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ISO/IEC 27002:2013 — Information technology — Security techniques — Code of practice for information security controls (second edition)
“This International Standard offers a collection of commonly accepted information security control objectives and controls and includes guidelines for implementing these controls.”
[Source: SC27 Standing Document 11 (2021)]
ISO/IEC 27002 is a popular, internationally-recognized standard of good practice for information security. Its lineage stretches back more than 30 years to the precursors of BS 7799.
Scope of the standard
Like governance and risk management, information security management is a broad topic with ramifications for all organizations. Information security, and hence ISO/IEC 27002, is relevant to all types of organization including commercial enterprises of all sizes (from one-man-bands up to multinational giants), not-for-profits, charities, government departments and quasi-autonomous bodies - in fact any organization that handles and depends on information. The specific information risk and control requirements may differ in detail but there is a lot of common ground, for instance most organizations need to address the information risks relating to their employees plus contractors, consultants and third party suppliers of various information and IT services.
The standard is explicitly concerned with information security, meaning the security of all forms of information (e.g. computer data, documentation, knowledge and intellectual property) and not just IT/systems and network security.
Relationship to ISO/IEC 27001
An Information Security Management System as specified in ISO/IEC 27001 is primarily concerned with managing a suite of information security controls. ISO/IEC 27001 Annex A summarizes the information security controls from ISO/IEC 27002 on the basis that they are generally applicable good practices, worth considering. However, organizations are free to implement whichever controls they feel are appropriate for their information risks, and may prefer entirely different control suites. In practice, most organizations that adopt ISO/IEC 27001 also use Annex A and hence ISO/IEC 27002 as a general framework or structure for their controls, making various changes as necessary to suit their specific information risk treatment requirements.
Structure and format of ISO/IEC 27002
ISO/IEC 27002 is a “code of practice” - a generic, advisory document, not a formal specification such as ISO/IEC 27001. It recommends information security controls addressing information security control objectives arising from risks to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information. Organizations that adopt ISO/IEC 27002 assess their own information risks, clarify their control objectives and apply suitable controls (or indeed other forms of risk treatment) using the standard for guidance.
The standard is structured logically around groups of related security controls. Many controls could have been put in several sections but, to avoid duplication and conflict, they were arbitrarily assigned to one and, in some cases, cross-referenced from elsewhere. For example, a card-access-control system for, say, a computer room or archive/vault is both an access control and a physical control that involves technology plus the associated management/administration and usage procedures and policies. This has resulted in a few oddities (such as section 6.2 on mobile devices and teleworking being part of section 6 on the organization of information security) but it is at least a reasonably comprehensive structure. It may not be perfect but it is good enough on the whole.
Contents of ISO/IEC 27002
In more detail, here is a breakdown summarizing the current standard’s 19 sections or chapters (21 if you include the unnumbered foreword and bibliography). The areas of the blocks roughly reflects the sizes of the sections. Click the diagram to jump to the relevant description.
Briefly mentions ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 27, the committee that wrote the standard, and notes that this “second edition cancels and replaces the first edition (ISO/IEC 27002:2005), which has been technically and structurally revised”.
Section 0: Introduction
This lays out the background, mentions three origins of information security requirements, notes that the standard offers generic and potentially incomplete guidance that should be interpreted in the organization’s context, mentions information and information system lifecycles, and points to ISO/IEC 27000 for the overall structure and glossary for ISO27k.
Section 1: Scope
The standard gives recommendations for those who are responsible for selecting, implementing and managing information security. It may or may not be used in support of an ISMS specified in ISO/IEC 27001.
Section 2: Normative references
ISO/IEC 27000 is the only standard considered absolutely indispensable for the use of ISO/IEC 27002. However, various other standards are mentioned in the standard, and there is a bibliography.
Section 3: Terms and definitions
All the specialist terms and definitions are now defined in ISO/IEC 27000 and most apply across the entire ISO27k family of standards.
Section 4: Structure of this standard
Security control clauses
Of the 21 sections or chapters of the standard, 14 specify control objectives and controls. These 14 are the ‘security control clauses’.
There is a standard structure within each control clause: one or more first-level subsections, each one stating a control objective, and each control objective being supported in turn by one or more stated controls, each control followed by the associated implementation guidance and, in some cases, additional explanatory notes. The amount of detail is responsible for the standard being nearly 90 A4 pages in length.
