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Comparing certifications: ISO 27001 vs. SAS 70, SSAE 16

Compliance expert Charles Denyer covers ISO 27001 vs. SAS 70, and why enterprises should pay attention to SSAE 16 over SAS 70.

From a client's perspective, is there a perceived difference if a company has an ISO 27001 certification or a SAS 70 Type II certification?

First and foremost, the term SAS 70 certification is technically incorrect, as there is no certificate, award or designation given for becoming compliant with the SAS 70 auditing standard. This has been a common misstatement for the past 20 years. Second, the SAS 70 auditing standard has effectively been replaced with Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 16, simply known as SSAE 16. Thus, while many organizations try to match up ISO 27001 vs. SAS 70, it’s more meaningful to compare and contrast ISO 27001 to that of SSAE 16. 

So, with those changes in mind, yes, there is a perceived and an actual difference between the ISO 27701 standard and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) SSAE 16 standard. While the ISO 27001 framework is a predefined set of security-related controls and best practices, SSAE 16 is a standard used for reporting on controls at service organizations that perform critical outsourcing functions that have a true nexus and/or link with Internal Control Over Financial Reporting (ICFR).  And, although the SSAE 16 assessment, when conducted by a CPA firm for a service organization, can test controls related to information technology and general security, this is the only real similarity to the ISO 27001 standard. 

In short, there is a perceived and a real credible difference between ISO 27001 and SSAE 16. ISO 27002 is a standards-driven framework that can be used for any good measure. SSAE 16 is an attestation standard used for reporting on controls for service organizations that may include testing of security and/or technology controls. In summary, the differences are vast and the similarities are few when comparing and contrasting ISO 27001 and SSAE 16. You can learn more about the replacement of SAS 70 to the new SSAE 16 standard at ssae16.org.

This was first published in September 2011

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