An information security management system (ISMS) is a detailed documentation of an organization’s information security and privacy policies. It describes a systematic approach toward risk management that consists of security controls covering people, processes, and technologies.

While organizations can include both globally accepted and industry-specific security standards in their ISMSs, they can use several frameworks for them. One example is ISO 27001, which provides specific requirements for an effective ISMS. Although ISO 27001 certification is not obligatory, several organizations worldwide implement the standard to guide their ISMS implementations. That is because ISO 27001 describes best practices in securing digital assets, such as intellectual property, employee information, customer data, and other information entrusted to an organization.

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When you think about ISMSs, you might imagine a thick folder of documents detailing an organization’s security policies. You’re not that far-off, but ISMSs often come as a set of toolkits, templates, and software that incorporates and implements security policies and procedures.

For instance, organizations may use an ISMS software where they can encode their security requirements. The application analyzes the whole network to see if an organization complies with the requirements or policies.

How Does an ISMS Work?

Implementing an ISMS requires organizations to set up a so-called “risk management regime,” which simply refers to their detailed ISMS plan. The risk management regime should:

  • Constantly assess potential risks and identify a company’s compliance requirements other than ISO 27001
  • Make C-suites care about and prioritize risk management
  • Keep all employees informed about the risks the organization could be exposed to and its ISMS progress
  • Continuously create, audit, and improve corporate risk management policies

Many organizations publish their ISMS policies for anyone interested to see. An information security management system example would be The Data Crew’s ISMS policy accessible here.

What Is the Scope of an ISMS?

Regardless of its format or delivery model, a typical ISMS has the same objectives that span three pillars—processes, people, and technologies. Its scope includes the following:

  • Asset management: An effective ISMS details how to secure an organization’s digital assets within and outside its network. It includes security protocols to use when exchanging sensitive information.
  • Access control: An ISMS should contain policies that limit network access to authorized users only. It should also clearly define user roles and access permissions and include provisions that allow the implementation of network traffic monitoring systems.
  • Regulatory compliance: The security requirements of industry-specific regulatory bodies should be addressed by the ISMS. For example, the heavily regulated financial sector would need to adhere to specific regulatory requirements, such as the Bank Secrecy Act. These should also be detailed and implemented through their ISMS.
  • Human resource security: An ISMS should include security policies and measures that reduce threats emerging from human errors, insider threats, and other security lapses. ISMS controls could include workforce security training and anti-phishing systems.
  • Incident management: An effective ISMS details how security teams handle security issues. That includes policies and technology solutions that enable incident detection, prioritization, and remediation.

As you can deduce from the list, an ISMS has an enterprise-wide scope. Aside from these five areas, an ISMS also comprises policies and controls relevant to business continuity, information system development or acquisition and maintenance, third-party vendor management, and physical security.

What Is the ISMS Process Like?

ISMS implementation follows a four-part process called the “Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) model.” We explain the process below.

  • Plan: This step includes identifying security issues. From there, organizations can formulate security policies and identify processes, methods, and technologies that can help address the identified problems.
  • Do: This stage is where the security policies and methods created in the planning stage are implemented.
  • Check: Ongoing monitoring of the implemented policies and procedures ensures that they provide the desired outcomes. This step also requires regular evaluations of the ISMS’s effectiveness.
  • Act: The evaluations and their results should be documented appropriately to improve an organization’s ISMS continuously.

ISO 27001 promotes the PDCA model to ensure continuous improvement as organizations undergo digital transformation. With cloud migration and new technologies being introduced all the time, new threats and risks would also emerge. Hence, security policies detailed in ISMSs should also be updated accordingly.

Why Is an ISMS Important?

Now that you know what an information security management system (ISMS) is, you may already have an idea about how critical it is for organizations of any size and in any industry. An ISMS ensures adherence to high-standard security policies and procedures, thereby reducing the risk of security breaches. Data protection is one of the ultimate goals of ISMSs, so their implementation helps protect all data an organization is entrusted with.

Organizations may also find that an ISMS that complies with ISO 27001 requirements helps them obtain ISO certification. That is a considerable business advantage that can improve their brand reputation, strengthen customer trust, and improve their overall business performance.

What Are the Benefits of an ISMS?

Implementing an ISMS provides various benefits that include:

  • Securing information: ISMSs help protect all kinds of data, such as intellectual property, company secrets, and personal information in both digital or hard copy format, regardless where they are stored.
  • Increasing resilience to cyber attacks: ISMSs keeps organizations safe from cyber attacks.
  • Responding to evolving security threats: Constantly updated ISMSs helps companies adapt to the ever-changing threat landscape.
  • Reducing information security-related costs: Adding costly defensive technologies to your security stack isn’t always the way to go, especially with a limited budget. ISMS requires continuous risk assessment, allowing organizations to reduce costs.
  • Improving company culture: ISMSs’ holistic approach to security involves the whole company, making everyone aware of risks to do something about them.
  • Protecting data confidentiality, integrity, and availability: ISMSs employ policies, procedures, and technical and physical controls to safeguard all of an organization’s secrets.
  • Offering organization-wide protection: ISMS implementation keeps companies safe from technology-based risks and even common threats like ineffective procedures.

An ISMS is a systematic approach to security and risk management. It details how an organization should secure its network, systems, and information in terms of people, processes, and technologies. The proper implementation of an ISMS lessens the risk of legal and financial costs of data breaches.