Additional SOC 2 resources
ISO 27001 vs. SOC 2: What is the difference?
Every business that handles customer data has a responsibility to keep that data safe. Compliance standards are a common and respected practice in data security that help organizations create strong security systems and help customers reduce their risk of bringing on new vendors. SOC 2 and ISO 27001 are two of the most widely-used compliance standards around the world. Prospects may ask to see proof that you comply with one of these standards, or both, before they agree to do business with you.
In this article, we’ll help you understand what ISO 27001 and SOC 2 are, what they have in common and how they’re different, and how to determine which one you need.
What is ISO 27001?
ISO 27001 is one of many standards created by the International Organization of Standardization that is widely used throughout most of the world. This standard provides clear requirements for setting up a strong information security management system, or ISMS, using strategies such as risk assessment, access control, and incident reporting protocols. It’s used by companies that handle their customers’ data to show prospects and stakeholders what measures they have in place to protect that data. To be ISO 27001 certified, a third-party auditor must verify that you meet the compliance requirements.
What is SOC 2?
Developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the SOC 2 standard is a way to document the steps you’re taking to keep your customers’ data safe while you handle, process, or store it. SOC 2 lists criteria you must meet, like being able to identify fraud and manage employee access to data. To get a SOC 2, you’ll need to hire an auditor who will investigate your controls and verify your compliance. The auditor will then prepare a report that details your security practices and determines whether you meet the requirements for SOC 2 compliance.
What do ISO 27001 and SOC 2 have in common?
Both ISO 27001 and SOC 2 are data security standards that can help you build a stronger cybersecurity infrastructure and better protect your customer data. While these standards aren’t interchangeable, there are several similarities between them.
SOC 2 and ISO 27001 were both designed for the same purpose. They both serve as a guide for implementing information security best practices to protect your organizational and customer data. They also both provide a way for you to document your security protocols and practices to demonstrate trust with prospects and stakeholders.
Many of the security controls included in SOC 2 and ISO 27001 overlap as well. Many of these overlapping controls are best practices that are widely agreed upon by information security experts. Here are some examples of these overlapping controls:
- Strong risk management processes
- Manage data access for employees and contractors
- Physical security measures
- Employee training in data security and data breach prevention
What is the difference between ISO 27001 and SOC 2?
While ISO 27001 and SOC 2 have some similarities, there are differences that make it a preferred standard for certain clients. ISO 27001 and SOC 2 are each recognized in different regions and industries and have security controls that are only included in one standard or the other.
While many of the security controls outlined in SOC 2 and ISO 27001 overlap, the two standards differ in terms of how many of those controls you need to implement.
Both SOC 2 and ISO 27001 state that you only need to implement the controls that are relevant to your business — however, ISO 27001 requires you to meet a wider range of the criteria and implement more of the security controls to be ISO 27001 compliant.
SOC 2 breaks up the security controls into five categories known as the Trust Services Criteria, of which only one of the categories is required for all SOC 2 reports. The four other controls only need to be included in the scope of your SOC 2 report if they apply to your products and services.
Both SOC 2 and ISO 27001 are well-known in the security and technology industries, but certain geographical regions have a preference for one over the other.
SOC 2 is the de-facto compliance standard in North America, so if you do business with organizations in North America, you’ll likely need a SOC 2 report. ISO 27001 is more popular globally, so if you work with organizations outside North America, you’ll likely need an ISO 27001.
ISO 27001 and SOC 2 are presented in different ways and provide a different level of detail about your compliance position. With ISO 27001, you receive a certification that shows you’ve passed your audit, but it doesn’t provide granularity about which parts of your system passed and which didn't. With SOC 2, you get a detailed report that shows which aspects passed and which didn’t, providing additional detail to your customers about how your systems operate.
ISO 27001 and SOC 2 have different audit processes and these impact the time it takes to get your certification or attestation.
For ISO 27001, after you’ve implemented the required controls, your auditor will take these steps:
- Examine your documentation to ensure that you’ve provided the information they need to perform their audit.
- Investigate your ISMS to check for each of the ISO 27001 requirements.
For most organizations, the full ISO 27001 process takes between six to twelve months.
The timeline for your SOC 2 will vary based on the type of report you need — a SOC 2 Type 1 or a SOC 2 Type 2. For a SOC 2 Type 1 your controls will be investigated at a single point in time, while a SOC 2 Type 2 will investigate them over a period of time. In both cases, your auditor will:
- Review your documentation and scope your report.
