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ISO 27001 Report: What’s Inside and Why It Matters

May 14, 2024

Picture this: you’re about to land a big client, but before they sign on the dotted line, they ask about your information security standard. In particular, they ask for your ISO 27001 report. Now what? Or alternatively, it’s business as usual – until it’s not. There’s been a data breach. Seeing as the global average cost of a data breach in 2023 is $4.45 million, it’s not something a small business is likely to bounce back from. Or, imagine your greatest competitor can not only comply with the world’s leading security standard, but they free up critical resources while they’re at it. 

Now what? 

For starters, let’s go back to basics. Here’s what you need to know about ISO 27001 compliance, your ISO 27001 report and how to start the prep process. 

Understanding ISO 27001

ISO 27001 is the international standard for information security. It’s often referred to as the ‘golden’ standard and is a sought-after certification process that proves due diligence when it comes to implementing (and maintaining) leading security best practices and controls. In brief, this translates into receiving the ‘stamp of approval’ that your organization complies with ISO 27001 to protect three core elements of information security: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. 

Why need the stamp of approval in the first place? We’ll get into the importance of it in a second. But essentially, what it comes down to is that consumers are no longer seeing robust security measures as a novelty, but a necessity – and proving this requires much more than ‘take-our-word-for-it.’ That, combined with the growing threat landscape, means that many companies require an ISO 27001 certification before going into business – ensuring that they’ve implemented an internationally recognized security standard and meet all requirements.

However, it’s not all as straightforward as that. ISO 27001 compliance can feel daunting, especially when you’re unsure where to start. Bite-sized chunks are the way to go – which is why we’re zooming in on the ISO 27001 report and why it matters. 

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What is an ISO 27001 Report? 

An ISO 27001 report and an ISO 27001 certification are not the same thing. Yes, they’re related in the context of ISO 27001 compliance but serve distinct purposes. Your ISO 27001 report is a detailed document that describes your organization’s compliance with the ISO 27001 standard. Ultimately, your ISO 27001 report should provide an overview of your Information Security Management System (ISMS).

Your ISMS certification, on the other hand, is the formal recognition that your organization has successfully implemented and maintained an ISMS that complies with the ISO 27001 standard. Think of it like this: your ISO 27001 certification is the plaque you hang on the wall, and your ISO 27001 report is the nitty-gritty process of explaining how you got certified in the first place (and why it matters). 

The ISO 27001 Report: What’s Inside and Why it Matters

Your ISO 27001 report is part of the internal audit process, which is why organizations must clearly understand what is expected of them. This internal audit report aims to ensure that your organization has implemented the necessary procedures, processes, protocols and people. Although it is often referred to as an ‘internal audit report,’ it’s important to distinguish that it’s not the actual internal audit procedure but rather one of the crucial steps within the internal audit process, documenting the evidence of the audit results, which is required by Clause 9.2 of the ISO 27001 standard.

Now, the next question is: how exactly? 

What’s Inside Your ISO 27001 Report?

Like an external audit, your ISO 27001 report should reflect a summary of the audit findings, non-conformities and additional action items. Although each report may differ depending on your unique ISMS, there are certain sections that each report should include, such as:

An Introduction 

This section should include an overview of the scope of the audit (which section(s) of the standard, locations, business processes, etc), including the audit criteria,  as well as the specific objectives. It’s essential to include key focus areas within the report, such as the timeline and methods. Did the internal audit include documentation review, sampling, interviews, etc? Be sure to give an overview here and all parties involved in the audit. Keep in mind that this is only a brief introduction and summary that stakeholders can quickly refer to to understand the internal audit findings.

The Executive Summary

This section should reflect the internal auditor’s key findings. Keep an eye on this section in particular, as this is where they will state their opinion on whether or not they deem you ISO 27001 compliant. 

Report Guidance

Although not mandatory, it’s always good to include some disclaimer as to how the report should be interpreted. This includes recommendations on who should review the report and whether or not it should be classified as confidential.

The Scope

The scope section should expand on the introduction, providing detailed insights into the areas audited. In this section, organizations are required to go slightly more into the detail of the scope, including the three most significant touchpoints: 

  • The specific areas that are covered in the audit (locations, staff, business processes, etc.)
  • The name of the auditor(s) that conducted the audit.
  • The date and time plus locations of the audit, and the audit criteria used.

The Audit Findings 

This section is the meaty part and should include each audit area’s findings. Ensure that all findings are clearly documented and justified with evidence according to ISO 27001 standards. Be sure also to reflect a detailed account of the controls the auditor assessed and what they found about how well-implemented and effective these controls are.

Vulnerabilities and Non-Conformities

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows; sooner or later, something will pop up that could expose you to non-compliance. Fortunately, that’s precisely why internal audits are essential. In this section, highlight any areas of improvement, identified vulnerabilities, and minor/major non-conformities, and describe the potential impact of these findings on your ISMS.

