Understanding the Differences Between ISO 27001 and SOC 2: A Comprehensive Guide

Safeguarding information is paramount for organisations worldwide. Two of the most recognized frameworks for information security and compliance are ISO 27001 and SOC2. While both aim to enhance an organisation’s security posture, they cater to different needs and have distinct approaches. This article explores the key differences between ISO 27001 and SOC 2, helping you determine which is the best fit for your organisation.

Overview of ISO 27001

ISO 27001 is an internationally recognized standard for managing information security. It provides a systematic approach to managing sensitive company information, ensuring it remains secure. The standard outlines requirements for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continually improving an Information Security Management System (ISMS).

Key Features of ISO 27001:

  • International Standard: Recognized globally, facilitating international business and compliance.
  • Risk Management: Emphasizes identifying and managing risks to information security.
  • ISMS Framework: Requires the implementation of a comprehensive ISMS tailored to the organisation’s needs.
  • Certification: Organisations can be certified by an accredited certification body, proving their commitment to information security.

Overview of SOC 2

SOC 2 (Service Organisation Control 2) is a compliance standard for service organisations, developed by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). It focuses on the controls relevant to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of data stored and processed by the service organisation.

Key Features of SOC 2:

  • Trust Service Criteria: Based on five criteria – security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.
  • Customized Approach: Allows organisations to tailor controls to their specific needs.
  • Type I and Type II Reports: SOC 2 Type I reports assess the design of controls at a specific point in time, while Type II reports evaluate the operational effectiveness of controls over a period.
  • Attestation: Provides an attestation report from an independent CPA firm, rather than a certification.

Key Differences Between ISO 27001 and SOC 2

1. Scope and Applicability:

  • ISO 27001: Applicable to any organisation, regardless of size, industry, or location. It covers the entire organisation’s ISMS.
  • SOC 2: Primarily designed for service organisations, particularly those that handle customer data. It focuses on specific trust service criteria relevant to the organisation’s services.

2. International vs. National Recognition:

  • ISO 27001: An internationally recognized standard, making it ideal for organisations operating globally.
  • SOC 2: A U.S.-based standard, though increasingly recognized and adopted by companies worldwide, especially those dealing with U.S. clients.

3. Certification vs. Attestation:

  • ISO 27001: Offers formal certification through accredited certification bodies, providing a widely recognized mark of information security.
  • SOC 2: Provides an attestation report from an independent CPA, which is often used to demonstrate compliance to clients and stakeholders.

4. Risk Management Approach:

  • ISO 27001: Strongly emphasizes a risk management approach, requiring organisations to identify, assess, and manage information security risks.
  • SOC 2: While it includes elements of risk management, it is more focused on controls related to the five trust service criteria.

5. Reporting and Assessment:

  • ISO 27001: Requires ongoing maintenance and continual improvement of the ISMS, with regular audits to maintain certification.
  • SOC 2: Involves periodic assessments, with Type I and Type II reports providing snapshots of control design and operational effectiveness.

Choosing the Right Framework for Your Organisation

Deciding between ISO 27001 and SOC 2 depends on your organisation’s specific needs, industry requirements, and client expectations. Here are some considerations to help you choose:

  • Global Operations: If your organisation operates internationally, ISO 27001’s global recognition may be more beneficial.
  • U.S. Clients: If your primary clients are in the U.S. or you are a service organisation handling customer data, SOC 2 compliance might be more relevant.
  • Comprehensive ISMS: If you need a comprehensive, organisation-wide information security management system, ISO 27001 is the better choice.
  • Specific Trust Service Criteria: If your focus is on specific aspects of data security, such as availability or confidentiality, SOC 2 allows for a more customized approach.

In conclusion, both ISO 27001 and SOC 2 provide robust frameworks for enhancing information security. Understanding the key differences between them will help you make an informed decision and select the right framework to meet your organisation’s security and compliance objectives.


ISO 27001


Scope Global Primarily North America
Focus Information Security Management System (ISMS) Trust Service Criteria (security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, privacy)
Standard Type International Standard Attestation Standard
Certifying Body Accredited Certification Bodies CPAs, Cas and AICPA members
Framework Risk-based approach to information security Control-based approach on TSC
Audit Frequency Initial certification and surveillance audits (annually), recertification every 3 years Annual attestation
Controls Annex A: 93 controls across 4 sections Based on selected Trust Service Criteria
Compliance Proof Certificate issued by certifying body SOC 2 report issued by CPA/CA
Industry Applicability Any industry Service organizations, particularly those handling customer data
Certification Time 1-3 months depending on prepardness 3-6 months depending on readiness and timeframe
Cost Typically lower Generally higher, due to examination type
Main Users Global organizations, businesses of all sizes SaaS companies, tech firms, service providers

Learn more: