A black and white drawing of a rock formation.

An information security management system, often called an ISMS, is a system set up with policies and practices that keep an organization’s data and its customer’s data secure. The purpose of an ISMS is to reduce your risk of a data breach and minimize the possible impact. By creating an ISMS, you’re establishing an organized system to help your business protect its data. 

How does an ISMS work?

An ISMS is a collection of best practices and strategies for data security. A strong ISMS should have safeguards in place across several aspects of your data system, from access controls to data encryption to staff-wide security training. 

What's included in the scope of an ISMS?

Here’s what’s included in the scope of an ISMS to prevent bad actors from accessing or manipulating your data:

  • Identifying information security risks.
  • Putting precautions and safeguards in place to close security gaps.
  • Creating a plan in case a data breach does occur.
  • Assigning individuals to own and oversee each aspect of your organization’s information security.

Who needs an ISMS?

An ISMS is beneficial for any organization that has data — though there are certain types of organizations where an ISMS is especially important.

An ISMS is critical for SaaS organizations as they often manage, process, or store their customer’s sensitive data. If a SaaS business were to experience a breach, it’s possible that their customer’s data could be at risk as well. A well-designed ISMS provides thorough security and ensures that you’re protecting your data as well as the data of your customers. 

Other industries and organizations that also benefit from an ISMS include:

  • Healthcare
  • Finance
  • Business analytics
  • Government

The more your organization relies on data, the more important an ISMS will be for you.

Benefits of implementing an ISMS

While investing in an ISMS can be expensive, it brings substantial benefits:

  • Data security: An ISMS can help you protect your organizational and customer data.
  • Cost prevention: Data breaches are expensive, ranging from legal fees to loss of revenue. An ISMS can lower your risk of a data breach and minimize the costs that come with it.
  • Regulatory compliance: For businesses that operate in certain markets, you might have legal regulations you must follow, like GDPR, HIPAA, or CCPA. An ISMS can help you comply with these laws.
  • Business continuity: Some data breaches interfere with your ability to continue business operations. An ISMS can help ensure that your business remains operational even if it faces a data breach. 
  • Evolving data security: Maintaining your ISMS involves regularly assessing where you stand and addressing any new risks as they arise, ensuring you’re staying on top of your security long term.
  • Competitive advantages: A strong ISMS can help you win new clients when you position your security posture as a differentiator. 

How to implement an ISMS

Each ISMS is unique based on the organization’s needs, how its data system is set up, and the information assets it protects. Many organizations use ISO 27001 as a guide when building an ISMS. ISO 27001 is a well-respected information security standard that lays out the controls and policies you need to create a strong ISMS. ISO 27001 compliance results in a certification that you can use to verify your security posture.

Whether pursuing an ISO 27001 certification or you just want to create a strong ISMS, you’ll follow these steps:

1. Set your scope and objectives 

Begin by determining what your ISMS needs to do. Determine why you need an ISMS and what goals you expect to achieve. Determine which departments will be impacted by your implementation and who will be responsible for overseeing the project.

2. Inventory your assets

To ensure you’re properly protecting the right assets, you’ll need to know what data exists and where it’s located. Take inventory of all the information assets you need to protect and how that data is accessed. Then identify which information assets are the highest priority.

3. Identify risks

Create a list of security risks that your organization faces. What are some possible ways someone could gain access to your system? Analyze each of these risks to determine how likely it is to happen and the impact should it occur. You can use this information to establish which risks are the highest priority for you to address.

4. Mitigate risks

With your prioritized list of risks, strategize the best way to minimize and mitigate each of them. Implement the risk mitigation strategies you deem most effective for closing the security gaps and protecting your data.

5. Establish continuous monitoring

Security is ever-evolving, which makes it important to establish a process for keeping up with new security threats and needs. In this step, you’ll design a system for monitoring your security, whether that includes monitoring software, a surveillance routine, or other practices. As you continue to monitor your security over time, make improvements to address security gaps as they arise.