35 control objectives
ISO/IEC 27002 specifies some 35 control objectives (one per ’security control category’) concerning the need to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information.
The control objectives are at a fairly high level and, in effect, comprise a generic functional requirements specification for an organization’s information security management architecture.
Few professionals would seriously dispute the validity of the control objectives, or, to put that another way, it would be difficult to argue that an organization need not satisfy the stated control objectives in general. However, some control objectives are not applicable in every case and their generic wording is unlikely to reflect the precise requirements of every organization, especially given the very wide range of organizations and industries to which the standard applies. This is why ISO/IEC 27001 requires the SoA (Statement of Applicability), laying out unambiguously which information security controls are or are not required by the organization, as well as their implementation status.
Each of the control objectives is supported by at least one control, giving a total of 114. However, the headline figure is somewhat misleading since the implementation guidance recommends numerous actual controls in the details.
The control objective relating to the relatively simple sub-subsection 9.4.2 “Secure log-on procedures”, for instance, is supported by:
- Choosing, implementing and using suitable authentication techniques;
- Not disclosing sensitive information at log-on time;
- Data-entry validation;
- Protection against brute-force ‘credential stuffing’ attacks;
- Not transmitting passwords in clear over the network;
- Session inactivity timeouts;
- Access time restrictions ... plus many other controls such as policies and procedures, awareness and training, compliance assessment and enforcement, oversight, assurance and so on.
Whether you consider that to be one or several controls is up to you. It could be argued that ISO/IEC 27002 recommends literally hundreds of distinct information security controls, although some support multiple control objectives, in other words some controls have several purposes.
Furthermore, the wording throughout the standard clearly states or implies that this is not a totally comprehensive set. An organization may have slightly different or completely novel information security control objectives, requiring other controls (sometimes known as ‘extended control sets’) in place of or in addition to those stated in the standard. A hospital operating theater, for instance, is not the ideal place to be messing around with logins, passwords and all that jazz. Information risk and security is context-dependent.
Section 5: Information security policies
5.1 Management direction for information security
Management should define a set of policies to clarify their direction of, and support for, information security. At the top level, there should be an overall “information security policy” as specified in ISO/IEC 27001 section 5.2.
Section 6: Organization of information security
6.1 Internal organization
The organization should lay out the roles and responsibilities for information security, and allocate them to individuals. Where relevant, duties should be segregated across roles and individuals to avoid conflicts of interest and prevent inappropriate activities. There should be contacts with relevant external authorities (such as CERTs and special interest groups) on information security matters. Information security should be an integral part of the management of all types of project.
6.2 Mobile devices and teleworking
There should be security policies and controls for mobile devices (such as laptops, tablet PCs, wearable ICT devices, smartphones, USB gadgets and other Boys’ Toys) and teleworking (such as telecommuting, working-from home, road-warriors, and remote/virtual workplaces). [I don’t know how this ended up under section 6, but here it is.]
Section 7: Human resource security
7.1 Prior to employment
Information security responsibilities should be taken into account when recruiting permanent employees, contractors and temporary staff (e.g. through adequate job descriptions, pre-employment screening) and included in contracts (e.g. terms and conditions of employment and other signed agreements defining security roles and responsibilities, compliance obligations etc.).
7.2 During employment
Managers should ensure that employees and contractors are made aware of and motivated to comply with their information security obligations. A formal disciplinary process is necessary to handle information security incidents allegedly caused by workers.
7.3 Termination and change of employment
Security aspects of a person’s departure from the organization, or significant changes of roles within it, should be managed, such as returning corporate information and equipment in their possession, updating their access rights, and reminding them of their ongoing obligations under privacy and intellectual property laws, contractual terms etc. plus ethical expectations.
Section 8: Asset management
8.1 Responsibility for assets
All information assets should be inventoried and owners should be identified to be held accountable for their security. ‘Acceptable use’ policies should be defined, and assets should be returned when people leave the organization.
8.2 Information classification
Information should be classified and labelled by its owners according to the security protection needed, and handled appropriately.
8.3 Media handling
Information storage media should be managed, controlled, moved and disposed of in such a way that the information content is not compromised.