Recommendations and Final Thoughts

Finally, the last section should include any recommendations or feedback from the auditor, often also including remediation steps to solve the above-mentioned non-conformities in order to take proactive steps towards audit readiness. 

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The ISO 27001 Report: An In-Depth Analysis

Things may sound fine and dandy on paper (or reading about them online), but at some point you’re going to have to close the search tab and start working on actually getting ISO 27001 certified. So, what’s next? Here are a few ways you can start preparing for your ISO 27001 report in four steps. 

Step 1: Review Your Documentation

When it comes to compliance there is a surprising amount of paperwork. And be forewarned, even the smallest error can cause a massive spanner in the works. So, on your way to your ISO 27001 report, make sure you start-off with a baseline of correct and thorough documentation. This includes everything from the ISO 27001 scope statement, and Information Security Policies & Procedures. Apart from that, it’s also important to create a list of people involved in creating the ISMS, their roles and their contact details. By doing this, you significantly reduce the administrative burden in the event that the auditors need to ask the control owners to resolve any queries.

Step 2: Sampling and Interviews

They say the ‘proof is in the pudding,’ but where do you get the ‘pudding’ in the first place? This is where evidential sampling becomes essential. Traditionally (without compliance automation) this process was renowned for its time-consuming nature. 

This is because it involves tasks such as interviewing the staff, control owners, partners, and more. Additionally, this also means collecting evidential samples such as policy documents, instructions documents, previous audit reports, data summaries, external surveys, and performance indicators.

Step 3: Analyzing the Findings

Fortunately, you’re not responsible for analyzing the findings – that’s the auditor’s job. However, you must be prepared to respond to the findings. Ultimately, the auditor analyzes all the data with the purpose of highlighting any non-conformities or areas of improvement. To prepare for this, we need to look at the three potential categories of audit finding: 

  • Major Non-Conformity: 

Red flag alert! This is usually a significant issue that will affect the organization’s ability to achieve the intended results of the ISMS. It suggests that there is significant doubt regarding the effectiveness of the specified control and whether the product/service meets ISO 27001 requirements. Additionally, this could also refer to a number of minor non-conformities demonstrating a systemic failure.

  • Minor Non-Conformity:

This refers to  a partial fulfillment or once-off failure to meet an ISO 27001 requirement and generally suggests that the issue does not affect the organization’s ability to achieve the intended results of the ISMS.

This is an issue that does not affect the organization’s ability to achieve the intended results of the ISMS. 

  • Opportunity for Improvement:

While not a non-conformity exactly, this is still a helpful suggestion from the auditor regarding ways to improve the efficacy and efficiency of your ISMS. These recommendations can appear regardless of whether you’re meeting the requirements or not, and should be seen as strong suggestions as opposed to mandatory actions. 

Fortunately your audit findings aren’t all doom and gloom. This section could also include positive points and observations. 

Step 4: The ISO 27001 Report

This final step means getting ready to interpret and review and respond to the report. Be sure that stakeholders are in-the-know and ready to give their input. Additionally, it also means preparing the control owners and relevant teams to address the non-conformities.

Why Do We Need an ISO 27001 Report?

Other than that, it’s a requirement for ISO 27001 compliance; your reports are also a valuable tool and crucial document for tracking and managing your ISMS. See it as an opportunity to gauge your security posture and the capabilities of your ISMS before going through with the external audit and certification process. Additionally, your ISO 27001 report helps reflect where you are in your compliance journey and describes internal audit findings tested against the ISO 27001 standard. The report also allows organizations to pinpoint any vulnerabilities or areas of non-compliance, helping you address non-conformities that ultimately strengthen your security posture. 

Need the benefits at a glance? We’ve got you covered! 

  • Avoid security breaches
  • Meet demanding customer requirements
  • Expand into new markets and win more deals
  • Stand out in a competitive market
  • Provide higher levels of customer trust
  • Manage third-party vulnerabilities
  • Ensure robust security systems and practices

But ultimately, the question isn’t about its importance, but rather – how exactly can we do it (and do it right), without disrupting workflow or draining resources while we’re at it. Did we mention that we know a guy? And by ‘guy’ we mean the only full compliance hub

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Effortless ISO 27001 Compliance with Scytale

We’ve got you covered! From getting started with your ISO 27001 journey, to wrapping up the internal documentation process and acing the audit. At Scytale we understand every tiny spec of the compliance landscape so you don’t have to. Who said compliance needs to be complicated. Not us! Especially not if you can leverage the duo of the decade. Our compliance experts, combined with our compliance automation platform – providing effortless compliance at the tip of your fingertips. 

Here’s to getting (and staying) compliant without breaking a sweat. 

Alternatively, if you (or your team) want to keep brushing up on your ISO 27001 compliance knowledge, check out our full-stack ISO 27001 library here.