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ISO 27001 or SOC 2 - Which one should small business choose first?

by FeHa International Consulting
November 21, 2021

Customers and other sensitive information security is of paramount importance in this digital age. To show potential and existing customers how serious vendors take care of their own data and their customers data, many organizations pursue either ISO 27001 certification or SOC 2 independent attestation.

But with a limited starting budget, which one should a small business like yourself pursue first? Since both security assurance audits take a big chunk of your budget, it is wise to start with one and grow mature before deciding to take both, if necessary.

Know your customers

Your (potential) customers base locations can be a good starting point to choose the first path to pursue. Most of SOC 2 reports are catered for US based companies, while ISO 27001 certification is acceptable in many more countries, although nowadays sometimes large enterprises in Europe and Asia require both.

If your customers are based in Europe, the most used term for SOC 2 is the ISAE 3000.

Know the difference between ISO 27001 and SOC 2

Despite the many similarities between ISO 27001 and SOC 2, there are differences between the two which can help you determine which path to take.

ISO 27001 standard with its 114 controls is more prescriptive in nature. This helps small businesses with less knowledge about the Information Security Management System to implement and provide evidence for the certification audit. Although the standard itself will never prescribe exactly how an organization should implement the controls, the way these controls are written can be easily interpreted and translated to actionable steps even for a small-sized business.

SOC 2 framework takes a bit more flexible approach. The framework is based on 5 Trust Service Categories: security, availability, confidentiality, privacy, and processing integrity. However, only one is mandatory: security. The rest are optional, which you can discuss with the external auditor which one(s) is more suitable for your line of business and state of business maturity at one that point in time.

Having said that, both ISO 27001 and SOC 2 audits can be tough for a small business especially if none of the staff has ever done it before. Of course there are plenty of implementation consultants that can help prior to the audit, but it is always recommended to have that discussion internally because the internal staff are the ones who need to work hard to achieve and maintain any of these two assurance documents. Both ISO 27001 and SOC 2 audits need to be performed every year.

So, should you pursue ISO 27001 or SOC 2 first?

Based on our years of experience working with these two standards, we recommend a small business to start with ISO 27001 certification path. Since the framework itself prescribes clearly the controls, although the journey can be tough, things can be more predictable to prepare.

FeHa International Consulting is an international IT GRC, cybersecurity, and privacy management consultant with expertise and experience ranging from startups, small business, up to large corporations.
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