Section 9: Access control
9.1 Business requirements of access control
The organization’s requirements to control access to information assets should be clearly documented in an access control policy and procedures. Network access and connections should be restricted.
9.2 User access management
The allocation of access rights to users should be controlled from initial user registration through to removal of access rights when no longer required, including special restrictions for privileged access rights and the management of passwords (now called “secret authentication information”) plus regular reviews and updates of access rights.
9.3 User responsibilities
Users should be made aware of their responsibilities towards maintaining effective access controls e.g. choosing strong passwords and keeping them confidential.
9.4 System and application access control
Information access should be restricted in accordance with the access control policy e.g. through secure log-on, password management, control over privileged utilities and restricted access to program source code.
Section 10: Cryptography
10.1 Cryptographic controls
There should be a policy on the use of encryption, plus cryptographic authentication and integrity controls such as digital signatures and message authentication codes, and cryptographic key management.
Section 11: Physical and environmental security
11.1 Secure areas
Defined physical perimeters and barriers, with physical entry controls and working procedures, should protect the premises, offices, rooms, delivery/loading areas etc. against unauthorized access. Specialist advice should be sought regarding protection against fires, floods, earthquakes, bombs etc.
“Equipment” (meaning ICT equipment, mostly) plus supporting utilities (such as power and air conditioning) and cabling should be secured and maintained. Equipment and information should not be taken off-site unless authorized, and must be adequately protected both on and off-site. Information must be destroyed prior to storage media being disposed of or re-used. Unattended equipment must be secured and there should be a clear desk and clear screen policy.
Section 12: Operations security
12.1 Operational procedures and responsibilities
IT operating responsibilities and procedures should be documented. Changes to IT facilities and systems should be controlled. Capacity and performance should be managed. Development, test and operational systems should be separated.
12.2 Protection from malware
Malware controls are required, including user awareness.
Appropriate backups should be taken and retained in accordance with a backup policy.
12.4 Logging and monitoring
System user and administrator/operator activities, exceptions, faults and information security events should be logged and protected. Clocks should be synchronized.
12.5 Control of operational software
Software installation on operational systems should be controlled.
12.6 Technical vulnerability management
Technical vulnerabilities should be patched, and there should be rules in place governing software installation by users.
12.7 Information systems audit considerations
IT audits should be planned and controlled to minimize adverse effects on production systems, or inappropriate data access.
13 Communications security
13.1 Network security management
Networks and network services should be secured, for example by segregation.
13.2 Information transfer
There should be policies, procedures and agreements (e.g. non-disclosure agreements) concerning information transfer to/from third parties, including electronic messaging.
Section 14: System acquisition, development and maintenance
14.1 Security requirements of information systems
Security control requirements should be analyzed and specified, including web applications and transactions.
14.2 Security in development and support processes
Rules governing secure software/systems development should be defined as policy. Changes to systems (both applications and operating systems) should be controlled. Software packages should ideally not be modified, and secure system engineering principles should be followed. The development environment should be secured, and outsourced development should be controlled. System security should be tested and acceptance criteria defined to include security aspects.
Note: there is a typo in 14.2.8: the reference to section 14.1.9 should read 14.2.9. See the status update below, or technical corrigendum 2 for the official correction.
14.3 Test data
Test data should be carefully selected/generated and controlled.
15: Supplier relationships
15.1 Information security in supplier relationships
There should be policies, procedures, awareness etc. to protect the organization’s information that is accessible to IT outsourcers and other external suppliers throughout the supply chain, agreed within the contracts or agreements.
15.2 Supplier service delivery management
Service delivery by external suppliers should be monitored, and reviewed/audited against the contracts/agreements. Service changes should be controlled. [Exactly the same point applies to services delivered by internal suppliers, by the way!]
Section 16: Information security incident management
16.1 Management of information security incidents and improvements
There should be responsibilities and procedures to manage (report, assess, respond to and learn from) information security events, incidents and weaknesses consistently and effectively, and to collect forensic evidence.
Section 17: Information security aspects of business continuity management
17.1 Information security continuity
The continuity of information security should be planned, implemented and reviewed as an integral part of the organization’s business continuity management systems.
IT facilities should have sufficient redundancy to satisfy availability requirements.