Best practices for managing an ISMS

Follow these best practices to build a strong and effective ISMS that fits your needs:

  • Create an information security policy: An information security policy defines your organization’s approach to information security and explains the measures you’ve taken to secure your data. Developing this policy can help you see where you stand and what your information security is missing.
  • Understand the big picture: You need to understand how your business operates, the tools it uses, and how it functions to design an ISMS that aligns with your day-to-day processes.
  • Get guidance from automated software: There are tools to make building and managing your ISMS easier. These tools can guide you through an ISO 27001 implementation to develop your ISMS.
  • Administer security training: Each member of your team offers a possible path for hackers into your organization's systems and data. Part of your ISMS should involve training your staff on security practices to help them protect their data. 
  • Conduct routine security audits: Establish a protocol for internal security audits that you conduct on a regular basis to identify any gaps in your security.

FAQs about ISMS

Below we’ve answered some of the most common questions about ISMS implementation and how it can strengthen your security posture: 

How are ISMS and ISO 27001 related?

The ISO 27001 framework is built around the objective of developing a powerful ISMS. When you are ISO 27001 compliant, the result is a strong ISMS that occurs after implementing the controls and requirements the standard includes.

What is ISMS certification?

There are many different certifications your organization can get to validate its information security, though there is no established ISMS certification. A reference to ISMS certification is likely talking about ISO 27001 certification.

What are the ISMS security objectives?

According to ISO 27001 Clause 6.2, there are three objectives for an ISMS:

  • Confidentiality: Ensuring private data is only accessed by those who are authorized.
  • Integrity: Ensuring data is reliable and can’t be manipulated by unauthorized users.
  • Availability: Ensuring data remains accessible as needed to continue business operations.

What is the framework of ISMS?

Every ISMS is customized to suit the implementing organization’s needs, but there are certain frameworks you can use to guide your ISMS development. The most common framework is ISO 27001, which lays out clear guidelines, requirements, and security practices for developing an effective ISMS.

Upgrade your ISMS with Vanta

Designing and implementing your ISMS can be a complicated process, but can be made easier with the right tools. Vanta’s trust management platform can help you build a strong ISMS by scanning your software and giving guidance for improving your ISMS, which controls to implement, and how to implement them.

To learn more, request a Vanta demo today.

Introduction to ISO 27001

What is an information security management system (ISMS)?

A black and white drawing of a rock formation.

An information security management system, often called an ISMS, is a system set up with policies and practices that keep an organization’s data and its customer’s data secure. The purpose of an ISMS is to reduce your risk of a data breach and minimize the possible impact. By creating an ISMS, you’re establishing an organized system to help your business protect its data. 

How does an ISMS work?

An ISMS is a collection of best practices and strategies for data security. A strong ISMS should have safeguards in place across several aspects of your data system, from access controls to data encryption to staff-wide security training. 

What's included in the scope of an ISMS?

Here’s what’s included in the scope of an ISMS to prevent bad actors from accessing or manipulating your data:

  • Identifying information security risks.
  • Putting precautions and safeguards in place to close security gaps.
  • Creating a plan in case a data breach does occur.
  • Assigning individuals to own and oversee each aspect of your organization’s information security.

Who needs an ISMS?

An ISMS is beneficial for any organization that has data — though there are certain types of organizations where an ISMS is especially important.

An ISMS is critical for SaaS organizations as they often manage, process, or store their customer’s sensitive data. If a SaaS business were to experience a breach, it’s possible that their customer’s data could be at risk as well. A well-designed ISMS provides thorough security and ensures that you’re protecting your data as well as the data of your customers. 

Other industries and organizations that also benefit from an ISMS include:

  • Healthcare
  • Finance
  • Business analytics
  • Government

The more your organization relies on data, the more important an ISMS will be for you.

Benefits of implementing an ISMS

While investing in an ISMS can be expensive, it brings substantial benefits:

  • Data security: An ISMS can help you protect your organizational and customer data.
  • Cost prevention: Data breaches are expensive, ranging from legal fees to loss of revenue. An ISMS can lower your risk of a data breach and minimize the costs that come with it.
  • Regulatory compliance: For businesses that operate in certain markets, you might have legal regulations you must follow, like GDPR, HIPAA, or CCPA. An ISMS can help you comply with these laws.
  • Business continuity: Some data breaches interfere with your ability to continue business operations. An ISMS can help ensure that your business remains operational even if it faces a data breach. 
  • Evolving data security: Maintaining your ISMS involves regularly assessing where you stand and addressing any new risks as they arise, ensuring you’re staying on top of your security long term.
  • Competitive advantages: A strong ISMS can help you win new clients when you position your security posture as a differentiator. 

