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ISO/IEC 27031:2011 — Information technology — Security techniques — Guidelines for information and communications technology readiness for business continuity
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 organization – 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 organization’s ISMS, helping to ensure business continuity;
- Enables an organization 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 organization.”
ICT readiness is important for business continuity purposes because:
- ICT is prevalent and many organizations 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 organization’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 organization.
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. The FCD advised:
“If an organization is using ISO/IEC 27001 to establish Information Security Management System (ISMS), and/or using ISO 2239PAS or ISO 23301 to establish Business Continuity Management System (BCMS), the establishment of IRBC should preferably take into consideration existing or intended processes linked to these standards. This linkage may support the establishment of IRBC and also avoid any dual processes for the organization.”
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 published in 2011.
The routine standard revision project was cancelled in 2020, having reached the 6th Working Draft stage (!) without achieving consensus among the participants. It ran off the rails. It was put out of its misery. It is no more. It has ceased to be.
A new revision project has been initiated with new Terms of Reference. The revised standard will cover the need for business continuity arising from both deliberate and accidental incidents. A ~40-page Preliminary Draft is available to SC 27.
The value of this standard is unclear, given that ISO 22301 does such a good job in this general area while ISO/IEC 24762:2008 covers ICT Disaster Recovery.
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 revised ToR re-emphasises that the scope remains tightly focused on 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 overlap/conflict with the ISO 22300 standards, the revised ToR clearly states that ‘27031 will not replace a Business Continuity Management System.
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 strange definition: “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 organization’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. 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.
ISO 22300:2018 defines resilience as “ability to absorb and adapt in a changing environment.” That’s still not quite right, as far as I’m concerned, too vague and off-topic but it sure beats “ability to transform, renew, and recover, in timely response to events”. I despair.
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