Threat actors are incessantly targeting companies to steal sensitive data. So you need to strengthen information security now more than ever.
With an information security management system (ISMS) in place, you can effectively protect your valuable data and ensure business continuity during any security incident.
What’s more, an ISMS can also help you meet regulatory compliance and avoid legal consequences.
This detailed guide will unpack everything you should know about an ISMS and how to implement it.
Let’s dive in.
What Is an ISMS?
An information security management system (ISMS) sets policies and procedures to instruct, monitor, and improve information security in your company.
An ISMS also covers how to protect an organization’s sensitive data from being stolen or destroyed and details all the mitigation processes necessary to meet infosec objectives.
The main goal of implementing an ISMS is to identify and address security risks around information assets in your company.
An ISMS typically deals with behavioral aspects of employees and vendors while handling organizational data, security tools, and a plan for business continuity in the event of any security incident.
Though most organizations implement ISMS comprehensively to minimize information security risks, you can also deploy an ISMS to systematically manage any particular type of data, like customer data.
How Does ISMS Work?
An ISMS provides your employees, vendors, and other stakeholders with a structured framework to manage and safeguard sensitive information in the company.
As an ISMS includes security policies and guidelines on how processes and activities related to information security should be securely managed, implementing an ISMS can help avoid security incidents like data breaches.
Additionally, an ISMS sets policies for roles and responsibilities for individuals responsible for systematically managing information security in your company. An ISMS outlines procedures for your security team members to identify, assess, and mitigate risks associated with processing sensitive data.
Implementing an ISMS will help you monitor the effectiveness of your information security measures.
The widely-used international standard for creating an ISMS is ISO/IEC 27001. The International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission jointly developed it.
ISO 27001 defines security requirements an ISMS must meet. ISO/IEC 27001 standard can guide your company in creating, implementing, maintaining, and continually improving the ISMS.
Having ISO/IEC 27001 certification means your company is committed to managing sensitive information securely.
Why Your Company Needs an ISMS
The following are key benefits of using an effective ISMS in your company.
Safeguards Your Sensitive Data
An ISMS will help you protect information assets, regardless of their types. This means paper-based information, digitally saved data on a hard drive, and information saved on the cloud will be available only to authorized personnel.
Moreover, the ISMS will reduce data loss or theft.
Helps Meet Regulatory Compliance
Some industries are bounded by the law to protect customer data. For example, the healthcare and financial industry.
Having an ISMS implemented helps your company meet regulatory compliance and contractual requirements.
Offers Business Continuity
Implementing an ISMS enhances protection against cyberattacks targeting information systems to steal sensitive data. As a result, your organization minimizes the occurrence of security incidents. This means fewer disruptions and less downtime.
An ISMS also offers guidelines for navigating through security incidents like data breaches in a way to minimize downtime.
Reduces Operating Costs
When implementing an ISMS in your company, you conduct an in-depth risk assessment of all information assets. Consequently, you can identify high-risk assets and low-risk assets. This helps you strategically spend your security budget to buy the right security tools and avoid indiscriminate spending.
Data breaches cost huge amounts of money. As an ISMS minimizes security incidents and reduces downtime, it can reduce operating costs in your company.
Enhance Cybersecurity Culture
An ISMS offers a framework and systematic approach to managing security risks associated with information assets. It securely helps your employees, vendors, and other stakeholders process sensitive data. As a result, they understand the risks associated with information assets and follow security best practices to protect those assets.
Improves Overall Security Posture
When implementing an ISMS, you use various security and access controls to protect your information data. You also create a strong security policy for risk assessment and risk mitigation. All of this improves the overall security posture of your company.
How To Implement an ISMS
The following steps can help you implement an ISMS in your company to defend against threats.
#1. Set Objectives
Setting objectives is crucial for the success of the ISMS you implement in your company. This is because objectives provide you with a clear direction and purpose for implementing an ISMS and help you prioritize resources and efforts.
So set clear objectives for implementing an ISMS. Determine which assets you want to protect and why you want to protect them. Think about your employees, vendors, and other stakeholders who manage your sensitive data when setting objectives.
#2. Conduct a Risk Assessment
The next step is to conduct a risk assessment, including evaluating information processing assets and carrying out risk analysis.
Proper asset identification is crucial for the success of the ISMS you’re planning to implement in your company.
Create an inventory of business-critical assets that you want to protect. Your asset list can include but are not limited to hardware, software, smartphones, information databases, and physical locations. Then, consider threats and vulnerabilities by analyzing the risk factors tied to your selected assets.
Also, analyze risk factors by assessing the legal requirements or compliance guidelines.
Once you have a clear picture of risk factors associated with information assets you want to protect, weigh the impact of these identified risk factors to determine what you have to do about those risks.
Based on the impact of risks, you may choose to:
Reduce the Risks
You can implement security controls to reduce risks. For example, installing online security software is one way to reduce information security risk.
Transfer the Risks
You can buy cybersecurity insurance or partner with a third party to combat risks.
Accept the Risks
You can choose to do nothing if the costs of security controls to mitigate those risks outweigh the value of the loss.
Avoid the Risks
You may decide to ignore the risks even though those risks can cause irreparable damage to your business.
Of course, you shouldn’t avoid the risks and think about reducing and transferring risks.
#3. Have Tools and Resources for Risk Management
You have created a list of risk factors that have to be mitigated. It is time to prepare for risk management and create an incident response management plan.
A robust ISMS identifies risk factors and provides effective measures to mitigate risks.
