Information security assurance frameworks

Jyrki Eerola Security Consultant, Solita

Published 02 May 2022

Reading time 6 min

There are many ways to demonstrate the maturity level of information security management. National and international standards and frameworks can be used as criteria for measuring the level of information security. Here is a brief overview of common frameworks in use.

ISO/IEC 27001

The International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) maintain and publish the ISO/IEC 27001 standard on information security management system (ISMS) and its requirements. It is part of the 27000 family of standards which address information security. ISO/IEC 27001 is probably the most famous one because it is the one that can be certified. It emphasises a risk-based approach, continuous improvement and commitment from the top management. The standard itself has seven mandatory clauses and Annex A, which defines controls in 14 groups to manage information security risks. ISO/IEC 27001 certification requires a third-party audit by an independent certification body, so certified organisations can be trusted to have an implemented and maintained information security management system.

It should be noted that the audit does not necessarily provide assurance on how well the controls have worked, merely that they exist. It is also a good idea to examine the scope of the management system, as it might cover only some of the operations of the organisation. Statement of Applicability is another document that should be examined; it defines which controls have actually been implemented and which have been left out and why.

Note: The standard is being reviewed and based on changes in ISO/IEC 27002 (implementation guide of the controls in Annex A) there will be some changes.

Information security

Assurance reports

ISAE 3000, ISAE 3402 and SOC 2® are standards and frameworks for assurance reports. Assurance reports provide independent attestation that a service provider has adequate controls of the subject matter, in this case information security. They are more common in the United States and Canada, but also used in Europe. Cloud providers or other service providers utilising cloud services often have some assurance report.

ISAE 3000

International Standard on Assurance Engagement 3000 is a standard which defines how assurance engagements other than financial audits should be conducted. It does not define any controls in itself, but rather how the auditing should be done. The reader of an ISAE 3000 assurance report automatically knows that the assurance is conducted objectively and independently in a professional manner. It is up to the subject matter and the criteria whether it provides assurance and what sort of assurance on information security.

ISAE 3402

ISAE 3402 is also an international standard on assurance engagements, it focuses on internal controls of a service provider. Like ISAE 3000, it does not define any exact criteria to be used, but they have to be applicable to the subject matter.

SOC 2®

SOC 2® or System and Organisational Controls 2 is AICPA’s (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) framework for information security assurance for service providers. The abbreviation should not be confused with Security Operations Center! It uses Trust Service Criteria (TSC) as the criteria used to assess the level of information security. The TSC includes requirements on security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality and privacy. For a SOC report, the security requirements are mandatory. An official SOC 2® report can only be given by an AICPA’s certified public accountant, which is bypassed by the rest of the world with ISAE 3000 reports that are compliant with the SOC 2® framework.

ISAE 3000, ISAE 3402 and SOC 2® can be done either as Type I or Type II reports. Type I provides assurance that the controls are described and suitable and is similar to an ISO/IEC 27001 certification. Type II provides assurance that, in addition to being described and suitable, the controls have also operated effectively during the audit period (typically 12 months). For example, for Type I report the auditor might inspect that a policy and procedure for incident management exists. For Type II report the auditor would also inspect a sample of incidents that occurred during the audit period to ensure the procedure was followed.

It is worth noting that the actual reports are not publicly available, although there might be a summary of such assessment having been done. However, the reports can be requested from business partners or when negotiating possible partnerships. It also requires some level of expertise in security and auditing to assess controls descriptions and testing procedures in the reports.


KATAKRI or Kansallinen turvallisuusauditointikriteeristö, literally national security audit criteria, is a comprehensive criteria published by the Finnish national security agency. It consists of three domains: security leadership, physical security and technical security. Katakri is used to assess the suitability of an organization to handle officials’ classified information, but as a public criteria can also be used by anyone as a benchmark criteria.

PITUKRI or Pilvipalveluiden turvallisuuden auditointikriteeristö, literally cloud service security audit criteria is meant for assessing cloud service security in the context of Finnish requirements.


PCI-DSS is an abbreviation for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. It is an international standard used to assess the security related to payment card transactions. It was created by major credit card companies and maintained by Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council. Compliance with the PCI-DSS is required in practice from businesses that process credit or debit card transactions. The standard has 12 requirements divided into six groups: secure networks and systems, cardholder data protection, vulnerability management, access control, network monitoring and testing and information security policy.

The process of PCI-DSS compliance is a three step process of assessing, remediating and reporting. Assessing means identifying cardholder data and relevant assets and processes which are analysed to recognize vulnerabilities. Remediating means fixing the vulnerabilities which is followed by reporting to banks and card brands. Compliance with the standard requires an annual scoping of anything that has anything to do with the cardholder data. The assessment requires a qualified security assessor.

What to think of certificates and information security assurance?

The importance of information security assurance depends on the business done with the party having (or not having) them. If your business partner, especially on the vendor side, has anything to do with processing or storing your information and data, you should be interested in their information security controls. And if you are providing such services, clients will come easier if they are assured their data is safe and secure. Certifications and assurance reports can also reduce the number of audits: every business partner does not have to do vendor audits if there is independent assurance provided.

As for vendor relationships, information security frameworks might have requirements for vendors and suppliers. Although the responsibility for these controls will be on the certificate holder, they might have effects on business partners too.

If you want to do business with public sector, there will probably be national regulation and requirements. For example, with Finnish public sector attention should be paid to possible Katakri requirements such as related to physical security and doing confidential work in Katakri approved areas.

Trustworthy assurance requires independent and accredited parties to provide them, such as accredited certification body for ISO/IEC 27001 or CPA for ISAE 3000. The party providing assurance or certification should not provide consultation on the subject, at least not for the customer that is being certified by them. If implementation help is needed, another party should be used. For example, if you want to get ISO/IEC 27001 certified, Solita can help you in the implementation and then a certification body can conduct the audit and grant the certificate.

Most importantly everyone should be aware that certifications and assurance reports do not guarantee impenetrable security against breaches and incidents. Suppliers, customers and partners with a certificate or an assurance report are, however, more likely to be better prepared to recognise, mitigate and handle breaches and incidents when they occur. To get the most out of information security assurance, all interested parties should also know how they are achieved and what subjects they address. 

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