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ISO 27001 for startups: What every startup needs to know

December 3, 2021

Building a startup is always a learning process, whether you’re a new entrepreneur or you’ve built a dozen businesses in the past. Every business has its own hurdles and challenges, so no two startups have the same experience with funding, product development, client acquisition, or other aspects of launching a company.

One area that can also vary considerably is your startup’s compliance needs. There are regulations and standards for businesses in technology, businesses in healthcare, and so on. You may need to document your compliance with several standards, but if you use secure data in any way and you want to do business with any customers or partners outside the US, ISO 27001 will be among them. Consider this to be your introductory guide to ISO 27001 for startups.

The basics of ISO 27001

In a nutshell, ISO 27001 is a standard that was developed by the International Organization for Standardization. Its key focus is your Information Security Management System (ISMS). In other words, this standard is designed to determine whether you have the controls in place to properly secure the data you use.

Who needs to get ISO 27001 certified?

ISO 27001 is not a law, so technically, it isn’t legally required. However, most organizations internationally, whether they’re potential customers of your business or potential partners, will not do business with anyone who does not have ISO 27001 certification.

Because of this, every business should work toward ISO 27001 compliance and certification if they meet two criteria:

  • You collect, store, transmit, or process data in any way
  • You want to do business outside the US (or both outside and inside the US)

How to get ISO 27001 certified

The process for acquiring your ISO 27001 certification is a multi-step endeavor, and depending on how prepared you are and how thorough your ISMS already is, it could be a long process. Generally, though, you’ll follow these steps to get your certification:

1. Assess your ISMS

Before you invest in hiring an auditor you want to be as confident as possible that your ISMS will pass the certification assessment. The best way to begin is with your own assessment of your ISMS against the ISO 27001 controls to see how you stack up. This may be called a gap analysis. A software tool like Vanta can automate this for you by evaluating your ISMS and giving you a clear checklist of which controls you meet or don’t meet.

2. Fix your ISMS

After your gap analysis, you have a clear idea of what you need to do to bring your ISMS up to the standards of ISO 27001. Use this checklist to prioritize and update your ISMS so that you’re confident it will pass a formal ISO 27001 audit.

3. Choose an ISO 27001 certification provider

It’s important to note that while the ISO developed ISO 27001, the organization doesn’t actually provide certification. You can only get ISO 27001 certification from third parties. However, the ISO does have a list of standards that all these auditors and certifying organizations should adhere to, called CASCO. Be sure to choose an ISO 27001 certification provider that adheres to CASCO standards and is also accredited by the appropriate board in your country.

4. Complete the auditing process

When you’ve hired your ISO 27001 certification provider, you’ll then start on a two-step auditing process. The first step is an informal readiness assessment, which takes a cursory look at your ISMS to see if it measures up to the ISO 27001 standards. If your system passes the readiness assessment, you’ll move on to step two: the formal audit.

A formal audit can take weeks to perform because the auditor is thoroughly investigating your ISMS. At the end of this audit, you’ll either pass or fail based on what the auditor finds. If you fail, you’ll have the added expense of paying for a new audit after you’ve fixed the issues. If you pass, your auditor will give you your full report as well as your ISO 27001 certificate. Customers or partners may ask to see both of these, so keep them secure.

5. Maintain future compliance

ISO 27001 compliance isn’t something you complete once and then move on. You will have some level of assessment each year to keep your compliance. For each of the next two years, your auditor will only assess a few controls or aspects of your ISMS at random to see if they still pass. If they do, you maintain your certification. If they don’t pass, you’ll need to undergo another full audit to determine if your certification stands. After three years, you’ll need a new full audit regardless to be recertified.

How to make your ISO 27001 certification process startup-friendly

For startups, both finances and manpower are typically in short supply. As essential as ISO 27001 certification is, it can be an expensive and labor-intensive process. To make your certification more manageable for your budding business, a compliance automation tool like Vanta will automate over 80% of the work needed to prove compliance.

Vanta gives you an automated assessment to determine what you need to do to reach ISO 27001 compliance. It also gathers thorough documentation of your ISMS and security controls, making your audit smoother. Vanta even offers policy templates to help you develop the policies and protocols your security system needs. Vanta also automates future assessments to help you maintain your compliance.

Learn more about ISO compliance

Who Needs to be ISO 27001 Certified?

Your ISO 27001 Compliance Checklist

Automate Your ISO 27001 Compliance