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What are the Physical Security Controls in ISO 27001?

For many organizations, COVID-19 has meant a halt to on-premise operations and the introduction of broad work-from-home policies.

Sure, that pivot has been key to business survival. But it does carry serious risk, including a greater opportunity for physical security incidents from less oversight. How to mitigate that risk with a remote, fragmented staff? Best-practice security standard, ISO 27001 offers some clues.

So, where do physical security controls factor into international standard, ISO 27001, which deals largely with information assets? Well, as the standard lays out, information assets exist in physical space, leaving them vulnerable, even despite the most robust cyber security measures.

And that’s exactly why ISO 27001 dedicates discussion to physical and environmental security control objectives and controls. The standard’s main takeaway: plan ahead.

Indeed, the practices outlined in the physical and environmental security control clauses even follow the same logic and framework as those that deal with digital information. That logic and framework being – the higher the value and risk, the higher the level of protection. Of course, information assets are under increased risk on the cyber front, as well, so Security teams must be extra vigilant.

What’s the solution? ISO 27001 offers up physical security requirements that fall into two broad categories: secure areas and equipment security. Secure areas provisions – secure areas being sites where organizations handle sensitive information or shelter valuable IT equipment and personnel to achieve important business objectives – deal with protecting the physical environment in which assets are housed, in other words: building, offices, etc.

Here, the standard instructs certifying organizations to look at risks relating to physical access to those assets. Organizations must then put in controls, where appropriate, to manage (limit or simply control) physical access to those assets – especially now that those facilities might be vacated or guarded by skeleton crews.

Download Introductory Guide to ISO 27001

The ISO 27001 protocols for equipment security follow the same logic. Essentially, they instruct organizations to consider where equipment is housed and whether it’s housed appropriately (or liable to be housed appropriately). That puts the onus on security managers to ask the following:

  • Is important IT equipment vulnerable?
  • Who’s responsible for maintaining equipment? Are they qualified?
  • What provisions are in place for equipment that leaves the premises?

The full list of ISO 27001 physical security controls follows:

Secure Areas

Type Control
Physical Security Perimeter Security perimeters (barriers such as walls, card-controlled entry gates or manned reception desks) shall be used to protect areas that contain information and information processing facilities.
Physical Entry Controls Secure areas shall be protected by appropriate entry controls to ensure that only authorized personnel are allowed access.
Securing Offices, Rooms, and Facilities Physical security for offices, rooms, and facilities shall be designed and applied.
Protecting Against External and Environmental Threats Physical protection against damage from fire, flood, earthquake, explosion, civil unrest, and other forms of natural or man-made disaster shall be designed and applied.
Working in Secure Areas Physical protection and guidelines for working in secure areas shall be designed and applied.
Public Access, Delivery, and Loading Areas Access points such as delivery and loading areas and other points where unauthorized persons may enter the premises shall be controlled and, if possible, isolated from information processing facilities to avoid unauthorized access.

Equipment Security

Type Control
Equipment Sitting and Protection Equipment shall be sited or protected to reduce the risks from environmental threats and hazards, and opportunities for unauthorized access.
Supporting Utilities Equipment shall be protected from power failures and other disruptions caused by failures in supporting utilities.
Cabling Security Power and telecommunications cabling carrying data or supporting information services shall be protected from interception or damage.
Equipment Maintenance Equipment shall be correctly maintained to ensure its continued availability and integrity.
Removal of Assets Equipment, information, or software shall not be taken off-site without prior authorization.
Security or Equipment Off-Premises Security shall be applied to off-site equipment taking into account the different risks of working outside the organization’s premises.
Secure Disposal or Re-Use of Equipment All items of equipment containing storage media shall be checked to ensure that any sensitive data and licensed software has been removed or securely overwritten prior to disposal.
Unattended User Equipment Users shall ensure that unattended equipment has appropriate protection.
Clear Desk and Clear Screen Policy A clear desk policy for papers and removable storage media and a clear screen policy for information processing facilities shall be adopted.

Finally, Security teams working in tandem with COVID-19 response teams must add mandatory evacuations (from public health crises) to the list of external and environmental threats against which valuable security assets must be protected, so as to prevent loss, damage, theft, and/or compromise that would imperil business continuity.

Not sure how to get the entire security apparatus up and running per best-practice guidance? Read our Guide to ISO 27001 to find out:

Download Introductory Guide to ISO 27001