Section 18: Compliance
18.1 Compliance with legal and contractual requirements
The organization must identify and document its obligations to external authorities and other third parties in relation to information security, including intellectual property, [business] records, privacy/personally identifiable information and cryptography.
18.2 Information security reviews
The organization’s information security arrangements should be independently reviewed (audited) and reported to management. Managers should also routinely review employees’ and systems’ compliance with security policies, procedures etc. and initiate corrective actions where necessary.
The standard concludes with a reading list of 27 (!) relevant ISO/IEC standards, more than half of which are other ISO27k standards.
ISO/IEC 27002 ISMS implementation guidance
A collection of ISMS implementation guidelines and sample documents is available to download in the free ISO27k Toolkit, and implementation tips are sprinkled liberally throughout our ISO27k FAQ.
ISO/IEC 27003 provides generic ISMS implementation guidance, focusing on the management system rather than the security controls.
There are also a few ‘sector-specific’ ISMS implementation guidelines i.e. ISO/IEC 27011 for the telecomms sector, ISO 27799 for healthcare and ISO/IEC 27019 for the energy utilities sector.
Status of the standard
The second edition of ISO/IEC 27002 was published in 2013 at the same time as ISO/IEC 27001.
The decision to drop the definition of “information asset” from ISO/IEC 27000 rather than truly bottom out this issue may prove to have been a tactical error. A technical corrigendum published in 2014 made minor changes to the wording of ISO/IEC 27002:2013 supposedly to clarify that “information” is indeed an “asset”.
A simple monodigit typo resulting in a reference from section 14.2.8 pointing back to 14.1.9 (there is no such section - shock! Horror!) instead of forward to 14.2.9 (the correct, intended reference to, yes, the very next section) was noted formally as a defect in the published standard, following the proper ISO/IEC procedures to the letter of course. Esteemed representatives of a number of national standards bodies met in person to discuss and consider this dreadful situation at some length and some cost to their respective taxpayers. What on Earth could be done about it? During the plenary held in Kuching it was decided unanimously that this mistake should be fixed by simply replacing “see 14.1.1 and 14.1.9€” with “see 14.1.1 and 14.2.9.” Remarkable! Unanimous agreement on a simple fix! What a relief! [/SARCASM] The second corrigendum was published in 2015.
The standard is currently being revised to reflect changes in the field since the second edition was drafted - things such as BYOD, cloud computing, virtualization, crypto-ransomware, social networking, pocket ICT and IoT, for instance, to name but seven.
The standard will be renamed “Information security controls” and will have a radically different structure:
For the third edition, the controls will be categorized into these ‘themes’:
- Organizational controls - a large and misleadingly-named catch-all group of controls that don’t fit neatly into the remaining themes;
- People controls - controls involving or relating to people e.g. individuals’ behaviors, activities, roles and responsibilities, terms and conditions of employment etc.;
- Physical controls - tangible controls to secure tangible [information] assets;
- Technological controls - controls involving or relating to technologies, IT in particular.
The third edition is at Draft International Standard stage, coming along nicely with strong leadership and broad consensus. However, it will take time to process ~350 pages of comments on the DIS and then (hopefully!) approve the FDIS version, hence publication is very unlikely before 2022.
After that, ISO/IEC 27001 Annex A and other standards based on ISO/IEC 27002 will presumably need to be updated accordingly.
In my considered opinion, one of the most distinctive and innovative features of the original Shell policy manual, the DTI Code of Practice and BS 7799 was that they explicitly addressed information security, recommending approaches and controls to secure information in any form - not just computer data, systems, apps, networks and technologies. The focus was clearly on protecting the intangible, vulnerable and valuable information content.
Over the years since ISO/IEC adopted it as an international standard, it has gradually evolved into a tech-centric IT, ICT or cyber-security standard. The third edition of ‘27002 continues along the same trajectory, as indicated by the relative proportions of the blobs on the diagram above.
The draft third edition misses numerous opportunities to encourage users to consider their information risks in order to determine whether various controls are even needed to avoid or mitigate the risks, and if so what controls are appropriate, taking account of their effectiveness, costs, value, reliability etc. It is as if the controls laid out in the standard are not merely good practices worth considering under various circumstances, but required or mandatory to the extent that not implementing them might perhaps be considered inept, unprofessional or bad practice. There is a subtle presumption that most if not all the controls should be employed by all organizations, regardless of the diversity of organizations in scope and their information risks.
