISO 27001 certification sends a clear message to your clients: their data is safe with you.

Key takeaways

  • ISO 27001 is the internationally recognized standard for information security management
  • Follow a step-by-step guide to become compliant, including creating an implementation team and risk register, developing policies/procedures, and training staff
  • Leverage technology and follow best practices to maintain compliance and benefit from secure information systems

What organizations can benefit from ISO 27001 implementation?

ISO 27001 is not exclusive to any specific type of organization. Any company that handles sensitive data, regardless of size or industry, can benefit from implementing ISO 27001. This includes but is not limited to:

  • IT companies: Software development firms, data centers, and IT service providers can enhance their data security measures and build trust with their clients by achieving ISO 27001 certification.
  • Healthcare organizations: Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare providers handle sensitive patient data daily. Implementing ISO 27001 can help these organizations protect this data and comply with data protection regulations.
  • Financial institutions: Banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions can use ISO 27001 to safeguard their customers’ financial data and enhance their reputation for security.
  • Government agencies: Government departments that handle sensitive citizen data can demonstrate their commitment to information security by implementing ISO 27001.
  • E-commerce businesses and online retailers: These businesses handle large amounts of customer data, including payment information. Implementing ISO 27001 can help protect this data from security breaches.
  • Non-profit organizations and charities: These organizations often handle sensitive data related to their beneficiaries, donors, and operations. Implementing ISO 27001 can help these organizations protect this data and build stakeholder trust.
  • Manufacturing companies: These companies often handle sensitive data related to their products, operations, and clients. Implementing ISO 27001 can help these companies protect this data and comply with data protection regulations.
  • Service providers: These companies, ranging from telecommunications to utilities, handle sensitive customer data. Implementing ISO 27001 can help these companies protect this data and build customer trust.

In essence, if your organization values data security and wants to enhance trust with stakeholders, ISO 27001 implementation is a worthwhile investment.

A step-by-step implementation guide for ISO 27001

Embarking on the journey to ISO 27001 compliance might seem daunting, but fear not! We’ve got your back with a step-by-step implementation guide.

Step 1: Understand every clause of ISO 27001 and Annex A

Scrutinize every clause of ISO 27001 and Annex A before you get too far along in the process. 

What is Annex A?

Annex A is a part of ISO 27001 that lists 93 potential information security controls an organization can implement to enhance its security posture. These controls cover various areas, and in 2022, Annex A was updated into four overarching groups, which are:

  1. Section 5, Organizational (37 controls)
  2. Section 6, People (8 controls)
  3. Section 7, Physical (14 controls)
  4. Section 8, Technological (34 controls)

11 new control factors were added in the 2022 update, specifically:

  1. Threat intelligence
  2. Information security for the use of cloud services
  3. Information and communications technology for business continuity
  4. Physical security monitoring
  5. Configuration management
  6. Information deletion
  7. Data masking
  8. Data leakage prevention
  9. Monitoring activities
  10. Web filtering 
  11. Secure coding

Each organization selects relevant controls based on its unique risk assessment results for a solid comprehension of data security prerequisites.

Your organization will need to:

  • Develop and implement policies and procedures to address identified risks and achieve compliance
  • Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment
  • Create a risk treatment plan that effectively manages risks, controls, and security incidents

Step 2: Get your team (especially leadership) on board

Initiate your ISO journey by rallying your business leaders and support teams, as well as your colleagues. Sharing the ISO 27001 compliance checklist can simplify the process and help everybody get on the same page about what’s being undertaken.

Step 3: Assemble your implementation team

A robust implementation team is the foundation of a successful ISO 27001 compliance journey. 

Your team should consist of individuals with diverse expertise, including 

  • Information security
  • Project management
  • Technical knowledge

This diverse skillset will help you perform a risk assessment, establish the organization’s security needs, and protect your information assets.

When assembling your implementation team, consider the impact of this project on day-to-day operations and other special projects. You want to ensure capacity is allocated so everybody can commit fully to their ISO 27001 project responsibilities. 

In addition, consider that conducting annual risk assessments is integral for maintaining ISO 27001 compliance. By having a well-rounded team in place, your organization will be better equipped to tackle the challenges of ISO 27001 implementation and ensure the ongoing success of your ISMS.

