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ISO/IEC 27031:2011 — Information technology — Security techniques — Guidelines for information and communication technology readiness for business continuity (first edition)
“ISO/IEC 27031:2011 describes the concepts and principles of information and comunication technology (ICT) readiness for business continuity, and provides a framework of methods and processes to identify and specify all aspects (such as performance criteria, design, and implementation) for improving an organisation's ICT readiness to ensure business continuity ...”
[Source: ISO/IEC 27031:2011]
ISO/IEC 27031 provides guidance on the concepts and principles behind the role of Information and Communication Technology in ensuring business continuity.
- Suggests a structure or framework (a coherent set or suite of methods and processes) for any organisation – private, governmental, and non-governmental;
- Identifies and specifies all relevant aspects including performance criteria, design, and implementation details, for improving ICT readiness as part of the organisation’s ISMS, helping to ensure business continuity;
- Enables an organisation to measure its ICT continuity, security and hence readiness to survive a disaster in a consistent and recognized manner.
Scope and purpose
The standard encompasses all events and incidents (not just information security related) that could have an impact on ICT infrastructure and systems. It therefore extends the practices of information security incident handling and management, ICT readiness planning and services.
ICT Readiness for Business Continuity [a general term for the processes described in the standard] supports Business Continuity Management “by ensuring that the ICT services are as resilient as appropriate and can be recovered to pre-determined levels within timescales required and agreed by the organisation.”
ICT readiness is important for business continuity purposes because:
- ICT is prevalent and many organisations are highly dependent on ICT supporting critical business processes;
- ICT also supports incident, business continuity, disaster and emergency response, and related management processes;
- Business continuity planning is incomplete without adequately considering and protecting ICT availability and continuity.
ICT readiness encompasses:
- Preparing the organisation’s ICT (i.e. the IT infrastructure, operations and applications), plus the associated processes and people, against unforeseeable events that could change the risk environment and impact ICT and business continuity;
- Leveraging and streamlining resources among business continuity, disaster recovery, emergency response and ICT security incident response and management activities.
ICT readiness should of course reduce the impact (meaning the extent, duration and/or consequences) of information security incidents on the organisation.
The standard incorporates the cyclical Plan-Do-Check-Act Deming-style approach, extending the conventional business continuity planning process to take greater account of ICT. It incorporates ‘failure scenario assessment methods’ such as Failure Modes and Effects Analysis, with a focus on identifying ‘triggering events’ that could precipitate more or less serious incidents.
The SC 27 team responsible for ISO/IEC 27031 liaised with ISO Technical Committee 233 on business continuity, to ensure alignment and avoid overlap or conflict.
Status of the standard
ISO/IEC 27031 was originally intended to be a multi-part standard but changed to two parts (a formal specification plus a guideline) and finally produced a single part (just the guideline) which was first published in 2011.
The routine standard revision project was cancelled in 2020. A new project is once again revising the standard to cover the need for ICT support for business continuity arising from both deliberate and accidental incidents.
The second edition is to be re-titled “Information technology — Cybersecurity — Information and communication technology readiness for business continuity”.
The second edition is at Draft International Standard stage and is due to be published towards the end of this year. The project team is working on a fairly long list of technical and editorial comments.
The value of this standard is unclear, given that ISO 22301 does such a good job in this general area while ISO/IEC 24762 covers ICT Disaster Recovery specifically.
If it is to remain a part of ISO27k, I personally feel it at least ought to be properly aligned with the current 2019 version of ISO 22301, and ideally extended beyond the ICT domain since ISO27k is about information risk and security, not just “ICT” (a clumsy and unnecessary amplification of good old “IT” which in common usage has included comms for, oh at least 50 years). However, the present scope is specific to ICT:
“The scope of this document is clearly delimited on information and communication technology (ICT) readiness for business continuity. Readiness of ICT for business continuity means that ICT and its operational capabilities demonstrate the ability to achieve desired business continuity objectives in case of a disruption affecting ICT.”
Furthermore, to avoid any hint of overlap/conflict with the ISO 22300 standards, the revised ToR clearly states that ’27031 will not replace a Business Continuity Management System. That said, the draft 2nd edition orbits around “IRBC” (ICT Readiness for Business Continuity) ... which is essentially a systematic way to manage the IT elements of business continuity, supplementing the BCMS as a whole.
Although the issued standard mentions resilience to as well as recovery from disastrous situations, the coverage on resilience is quite light, perhaps because of the curious definition in the first edition: “Resilience: ability to transform, renew, and recover, in timely response to events”. That’s just odd! Resilience in the information risk and security context is about the organisation’s information processes, systems and networks bending rather than breaking when under intense pressure. It’s about toughness and determination, keeping the essential core business activities going despite adversity. It involves taking an engineering approach, deliberately and competently designing things for continuity. Common examples for high-availability IT systems are load balancing between redundant servers and comms links, and automated failover. Sound engineering concepts such as more-than-merely-adequate capacity, redundancy, robustness and flexibility ensure that vital business operations are not materially degraded or halted by most incidents. Preventive maintenance and proactive monitoring, extra-cautious change management and slick high-priority incident responses are further controls that help maintain critical services.
Meanwhile, however, the standard’s conspicuous disregard for cloud computing is a clear indication of its seriously outdated approach. Cloud is core to ICT for many organisations today, offering performance, scaleability and flexibility that can significantly increase resilience, if properly engineered. The draft standard does not cover that at all. The word ‘cloud’ appears just three times in the 1st CD, noting that there are business continuity risks with cloud services. Its value as a business continuity control isn’t covered.
Along similar lines, supply chain/network resilience is also conspicuously absent. The widespread coordination and tight integration of companies in many industries thanks to the Internet has huge implications on business continuity, but the draft standard offers little if any useful guidance in this critically important area.
Likewise again, Working From Home and Bring Your Own Device are significant parts of the global response to COVID-19, yet they are not even mentioned - a classic example of the difficulties keeping up with the ever-changing state of the art, given the inevitably slow pace of global standards work.
‘True contingency thinking’ involves the organisation’s flexibility, capability, resources and dogged determination to cope with whatever situations actually eventuate, preparing for the uncertainties and challenges ahead. The draft standard only refers once to ‘contingency’, as a garbled note to a definition of “ICT readiness”.
In order to incorporate the cloud and supply chain aspects, broaden the brief beyond ICT and substantially improve its coverage of resilience and contingency, I feel the standard would need to be substantially restructured and rewritten. Given that less than two years remains on this project, the outcome seems, once again, inevitable ...
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