- Evaluate your security controls to make sure you meet all the requirements.
- Observe your controls over a period of several months and test their effectiveness (for SOC 2 Type 2 reports only).
- Prepare a report that details whether you’ve met the requirements of SOC 2 compliance.
The timeline for a SOC 2 report depends on the type of report you choose. SOC 2 Type 1 compliance can sometimes be completed in just a few months, but SOC 2 Type 2 compliance requires between three months to twelve months of auditor observation.
ISO 27001 vs. SOC 2: Which standard is right for you?
It’s likely that either an ISO 27001 or a SOC 2 will be required by your clients. However, given how long it takes to get your certification or attestation, you can’t wait until a prospect requests one to decide which you need. So how do you know whether to pursue an ISO 27001 or a SOC 2?
Consider these questions to help you decide:
- Where are your customers? SOC 2 is most common in North America while ISO 27001 is popular throughout most of the world.
- Which is more common in your customers’ industries? Some industries use SOC 2 more often while others rely on ISO 27001.
- Do you have an established ISMS already? ISO 27001 can guide you in creating an ISMS if your data security is in its early stages while SOC 2 helps you implement best practices for your existing system.
If you’re looking to sell into global and North American markets and to a variety of industries, you may not meet all of your customers’ requirements by adhering to just one of these standards. Many organizations benefit most from getting both your ISO 27001 and SOC 2.
Do I need both ISO 27001 and SOC 2?
While SOC 2 and ISO 27001 have their similarities, they aren’t interchangeable. Each one has its own use cases, purpose, and market that it serves. For this reason, most organizations comply with both standards. Here are some benefits that come from having both:
Expand your business
Most prospects will ask for either a SOC 2 or an ISO 27001. Prospects in North America will request to see your SOC 2 while prospects in most other parts of the world will ask to see your ISO 27001. And though they cover similar controls, your customer typically won’t accept one compliance standard in place of the other. When you have both your ISO 27001 and SOC 2, you can work with clients from all over the world without limiting your business.
Strengthen your security
Having both SOC 2 and ISO 27001 makes your information security management system safer. When you’ve implemented the security protocols for both SOC 2 and ISO 27001, you have more controls in place to protect your customer data.
Can you get your ISO 27001 and SOC 2 at the same time?
Yes, you can get your ISO 27001 and SOC 2 at the same time. Implementing the controls to comply with one of these standards can help you get closer to complying with the other given how many overlapping controls these standards have.
What is the overlap between ISO 27001 and SOC 2?
Both ISO 27001 and SOC 2 are based on data security best practices. As a result, there are many overlapping controls and requirements between them. However, neither of these standards entirely overlaps the other — so getting your ISO 27001 certification doesn’t necessarily make you SOC 2 ready, and vice versa.
Is ISO 27001 equivalent to SOC 2?
No, ISO 27001 is not equivalent to SOC 2. These two standards are not interchangeable, and prospects that request ISO 27001 certification will not be satisfied with a SOC 2 report, just as clients that request a SOC 2 won’t be satisfied with an ISO 27001 certification.
Is SOC 2 mandatory?
SOC 2 compliance is not a legal requirement, so it is not mandatory for any organization. However, some organizations will only do business with vendors that have a SOC 2 report.
Is ISO 27001 a legal requirement?
No, ISO 27001 is not a legal requirement, like HIPAA or GDPR. ISO 27001 may be a prerequisite for your customer contracts, which may make it more difficult for you to bring in profitable clients without one.
Is SOC 2 an international standard?
SOC 2 is recognized throughout North America in addition to multiple other countries that use it. However, it’s not as widely used outside of North America as ISO 27001, so it isn’t an internationally universal standard.
Get your ISO 27001 and SOC 2 faster
The process for getting both your SOC 2 and ISO 27001 can be expensive, time consuming, and complicated, especially if you’re pursuing both standards at the same time. Using a compliance automation platform can help you get started, guide you in getting compliant, and streamline the entire process. A compliance automation tool can help you manage and automate the work for both standards so you don’t need to do double the work to get both.
Vanta’s trust management platform with compliance automation capabilities can help you scope your controls, assess your compliance against the SOC 2 and ISO 27001 standards, provide you with easy-to-use templates and resources, and help you implement the right controls to get both. These capabilities make it so you can cut your timeline in half.