What is an ISMS?
If you’re here for a short answer, an ISMS, or Information Security Management System, is a set of policies, procedures, and controls that are designed to protect an organisation's information assets. The goal of an ISMS is to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of those information assets, and is a core part of some compliance standards, such as ISO 27001.
What is an information asset? Information assets themselves can be anything that is valuable to an organisation, including data, systems, and processes. Broadly speaking, if it’s information, and it’s valuable to your business, it’s an information asset.
Confidentiality, integrity, and availability
Confidentiality means that only authorised people can access information, integrity means that information is accurate and complete, and availability means that information is accessible when it is needed.
Confidentiality, integrity and availability are referenced a lot in the world of compliance and cyber security, and you might have heard of them as the CIA triad.
Why do I need an ISMS?
An ISMS can help your businesses protect your information assets from threats, including unauthorised access, data breaches, and cyber attacks.
Ultimately, you’ll reduce the risk of data breaches over time when you implement and maintain an effective information security management system.
ISMS for risk management
I hope it comes as no surprise that businesses are under increasing attack from cyber criminals. Whether you’re hit by an opportunistic attack resulting from a missing patch, collateral damage from a supply chain attack, victim of a targeted attack – or something else – cyber attacks are a real business risk.
Whilst there are many tools you can use in your arsenal to protect your information assets against a cyber attack, like penetration testing or a managed SIEM service, how do you know what’s needed and when?
This is where an information security management system comes in handy, in the guise of something structured like the internationally-applauded ISO 27001, It can help you decide which security tools to deploy and at what time. Instead of taking a scatter-gun approach to cyber security, an ISMS can help you take a targeted risk-based one that uses minimum resources to achieve maximum impact. Our Head of Consulting, Nicky Whiting, has more to say about that here:
Why have an ISMS?
In a nutshell, the benefits of having an ISMS include:
Improved information security
Having a system in place will improve your information security posture by implementing appropriate controls to mitigate specific, relevant risks.
Reduced risk of data breaches
It can help you reduce the risk of data breaches by implementing appropriate controls to protect sensitive data.
Increased compliance with regulations
It can help you comply with a variety of regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Improved customer confidence
Customers are increasingly concerned about the security of their data. An ISMS can help you demonstrate to customers that you are taking information security seriously.
It can help you reduce the costs associated with data breaches and other security incidents.
How do I implement an ISMS?
In broad terms, there are three main steps:
Identifying and assessing your information assets
What data do you have that is important to your business? What are the risks to that data?
Implementing appropriate controls to mitigate those risks
This could include things like strong passwords, data encryption, and access controls.
Monitoring and improving your ISMS on an ongoing basis
The threats to your information assets are constantly changing, so it's important to review and update your ISMS regularly.
But as straightforward as this is on paper, if we look in more detail, there are several smaller stages involved for effective implementation.
If your ISO 27001 certification (and by extension your ISMS) doesn’t have support from senior management, then your project is doomed to fail. Sorry. The good news is that once you have management on side, you’ll be able to get the resources and support you need to make the project a success, and you can start to develop your ISMS policies and procedures. Again, the overarching framework of ISO 27001 is a great help here.
Next is the implementation stage:
Define the scope of your ISMS
What information assets will you cover?
Assess your current security posture
What are your current security risks and controls?
Develop your ISMS policies and procedures
These should be tailored to the specific needs of your organisation.
Implement your ISMS controls
This could include things like installing security software, implementing access controls, and training employees on security procedures.
Monitor and improve your ISMS
This includes reviewing your policies and procedures, testing your controls, and making changes as needed.
If this sounds like a daunting amount of work, well, to be honest it can be if you’re coming at it from scratch and doing it all in-house. But that’s not to say it can’t be made achievable with help from people who have done it all before. Get in touch with our ISO 27001 experts to see how they can support you on your compliance journey.
How do I get started with an ISMS/ISO 27001?
Although you can technically manage your own ISMS implementation in house, it is a big project that will move forward far better with help from a seasoned professional. Our ISO 27001 consultants have been through this all before, with many businesses in many industries, so they already know the problems you’re likely to face, and the solutions.
An ISMS is a valuable tool for organisations at any stage in their compliance journey, but it does become more important as an organisation grows, and procedures become more complex. By implementing an ISMS sooner rather than later you can protect your information assets from a variety of threats, in a clever, risk-based way that means you’re spending wisely, not freely.
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