How to get certified against ISO 27001?

You have been implementing ISO 27001 for quite a long time, invested quite a lot in education, consultancy and implementation of various controls. Now comes the auditor from a certification body – will you pass the certification?

This kind of anxiety is normal – you can never know whether your ISMS (information security management system) has everything the certification body is asking for. But what is it exactly the auditor will be looking for?

First, the auditor will perform the Stage 1 audit, also called the “Document review” – in this audit, the auditor will look for the documented scope, ISMS policy and objectives, description of the risk assessment methodology, Risk Assessment Report, Statement of Applicability, Risk Treatment Plan, procedures for document control, corrective and preventive actions, and for internal audit. You will also have to document some of the controls from Annex A (only if you found them applicable in the Statement of Applicability) – inventory of assets (A.7.1.1), acceptable use of assets (A.7.1.3), roles and responsibilities of employees, contractors and third party users (A.8.1.1), terms and conditions of employment (A.8.1.3), procedures for the operation of information processing facilities (A.10.1.1), access control policy (A.11.1.1), and identification of applicable legislation (A.15.1.1). Also, you will need records of at least one internal audit and management review.

If any of these elements are missing, this means that you are not ready for Stage 2 audit. Of course, you could have many more documents if you find it necessary – the above list is the minimum requirement.

Stage 2 audit is also called the “Main audit”, and it usually follows a few weeks after Stage 1 audit. In this audit the focus will not be on the documentation, but if your organization is really doing what your documentation and ISO 27001 say you have to do. In other words, the auditor will check whether your ISMS has really materialized in your organization, or is it only a dead letter. The auditor will check this through observation, interviewing your employees, but mainly by checking your records. The mandatory records include education, training, skills, experience and qualifications (5.2.2), internal audit (6), management review (7.1), corrective (8.2) and preventive (8.3) actions; however, the auditor will be expecting to see many more records as a result of carrying out your procedures.

Please, be careful here – any experienced auditor will notice right away if any part of your ISMS is artificial, and is being made for the purpose of audit only.

OK, you knew all this, but it still happened – the auditor found major non-conformity and told you that ISO 27001 certificate will not be issued. Is this the end of the world?

Certainly not. The process goes like this – the auditor will state the findings (including the major non-conformity) in the audit report, and give you the deadline until which the non-conformity must be resolved (usually 90 days). Your job is to take appropriate corrective action; but you have to be careful – this action must resolve the cause of the non-conformity, otherwise the auditor might not accept what you have done. Once you are sure the right action is taken, you have to notify the auditor and send him/her the evidence of what you have done. In the majority of cases, if you have done your job thoroughly, the auditor will accept your corrective action and activate the process of issuing the certificate.

There you go – it took some time, but now you are a proud owner of the ISO/IEC 27001 certificate. (Be careful though – the certificate is valid for three years only, and can be suspended during that period if the certification body identifies another major non-conformity on the surveillance visits.)

Dejan Kosutic

About Dejan Kosutic

Expert in information security management (ISO 27001 standard) and business continuity management (BS 25999-2 standard)

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