Step 4: Review existing collateral (conducting a gap analysis)

Before diving into the implementation of ISO 27001, it’s crucial to conduct a thorough review of your existing collateral. This includes all current policies, procedures, and controls related to information security in your organization. By doing so, you can gain a clear understanding of your current security posture and identify areas that need improvement.

After reviewing your existing collateral, the next step is to conduct a gap analysis. This involves comparing your current information security practices against the requirements of the ISO 27001 standard. The goal is to identify any gaps or shortcomings in your current practices that need to be addressed to achieve compliance.

Person writes a math formula on the whiteboard to calculate ISO 27001 certification cost
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Working toward ISO 27001 compliance takes an investment of time and resources. How much can depend on the scale of your organization.

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Step 5: Define the scope of your Information Security Management System (ISMS)

Defining the scope of your ISMS is a critical step in the ISO 27001 implementation process. The scope should include all the systems, processes, physical locations, services, and products that need protection. This ensures that all assets requiring protection are accounted for and that management approves the ISMS scope.

To establish your ISMS’s scope, integrate both the internal and external context of your organization. 

  • The internal context takes into account your organization’s unique characteristics. This includes the nature of the products and services you offer, the types of customers you serve, and the specific risks and threats that your organization faces. It also involves understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your current information security measures and the resources available to manage information security within your organization.
  • The external context refers to the broader environment in which the organization operates. This includes legal, regulatory, and market conditions, the competitive landscape, client requirements, and technological advancements. Understanding the external context helps the organization to anticipate and respond to external pressures and opportunities that may impact its information security management system.

By taking both internal and external factors into account, you can create a robust ISMS that effectively protects your information assets.

Pro-tip: You can find ISO 27001 templates for much of this work. If you work with Thoropass, we will provide the templates for you!

Step 6: Conducting a thorough risk assessment

Conducting a thorough risk assessment is essential for successful ISO 27001 implementation. This process involves identifying and prioritizing risks based on their likelihood and impact. To get started, you’ll need to select a risk assessment methodology that aligns with your organization’s needs and complexity.

When selecting a risk assessment methodology, consider your organization’s specific needs and complexity. Start with basic methods and progress to more advanced ones as needed. By choosing a methodology that matches your organization’s requirements, you can ensure a more effective and efficient risk assessment process.

This, in turn, will help you develop a risk treatment plan that effectively addresses identified risks and maintains ISO 27001 compliance.

Formulating a risk register or risk matrix is helpful here. This document helps you keep track of:

  • Identified risks
  • Their likelihood
  • Impact
  • Assigned controls

By conducting an extensive documentation review and regularly updating your risk register, you can ensure that your organization remains proactive in addressing potential security incidents and maintaining ISO 27001 compliance through effective risk management processes.

Creating a risk register or risk matrix

A risk register is an essential tool for documenting identified risks, their likelihood, impact, and assigned controls. By creating and maintaining a risk register, you can effectively manage potential security incidents and ensure ISO 27001 compliance.

Regularly reviewing and updating your risk register will also help you stay proactive in addressing new and evolving risks, further strengthening your organization’s information security posture.

Pro-tip: Thoropass’s risk register module offers a 360-degree view of your risk landscape and lets you manage it, all within our platform!

Step 7: Write your Statement of Applicability (SoA)

The Statement of Applicability (SoA) is a critical document in the ISO 27001 certification process. It serves as a blueprint for your organization’s information security management system (ISMS) by outlining which of the 93 controls from Annex A you’ve chosen to implement, along with a justification for each decision.

Your SoA should be clear, concise, and comprehensive. It should explain why each control has been included or excluded and how each included control is implemented within your organization.

Start by listing all the controls from Annex A of ISO 27001. Next to each control, provide a brief explanation of whether it has been applied and why. If a control has not been applied, provide a justification for its exclusion. This could be because it’s not relevant to your organization’s risk environment or because the risk it addresses is being managed in a different way.

For each applied control, describe how it has been implemented. This could involve referring to specific policies, procedures, or technical measures. Remember, the SoA is a living document that should be updated as your ISMS evolves and changes.

The SoA needs to be approved by your organization’s top management, demonstrating their commitment to the ISMS. This document will also be a key point of reference for your ISO 27001 certification auditor, so it’s important to ensure it’s accurate and complete.

