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ISO/IEC 27032
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ISO/IEC 27032:2012 — Information technology — Security techniques — Guidelines for cybersecurity


Officially, ISO/IEC 27032 addresses “Cybersecurity” or “the Cyberspace security”, defined as the “preservation of confidentiality, integrity and availability of information in the Cyberspace”. In turn “the Cyberspace” (complete with definite article and spurious CapitaL) is defined as “the complex environment resulting from the interaction of people, software and services on the Internet by means of technology devices and networks connected to it, which does not exist in any physical form”.

Scope and purpose

In practice, the standard is actually about Internet security. The first couple of lines give the game away:

“The focus of this document is to address internet security issues and provides technical guidance for addressing common internet security risks ...”

The standard does not directly address cybersafety (such as cyberbullying), cybercrime, Internet safety, Internet-related crime or protection of critical information infrastructure, although there are oblique references to these aspects.

Structure and content

The main sections are:

  1. Overview
  2. Assets in the Cyberspace
  3. Threats against the security of the Cyberspace
  4. Roles of stakeholders in Cybersecurity
  5. Guidelines for stakeholders
  6. Cybersecurity controls
  7. Framework of information sharing and coordination

Annex A. Cybersecurity readiness

Annex B. Additional resources

Annex C. Examples of related documents

As defined, ‘the Cyberspace’ appears to mean a complex, highly variable or fluid virtual online environment, and hence it is hard to pin-down the associated information risks. While a variety of information risks are connected with ‘the Cyberspace’, many (such as network and system hacking, spyware and malware, cross-site scripting, SQL injection, social engineering, plus information security issues relating to “Web 2.0”, cloud computing and virtualization technologies that typically underpin virtual online environments and applications) could be classed as normal or conventional system, network and application security risks.  In practice, the standard is largely concerned with information risks associated with the Internet, rather than ‘the Cyberspace’ per se. However, since these risks are already pretty well covered by other ISO or ISO/IEC information security standards, either published or under development, it is uncertain what information risks are truly unique to ‘the Cyberspace’. Risks to virtual assets belonging players of MMORPGs (‘Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games’) are mentioned in the standard but not directly addressed, for example. Frequent innovation in the realm of ‘the Cyberspace’ makes it especially tough to set international standards in this area and could itself be classed as an information risk, albeit again one not covered by the standard.

Section 7 of the standard distinguishes threats to personal and organizational assets, which appear to boil down to compromises of privacy/identity and corporate information, respectively: there are of course many information security standards covering both aspects. [For some obscure reason, section 7 also mentions threats to online governmental services and infrastructure including terrorism, although quite what these have to do with ‘the Cyberspace’ is unclear to me since I am not aware of any governments offering virtual environments or MMORPGs, unless perhaps ‘managing the nation’s economy’ is classed as a game!].

Status of the standard

The standard was approved for publication by a majority vote on SC 27, despite lingering concerns over the title, scope and purpose of the standard. In particular, the standard primarily concerns Internet security although the poorly-defined and oft-misunderstood term ‘cybersecurity’ persists.

It was published in 2012.

A project to revise the standard has started, with a new working title: “Cybersecurity - Guidelines for Internet security”, more accurately reflecting the content and focus of the current standard.

Personal comments

Since 2012 “cybersecurity” has become even more of a buzzword, and yet the confusion over what it actually means persists. SC27 has the opportunity to clarify the terms and demonstrate global leadership with this and the other cybersecurity standards projects now in progress. Hopefully. We’ll see. The editors’ comments on the first working draft indicate they expect to expand on cloud and IoT security, but show no signs of addressing more fundamental questions about the scope and purpose of this standard.


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