Information security management system

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Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle
ENISA: Risk Management and Isms activities

An information security management system[1] (ISMS) is a set of policies concerned with information security management or IT related risks. The idioms arose primarily out of BS 7799.

The governing principle behind an ISMS is that an organization should design, implement and maintain a coherent set of policies, processes and systems to manage risks to its information assets, thus ensuring acceptable levels of information security risk.

ISMS description[edit]

As with all management processes, an ISMS must remain effective and efficient in the long term, adapting to changes in the internal organization and external environment. ISO/IEC 27001:2005 therefore incorporated the "Plan-Do-Check-Act" (PDCA), or Deming cycle, approach:

  • The Plan phase is about designing the ISMS, assessing information security risks and selecting appropriate controls.
  • The Do phase involves implementing and operating the controls.
  • The Check phase objective is to review and evaluate the performance (efficiency and effectiveness) of the ISMS.
  • In the Act phase, changes are made where necessary to bring the ISMS back to peak performance.

ISO/IEC 27001:2005 is a risk-based information security standard, which means that organizations need to have a risk management process in place. The risk management process fits into the PDCA model given above.[2]

However, the latest standard, ISO/IEC 27001:2013, does not emphasise the Deming cycle anymore. The ISMS user is free to use any management process (improvement) approach like PDCA or Six Sigmas DMAIC.

Another competing ISMS is Information Security Forum's Standard of Good Practice (SOGP). It is more best practice-based as it comes from ISF's industry experiences.

Yet another competing ISMS is The Open Group's "Open Information Security Maturity Model" (O-ISM3). It is more Scientific method-based.

Some nations publish and use their own ISMS standards, e.g. the Department of Defense (DoD) Information Technology Security Certification and Accreditation Process (DITSCAP) of USA, the Department of Defense Information Assurance Certification and Accreditation Process (DIACAP) of USA, the German IT baseline protection, ISMS of Japan, ISMS of Korea, Information Security Check Service (ISCS) of Korea.[3]

Other frameworks such as COBIT and ITIL touch on security issues, but are mainly geared toward creating a governance framework for information and IT more generally. COBIT has a companion framework Risk IT dedicated to Information security.

There are a number of initiatives focused to the governance and organizational issues of securing information systems having in mind that it is business and organizational problem, not only a technical problem:

Need for an ISMS[edit]

Security experts say:[7]

  • information technology security administrators should expect to devote approximately one-third of their time addressing technical aspects. The remaining two-thirds should be spent developing policies and procedures, performing security reviews and analyzing risk, addressing contingency planning and promoting security awareness;
  • security depends on people more than on technology;
  • employees are a far greater threat to information security than outsiders;
  • security is like a chain. It is only as strong as its weakest link;
  • the degree of security depends on three factors: the risk you are willing to take, the functionality of the system and the costs you are prepared to pay;
  • security is not a status or a snapshot, but a running process.

These facts inevitably lead to the conclusion that security administration is a management issue, and not a purely technical issue.[7]

The establishment, maintenance and continuous update of an ISMS provide a strong indication that a company is using a systematic approach for the identification, assessment and management of information security risks. Critical factors of ISMS:

  • Confidentiality: Protecting information from unauthorized parties.
  • Integrity: Protecting information from modification by unauthorized users.
  • Availability: Making the information available to authorized users.

A company will be capable of successfully addressing information confidentiality, integrity and availability (CIA)requirements which in turn have implications:

  • business continuity;
  • minimization of damages and losses;
  • competitive edge;
  • profitability and cash-flow;
  • respected organization image;
  • legal compliance

The chief objective of information security management is to implement the appropriate measurements in order to eliminate or minimize the impact that various security related threats and vulnerabilities might have on an organization. In doing so, information security management will enable implementing the desirable qualitative characteristics of the services offered by the organization (i.e. availability of services, preservation of data confidentiality and integrity etc.).[7] By preventing and minimizing the impacts of security incidents, ISMS ensures business continuity, customer confidence, protect business investments and opportunities, or reduce damage to the business.[8]