Step 8: Implement your controls

Once you have identified the risks and selected the appropriate controls from Annex A of ISO 27001, the next step is to implement these controls within your organization. This involves developing policies, procedures, and technical measures to manage and mitigate the identified risks.

Implementation plan

Start by creating a detailed implementation plan that outlines the steps needed to put each control in place. This plan should include timelines, resources required, and responsibilities for each task. Remember to involve all relevant stakeholders in this process to ensure that the controls are effectively implemented.

Policies, procedures, and installations

Next, develop the necessary policies and procedures to support each control. These documents should clearly define the rules and guidelines for managing information security within your organization. They should be easy to understand and accessible to all employees. You may also need to implement technical measures to support some controls. This could include installing security software, configuring systems, or setting up secure networks.

Finally, monitor the effectiveness of the controls and make adjustments as needed. This could involve conducting audits, reviewing performance data, or seeking feedback from employees.

Step 9: ISMS monitoring

Continually tracking and gauging the effectiveness of your ISMS is central to ensuring ongoing enhancement and preserving ISO 27001 compliance. To achieve this, you should establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with your organization’s information security objectives. These KPIs will help you track the performance of your ISMS and identify areas for improvement.

In addition to establishing KPIs, it’s essential to conduct regular management reviews and internal audits to assess the effectiveness of your ISMS. These reviews and audits will help you:

  • Identify any gaps or non-conformities in your ISMS
  • Take corrective actions as needed
  • Continuously monitor and measure your ISMS’s effectiveness
  • Ensure that your organization remains compliant with ISO 27001 requirements
  • Stay ahead of evolving security threats

Step 10: Employee training

To get everyone up to speed on your ISMS policies and procedures and security controls, make sure that all employees receive appropriate training. This training should cover topics such as access control, data protection, and incident response and should be tailored to the specific needs of your organization.

Step 11: Ready for an internal audit!

It’s time to buckle up for the internal audit, a pivotal step in your journey to ISO 27001 compliance. Regular self-evaluations and remediation of any identified gaps or non-conformities in your ISMS will ensure your organization is primed for the certification audit. A handy tool such as an internal audit checklist can make this process more efficient and manageable.

Remember, your internal audits should be conducted by someone knowledgeable about security or auditing who has not been involved in setting up and documenting your ISMS. Alternatively, you can bring in an external reviewer to spearhead the internal audit. While conducting comprehensive internal audits is a requirement of the standard, they also ensure your organization is well-prepared for the external audit and on the right track to achieve ISO 27001 compliance.

Step 12: Navigate the certification audit process with an accredited ISO 27001 auditor

Navigating the certification audit process can be challenging, but with proper preparation, your organization can successfully achieve ISO 27001 certification. Start by engaging an accredited ISO 27001 auditor, who will assess your organization’s ISMS and determine if it meets the requirements for certification. 

During the certification audit, the auditor will identify any major nonconformities in your ISMS. To address these nonconformities, your organization must take corrective actions and provide proof of these actions to the auditor. Once all major nonconformities have been addressed, your organization will be awarded ISO 27001 certification, demonstrating your commitment to information security and building trust with clients.

Step 13: Maintain your ISO 27001 compliance

Maintaining ISO 27001 compliance is key to the sustained success of your organization’s information security management system. To achieve this, you should:

  • Conduct regular risk assessments
  • Undergo surveillance audits
  • Update policies to stay ahead of evolving security threats
  • Maintain compliance with ISO 27001 requirements

By following these steps, you can ensure that your organization remains compliant and secure.

Additionally, embrace a culture of continuous improvement within your international organization. This involves identifying and addressing non-conformities, taking corrective actions, and implementing improvement initiatives to strengthen your ISMS.

By maintaining ISO 27001 compliance and continuously improving your ISMS, your organization can stay ahead of the curve and protect its valuable information assets.

Need help? Learn how Thoropass can help you get (and stay) compliant

If all of that feels a little overwhelming, know there’s help available! Thoropass supports your success with a clear ISMS readiness roadmap, compliance automation, audit management, and experts to guide your ISO 27001 certification journey. 

Learn more here

This post was originally published in February, 2021 and updated for context and accuracy.

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