I particularly miss the ‘control objectives’ from BS 7799: these succinctly explained what the following controls were expected to achieve, giving them a business-related purpose that was readily interpreted in the particular context of an individual organization. If management accepted that an objective was valid, the controls were worth considering not in the sense of being obligatory or even recommended, so much as examples of the kinds of things that could be put in place to achieve the objectibve.
Aside from the ‘themes’, controls in the third edition are to be ‘tagged’ according to further parameters so they can be grouped or selected in other ways too. This makes the standard, and the project, even more complicated but reflects these complexities:
- A given control may have several applications (e.g. backups help protect against malware, hacks, bugs, accidents, mechanical breakdowns, fires etc., and can include deputies and multi-skilled replacements for critical people, and alternative suppliers/sources of necessary information services, as well as data backups);
- Any given application or situation typically requires several controls (e.g. malware can be mitigated using backups, awareness, antivirus, network access controls plus IDS/IPS, authentication, patching, testing, system integrity controls etc., while avoiding infection can be a powerful approach if bolstered with controls such as policies and procedures, blacklisting etc.);
- Many of the controls we commonly consider (e.g. backups) are not atomic, being composed of several smaller elements or pieces (e.g. backups involve strategies, policies and procedures, software, hardware, testing, incident recovery, physical protection of backup media etc.).
At the end of the day, some security controls are inevitably allocated to themes and tagged arbitrarily in places: for example, a commercial card access lock on a building entrance may fall into any, arguably all four of the themes listed above, but if it and other such controls were covered several times, the standard would become unwieldy. More likely, it would be categorized as a physical control, possibly with references to other elements.
Users of the standard will be able to refine the categories and tags, defining their own if they choose. Nice of ISO/IEC to give us the freedom!
While the restructured standard should be readable and usable on paper, the tagging and cross-linking strongly favours database applications (even something as simple as Excel) allowing users to filter or select and sort the controls by whatever criteria or questions they pose - for instance, “Which physical security controls are relevant to privacy?” or “What preventive controls do not involve technology?”. Given a suitable database application, the sequence is almost irrelevant compared to the categorization, tagging and description of the controls. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.
I am dismayed that the standard has been infected with the “cyber” virus, almost immediately creating problems of definition and interpretation. Some contributors want the standard to cover both information security and cybersecurity controls, implying that they consider those to be distinct domains, while others first want to understand the differences before classifying controls ... and I must say I‘m in the second group. What is the meaning and scope of “cybersecurity”, in fact? Let’s start there, eh, SC 27, before jumping aboard the bandwagon!
The committee hopes to resolve its longstanding problem with the term “information asset” by using “information and other associated assets” throughout the standard. I don’t know if that actually settles the score but I get the feeling everyone is fed up arguing about it, and the publication deadline is looming so it will have to do.
Similarly, the committee hopes to resolve confusion over the meaning of “policy” in the 2nd edition by distinguishing three variants or hierarchical levels in the 3rd edition:
- “Information security policy” will be the overall, high-level corporate policy at the peak of the classical policy pyramid, approved by ‘top management’;
- “Topic-specific policy” will be the term for mid-level policies e.g. topic-specific policies on access control and clear desk and clear screen” (the latter sounds, to me, more like a rule than a mid-level policy ... and indeed, as expressed by the project team, the topic-specific policy concept includes guidelines and rules, making this layer a blend, transition or link between the upper and lower levels). These will be aligned with and support the high level policy, approved by ‘the appropriate management level’, and [within reason] may be adapted/interpreted locally by departments, business units etc. where their specific contexts (information risks, security requirements, business situations, locations etc.) differ from the overall corporate context;
- “Rule” will be the lowest level, defined as an “accepted principle or instruction that states the organization’s expectations on what should be done, what is allowed or not allowed” (I’m not sure an organization, per se, can ‘expect’ anything, or should have expectations on rather than of something: in a corporate context, rules are generally imposed by management on behalf of the organization and its stakeholders ... but this definition has been a bone of contention on the project so, assuming the compromise is generally accepted, it’s good enough. Time to move on!).
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