Difference Between GDPR and ISO 27001

GDPR and ISO 27001 standard (especially when combined with ISO 27701) have a lot of goals in common. Both aim at mitigating the risk of data breaches and strengthening data security.

To comply with ISO 27001 standard and/or General Data Protection Regulation, organizations must ensure the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of personal data in their possession. However, there are a lot of differences between those two as well.

Often, the confusion arises from Article 24 of the GDPR, which outlines that observance of approved certifications such as ISO 27001 can be regarded as an aspect of GDPR compliance.

To distinguish between GDPR and ISO 27001, it’s best to understand the similarities between them and to understand how the Regulation and the ISO framework are individually applied to ensure data security. 

What is GDPR? 

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is an EU data protection law aimed at strengthening both data privacy and data security aspects. GDPR applies to all organizations within and outside the EU, which handle EU citizens’ and residents’ data. The Regulation came into force in May 2018 and intended to change how companies handle personal data of individuals.

The GDPR gives EU citizens more rights relating to how their data can be used. It also mandates organizations to take new approaches to information security, including data security by default and design.

Large penalties come into play if it’s deemed that an organization violated GDPR requirements. The core components include:

➡️ Widening the scope of data requiring protection
➡️ Seeking compliant consent before using personal data
➡️ Extended rights of data subjects (EU citizens in this case)
➡️ Non-compliance fines
➡️ Data breach notification. Read how and when you need to report a breach under the GDPR.

Data security vs. data privacy - definitions and comparisons

What is ISO 27001? 

ISO 27001 (current version is ISO/IEC 27001:2013) is an international data security standard that outlines requirements for establishing, maintaining, and improving information security management systems (ISMSs).  ISO 27001 covers procedures and policies, including technical, physical, and legal controls that an organization should implement as part of its information security processes.

Adhering to ISO 27001 best practices enables an organization to foresee and tackle the security risks it faces. ISO 27001 also plays a significant role in enabling organizations to gauge the scope and limitations of the security programs they have in place. The core requirements of this security standard include: 

➡️ Asset Management: Organizations should take appropriate measures to document and safeguard their physical assets. 

➡️ Operational Security: Basic operational procedures should be implemented to ensure data security. 

➡️ Access Control: ISO 27001 outlines that organizations should control access to critical data assets, including operating systems, information processing facilities, and networked services. 

➡️ Incident Management: Organizations should establish internal rules and procedures for reporting IT security weaknesses and events, managing the incidents, and fortifying these processes. Besides, security incidents should be reported instantly, and swift action taken. 

Incident management under the GDPR

GDPR vs. ISO 27001: Two sides of the same coin?

The primary difference between GDPR and ISO standards is in their scope as well as their format. GDPR is a Regulation that focuses on protecting personal data, data confidentiality, and managing the risks to the rights of EU citizens and residents. While ISO 27001 is a framework that offers guidance on how organizations can implement clear and actionable policies for reducing risks that generate security incidents. 

GDPR requires the security of processing by applying appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure a proper level of data protection. Nevertheless, it doesn’t outline technical details relating to how organizations can maintain an adequate data security level and minimize external and internal threats.

ISO 27001 addresses this gap by providing actionable measures on how to reduce the risks. Therefore, it’s safe to argue that GDPR is descriptive, while ISO 27001 is prescriptive.

It’s easy to think that ISO 27001 compliance amounts to GDPR compliance, but that’s not the case. Even so, complying with ISO 27001 provides you with a clear pathway for GDPR compliance in the security aspect. This will go a long way in ensuring that their data security measures are concrete enough to safeguard sensitive data.

It’s equally important to note that GDPR and ISO 27001 are not interchangeable whatsoever. Even though some requirements in the data security aspect overlap, GDPR is a much wider term that encompasses both data privacy and data security and prescribes how personal data should be protected and handled.

According to some sources the ISO 27001 covers around 75-80% of the GDPR compliance, making it the ideal choice of a framework to support GDPR compliance.

ISO 27701 extension to the ISO 27001

Since the GDPR has propelled the whole array of privacy regulations worldwide (such as CCPA or LGPD) the organizations are now obligated to comply with the growing list of privacy regulations.

This is where the new ISO 27701 comes into play. It serves as a privacy extension of ISO 27001 and ISO 27002, focused on reducing the risks to the privacy aspect and the rights of the individuals, and provides guidance for establishing, implementing, and maintaining, a privacy information management system (PIMS).

It is aimed at enhancing the organizations’ efforts to cover privacy management as well and demonstrate that appropriate were taken to comply with GDPR (and other data protection laws).