Large organizations, banks and financial institutes, telecommunication operators, hospital and health institutes and public or governmental bodies have many reasons for addressing information security very seriously. Legal and regulatory requirements which aim at protecting sensitive or personal data as well as general public security requirements impel them to devote the utmost attention and priority to information security risks.[7]

Under these circumstances, the development and implementation of a separate and independent management process - namely an ISMS - is the only alternative.[7]

The development of an ISMS framework based on ISO/IEC 27001:2005 entails the following six steps:[7]

  1. Definition of security policy,
  2. Definition of ISMS scope,
  3. Risk assessment (as part of risk management),
  4. Risk management,
  5. Selection of appropriate controls
  6. Statement of applicability

Critical success factors for ISMS[edit]

To be effective, the ISMS must:[7]

  • have the continuous, unshakeable and visible support and commitment of the organization’s top management;
  • be managed centrally, based on a common strategy and policy across the entire organization;
  • be an integral part of the overall management of the organization related to and reflecting the organization’s approach to risk management, the control objectives and controls and the degree of assurance required;
  • have security objectives and activities be based on business objectives and requirements and led by business management;
  • undertake only necessary tasks and avoiding over-control and waste of valuable resources;
  • fully comply with the organization philosophy and mindset by providing a system that instead of preventing people from doing what they are employed to do, it will enable them to do it in control and demonstrate their fulfilled accountabilities;
  • be based on continuous training and awareness of staff and avoid the use of disciplinary measures and “police” or “military” practices;
  • be a never ending process;

Dynamic issues in ISMS[edit]

There are three main problems which lead to uncertainty in information security management systems (ISMS):[9]

  • Dynamically changing security requirements of an organization

Rapid technological development raises new security concerns for organizations. The existing security measures and requirements become obsolete as new vulnerabilities arise with the development in technology. To overcome this issue, the ISMS should organize and manage dynamically changing requirements and keep the system up-to-date.[9]

  • Externalities caused by a security system

Externality is an economic concept for the effects borne by the party that is not directly involved in a transaction. Externalities could be positive or negative. The ISMS deployed in an organization may also cause externalities for other interacting systems. Externalities caused by the ISMS are uncertain and cannot be predetermined before the ISMS is deployed. The internalization of externalities caused by the ISMS is needed in order to benefit internalizing organizations and interacting partners by protecting them from vulnerable ISMS behaviors.[9]

  • Obsolete evaluation of security concerns

The evaluations of security concerns used in ISMS become obsolete as the technology progresses and new threats and vulnerabilities arise. The need for continuous security evaluation of organizational products, services, methods and technology is essential to maintain an effective ISMS. The evaluated security concerns need to be re-evaluated. A continuous security evaluation mechanism of ISMS within the organization is a critical need to achieve information security objectives. The re-evaluation process is tied with dynamic security requirement management process discussed above.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Security management system's usability key to easy adoption". Retrieved 22 August 2013. 
  2. ^ Humphreys, Edward (8 March 2011). "Information security management system standards". Datenschutz und Datensicherheit - DuD. 35 (1): 7–11. doi:10.1007/s11623-011-0004-3. 
  3. ^ Jo, Heasuk; Kim, Seungjoo; Won, Dongho (1 January 2011). "Advanced information security management evaluation system". KSII Transactions on Internet and Information Systems. 5 (6): 1192–1213. doi:10.3837/tiis.2011.06.006. 
  4. ^ a b NIST: FISMA Overview
  5. ^ Caballero, Albert. (2009). "14". Computer and Information Security Handbook. Morgan Kaufmann Publications. Elsevier Inc. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-12-374354-1. 
  6. ^ CERT Governing for Enterprise Security Implementation Guide
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Enisa Risk management, Risk assessment inventory, page 8
  8. ^ Ma, Qingxiong; Schmidt, Mark B.; Pearson, Michael (2009). "An integrated framework for information security management". Review of Business. 30 (1): 58–69. Retrieved 26 October 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c d Abbas, Haider; Magnusson, Christer; Yngstrom, Louise; Hemani, Ahmed (1 January 2011). "Addressing dynamic issues in information security management". Information Management & Computer Security. 19 (1): 5–24. doi:10.1108/09685221111115836.