Based on organizational assets’ risks, implement tools and resources that help you mitigate risks altogether. This can include creating security policies to safeguard sensitive data, developing access controls, having policies to manage supplier relationships, and investing in security software programs.
You should also prepare guidelines for human resource security and physical and environmental security to enhance information security comprehensively.
#4. Train Your Employees
You can implement the latest cybersecurity tools to protect your information assets. But you cannot have optimum security unless your employees know the evolving threat landscape and how to protect sensitive information from being compromised.
Therefore, you should conduct security awareness training regularly in your company to ensure your employees know common data vulnerabilities associated with information assets and how to prevent and mitigate threats.
To maximize the success of your ISMS, your employees should understand why the ISMS is crucial to the company and what they should do to help the company achieve the objectives of the ISMS. If you make any change to your ISMS at any time, make your employees aware of it.
#5. Have the Certification Audit Done
If you want to show consumers, investors, or other interested parties that you have implemented an ISMS, you will require a certificate of compliance issued by an independent body.
For example, you may decide to become ISO 27001 certified. To do so, you will have to choose an accredited certification body for external audit. The certification body will review your practices, policies, and procedures to assess whether the ISMS you have implemented meets the requirements of the ISO 27001 standard.
Once the certification body is satisfied with how you manage information security, you will receive the ISO/IEC 27001 certification.
The certificate is usually valid for up to 3 years, provided you conduct routine internal audits as a continual improvement process.
#6. Make a Plan for Continuous Improvement
It goes without saying that a successful ISMS requires continuous improvement. So you should monitor, check, and audit your information security measures to assess their effectiveness.
If you encounter any deficiency or identify a new risk factor, implement the necessary changes to address the issue.
ISMS Best Practices
The following are the best practices to maximize the success of your information security management system.
Strictly Monitor Data Access
To make your ISMS successful, you must monitor data access in your company.
Make sure you check the following:
Who is accessing your data?
Where is the data being accessed?
When is the data being accessed?
Which device is being used to access the data?
In addition, you should also implement a centrally managed framework to keep tabs on login credentials and authentications. This will help you know that only authorized people are accessing sensitive data.
Harden Security of All Devices
Threat actors exploit vulnerabilities in information systems to steal data. So you should harden the security of all devices that process sensitive data.
Make sure that all software programs and operating systems are set to auto-update.
Enforce Strong Data Encryption
Encryption is a must to protect your sensitive data, as it will prevent threat actors from reading your data in the event of any data breach. So make it a rule to encrypt all sensitive data, whether it is being saved on a hard drive or the cloud.
Backup Sensitive Data
Security systems fail, data breaches happen, and hackers encrypt data to get the ransom money. So you should back up all your sensitive data. Ideally, you should back up your data both digitally and physically. And make sure you encrypt all your backed-up data.
The external audit is a part of the certification process. But you should also regularly audit your information security measures internally to identify and fix security loopholes.
Shortcomings of an ISMS
An ISMS is not foolproof. Here are the critical shortcomings of an ISMS.
Human errors are inevitable. You may possess sophisticated security tools. But a simple phishing attack can potentially deceive your employees, leading them to disclose login credentials for critical information assets unwittingly.
New threats are constantly emerging. So your ISMS may struggle to provide you with adequate information security in the evolving threat landscape.
Regularly internally auditing your ISMS can help you identify security gaps in your ISMS.
Needless to say, you require significant resources to implement a comprehensive ISMS. Small companies with limited budgets may struggle to deploy sufficient resources, resulting in inadequate ISMS implementation.
Companies are rapidly adopting new technologies like AI or the Internet of Things (IoT). And integrating these technologies within your existing ISMS framework can be daunting.
Your company is likely to rely on third-party vendors, suppliers, or service providers for various aspects of its operations. These external entities may have security vulnerabilities or inadequate security measures. Your ISMS may not comprehensively address information security risks posed by these third parties.
So implement third-party risk management software to mitigate security threats from third parties.
Implementing an ISMS and preparing for the external audit can be overwhelming. You can make your journey easier by going through the following valuable resources:
#1. ISO 27001:2013 – Information Security Management System
This Udemy course will help you understand an overview of ISO 27001, different control types, common network attacks, and much more. The course duration is 8 hours.
#2. ISO/IEC 27001:2022. Information Security Management System
If you’re a complete beginner, this Udemy course is ideal. The course includes an overview of ISMS, information about the ISO/IEC 27001 framework for information security management, knowledge about various security controls, etc.
This book offers all the necessary information you need to know to implement an ISMS in your company. Management of Information Security has chapters on information security policy, risk management, security management models, security management practices, and much more.
As the name suggests, ISO 27001 Handbook can work as a manual for implementing an ISMS in your company. It covers key topics, such as ISO/IEC 27001 standards, information security, risk assessment, and management, etc.
These helpful resources will offer you a solid foundation to implement an ISMS efficiently in your company.
Implement an ISMS To Protect Your Sensitive Data
Threat actors are tirelessly targeting companies to steal data. Even a minor data breach incident can cause severe damage to your brand.
Therefore, you should amp up information security in your company by implementing an ISMS.
Moreover, an ISMS builds trust and increases the brand value as consumers, shareholders, and other interested parties will think you follow the best practices to protect their data.
Sandeep Babu has an MA in English literature from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He has been writing in the cybersecurity domain since 2019. He covers cybersecurity for Geekflare, Make Use Of (MUO), and Small Business Trends.