How to implement an ISMS

Each ISMS is unique based on the organization’s needs, how its data system is set up, and the information assets it protects. Many organizations use ISO 27001 as a guide when building an ISMS. ISO 27001 is a well-respected information security standard that lays out the controls and policies you need to create a strong ISMS. ISO 27001 compliance results in a certification that you can use to verify your security posture.

Whether pursuing an ISO 27001 certification or you just want to create a strong ISMS, you’ll follow these steps:

1. Set your scope and objectives 

Begin by determining what your ISMS needs to do. Determine why you need an ISMS and what goals you expect to achieve. Determine which departments will be impacted by your implementation and who will be responsible for overseeing the project.

2. Inventory your assets

To ensure you’re properly protecting the right assets, you’ll need to know what data exists and where it’s located. Take inventory of all the information assets you need to protect and how that data is accessed. Then identify which information assets are the highest priority.

3. Identify risks

Create a list of security risks that your organization faces. What are some possible ways someone could gain access to your system? Analyze each of these risks to determine how likely it is to happen and the impact should it occur. You can use this information to establish which risks are the highest priority for you to address.

4. Mitigate risks

With your prioritized list of risks, strategize the best way to minimize and mitigate each of them. Implement the risk mitigation strategies you deem most effective for closing the security gaps and protecting your data.

5. Establish continuous monitoring

Security is ever-evolving, which makes it important to establish a process for keeping up with new security threats and needs. In this step, you’ll design a system for monitoring your security, whether that includes monitoring software, a surveillance routine, or other practices. As you continue to monitor your security over time, make improvements to address security gaps as they arise.

Best practices for managing an ISMS

Follow these best practices to build a strong and effective ISMS that fits your needs:

  • Create an information security policy: An information security policy defines your organization’s approach to information security and explains the measures you’ve taken to secure your data. Developing this policy can help you see where you stand and what your information security is missing.
  • Understand the big picture: You need to understand how your business operates, the tools it uses, and how it functions to design an ISMS that aligns with your day-to-day processes.
  • Get guidance from automated software: There are tools to make building and managing your ISMS easier. These tools can guide you through an ISO 27001 implementation to develop your ISMS.
  • Administer security training: Each member of your team offers a possible path for hackers into your organization's systems and data. Part of your ISMS should involve training your staff on security practices to help them protect their data. 
  • Conduct routine security audits: Establish a protocol for internal security audits that you conduct on a regular basis to identify any gaps in your security.

FAQs about ISMS

Below we’ve answered some of the most common questions about ISMS implementation and how it can strengthen your security posture: 

How are ISMS and ISO 27001 related?

The ISO 27001 framework is built around the objective of developing a powerful ISMS. When you are ISO 27001 compliant, the result is a strong ISMS that occurs after implementing the controls and requirements the standard includes.

What is ISMS certification?

There are many different certifications your organization can get to validate its information security, though there is no established ISMS certification. A reference to ISMS certification is likely talking about ISO 27001 certification.

What are the ISMS security objectives?

According to ISO 27001 Clause 6.2, there are three objectives for an ISMS:

  • Confidentiality: Ensuring private data is only accessed by those who are authorized.
  • Integrity: Ensuring data is reliable and can’t be manipulated by unauthorized users.
  • Availability: Ensuring data remains accessible as needed to continue business operations.

What is the framework of ISMS?

Every ISMS is customized to suit the implementing organization’s needs, but there are certain frameworks you can use to guide your ISMS development. The most common framework is ISO 27001, which lays out clear guidelines, requirements, and security practices for developing an effective ISMS.

Upgrade your ISMS with Vanta

Designing and implementing your ISMS can be a complicated process, but can be made easier with the right tools. Vanta’s trust management platform can help you build a strong ISMS by scanning your software and giving guidance for improving your ISMS, which controls to implement, and how to implement them.

To learn more, request a Vanta demo today.

Get started with ISO 27001

Start your ISO 27001 journey with these related resources.

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The ISO 27001 Compliance Checklist

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ISO 27001 Compliance for SaaS

On 10 October at 2 PM BST, join the Ask Me (Almost) Anything with Herman Errico and Kim Elias, compliance experts at Vanta. They’ll answer (almost) all your questions about ISO 27001 compliance.

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ISO 27001 vs. SOC 2: Which standard is right for my business?

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ISO 27001 vs. SOC 2: Which standard is right for my business?

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