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Your Guide to the Stages of ISO Certification

March 16, 2022

Throughout much of the globe, ISO 27001 is the gold standard for information security. If your organization lives up to these criteria, you’ll win the trust of international clients and partners who can take your business to new heights without the heightened risk of a data breach.

Earning your ISO certification proves that your company is living up to high security standards. It’s a multi-stage project, but with a view of the road ahead, you can prepare your organization for a smooth and cost-effective certification process.

Before you begin: Planning and preparation 

The road to ISO certification starts long before you partner with a certification assessor. Follow these three preliminary steps for an easy and efficient ISO 27001 process. 

Step 1: See where you stand

You may be closer to being ISO 27001 compliant than you realize, but there’s one way to find out—conducting an internal assessment. Check out Vanta’s ISO 27001 checklist and evaluate which controls you meet and what you need to do to become compliant.

You don’t need to dedicate expensive engineering hours to this project. Start with Vanta’s automated compliance software instead. This tool is specifically designed to check your system against ISO 27001 controls and give you a clear checklist of what standards you have yet to meet. Additionally, you’ll be provided with templates and guides to make your compliance easier to achieve.

Step 2: Bring your security controls up to date

Take the results of your internal assessment, or Vanta screening, and get to work. Address each gap one-by-one to guarantee that you’re complying with ISO 27001 standards. Depending on your organization’s security diligence, this could be the most time-consuming part of the process. To be extra confident, complete another Vanta assessment to ensure nothing has been missed. 

Step 3: Choose an ISO 27001 assessor

Now that you’re following ISO 27001 protocols, it’s time to prepare for your assessment by hiring a trusted external auditor. Note that ISO certification is not performed by ISO itself, but by independent certification bodies. Be sure to choose an auditor that adheres to ISO’s Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO) standards.

Stages of ISO certification

You’ve taken all the precautionary steps to ensure a smooth ISO compliance process—what next? Now is the time to begin your official audit and achieve your ISO 27001 certification. 

  1. Readiness assessment

Most auditors will begin with a preliminary screening to see if you meet basic necessities for ISO 27001 certification. If you’ve completed the above steps, this should be a painless assessment. This is designed to avoid wasting resources on organizations that aren’t prepared for their audit. If your readiness assessment reveals critical gaps, the auditor will let you know what you need to remedy. If you pass your initial screening, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

  1. Stage 1 audit

After the readiness assessment, you’ll move on to stage 1 of your ISO certification audit, otherwise known as a documentation audit. During this stage, the audit will examine the documentation for your Information Security Management System (ISMS) to see what existing security controls are in place. If you do not pass this evaluation, the auditor will issue specific corrective actions you’ll need to take. If and when you pass your stage 1 audit, you’ll move on to the next stage.

  1. Stage 2 audit

The stage 2 audit of your ISO certification audit is sometimes called the compliance audit. During the stage 1 audit, your assessor reviewed the documentation of your ISMS. During the stage 2 audit, they’ll go a step further to test the controls within your ISMS and verify whether those controls are functioning properly.

If this audit reveals gaps or failures that compromise your security, the auditor will tell you the corrective actions you need to take. If you pass this stage, you’ve officially received your ISO 27001 certification—congratulations!

Maintaining your ISO 27001 certification

After you have achieved your ISO 27001 certification, you’ll need to maintain that certification each year. This is done in a simple three-year cycle.

Year 1: Surveillance audit

One year after you receive your first ISO 27001 certification, your auditor will conduct a surveillance audit. This is a brief, cursory audit to check that you are still in compliance with key elements of ISO 27001. If you pass, your ISO certification remains active for another year. If you don’t pass, you’ll need to start over with a new ISO certification process, including a pre-screening, stage 1 audit, and stage 2 audit.

Year 2: Surveillance audit

Two years after your initial ISO certification, you’ll go through a basic surveillance audit—the same evaluation you passed in year one. Successfully passing the year 2 surveillance audit allows you to retain your certification, but if you don’t pass, you’ll need to start over.

Year 3: Full audit

Three years after your initial certification, you will need to go through a full audit and certification process again. This begins the three-year cycle again.

Launching your ISO 27001 certification process

The multiple stages of ISO 27001 certification may seem intimidating and time-consuming. However, if you reach and maintain a high level of security in your ISMS, you can look forward to a smooth process that ends with a lucrative and vital certification. To get started and see where you stand, begin with a Vanta automated compliance assessment.