How to create a Communication Plan according to ISO 27001

Communicating is a key activity for any human being. This is also the case for an organization. It helps through exchanging the most correct information to the best audience and at the best moment. It is certainly important in security management, because you want people to react in the proper way.

Important also is that effective communication, in content, format and time, creates trust both from internal and external parties. It shows how prepared you are, and whether you are reactive or, better, proactive.

iso27001 addresses the communication issue three times, and organizations wanting to implement the ISMS have to look closely at these requirements.

What exactly is a Communication Plan?

Clause 7.4 requires a clear answer to a series of questions on security issues: Who should communicate? To whom? What messages? On what? When? And how?

Let’s look more closely at how to address these questions.

On what? (content) Organizations should clearly communicate on what is important to them: the need for information security and the need to conform to the requirements and policies.

It will address risk management issues, new or changed security objectives, and vulnerabilities, events or incidents to initiate the adequate answer of all, and especially the trained personnel who perform the planned reaction. Celebrating achievements and congratulating exceptional security behaviors has very positive effects.

Including security clauses and requirements in the contract is also a way to communicate your requirements to services and product providers. Hence, it could be considered a part of the Communication Plan.

What messages? (form & format) Messages should be clear in their form and content to produce the expected behavior. The type of communication medium is looked at here. You can use short stories, images, metaphors, or cartoons.

Messages should be short and focused on their real intent. You certainly remember the SMART criteria that you can use to make sure the message is complete.

Who? Organizations should clarify who is authorized to communicate, especially with external parties. Internally, top management and the CISO and the help desk are good examples. Big companies have their Public Relations Officer to communicate with the external parties.

The communicator should have the appropriate authority to make sure the message will be received with the necessary attention and will be followed by the expected action or reaction.

To whom? Not everybody should receive all messages. Messages should be aimed at a specific audience, depending on the classification of the information, the necessary technical knowledge, and the role in the organization. The Communication Plan should be effective and addressed only to those who will benefit from it or need to act based on it – e.g., different interested parties like users, partners, internal and external service providers, regulating bodies, shareholders, etc. See also this article: How to identify interested parties according to ISO 27001 and ISO 22301.

How? (process) The simplest and first way is the security policy and all the documents that describe what to do (and how) to meet the objectives of the policy. Messages should be prepared and approved, particularly in the case of incidents and crises.

Defined channels (and protocols) should be utilized to make sure the communication reaches the intended audience at the best moment and with the best possible effectiveness. Examples: emails, pop-up screens, screensavers, posters, audio messages, meetings, policies and directives, etc.

When? Communication should be both continuous and event-based (in reaction to events).

You should make sure the communicated message is continuously retransmitted, for example, to newcomers and at repeated intervals, to make sure it won’t get forgotten.

You also should be able to modify the messages or introduce new messages or formats and channels when the situation requires it. Communicating in normal conditions might be seriously different in comparison to during incidents or in crises.

Internal vs. External Communication Plan

It is important to recognize that the Communication Plan has both internal and external aspects. They will respond differently to the following questions.

Internal Communication Plan. Top management uses the internal Communication Plan to send messages on its objectives and commitment toward information security. Some examples are: The Information Security Policy, the security organization with the key roles and responsibilities, the Awareness plan, the general and specific requirements to respond to incidents.

However, the internal Communication Plan should not remain unidirectional. The channels (telephone and email, for example) should also be known and used to communicate “bottom-up” from the base (the users) to the management about events or some new vulnerability.

External Communication Plan. Most of the examples given above relate to the internal Communication Plan, but are also fully applicable to the external Communication Plan.

You may need to communicate to the external world: regulatory authorities, public authorities, shareholders, clients and partners, to announce events either positive (successes) or negative (incidents, accidents and crises). Here also you will need a Communication Plan answering the same questions as above.

However, in this case, you’ll have to use more caution as you may not expose or disseminate sensitive information that will make your situation worse.

How to document the Communication Plan?

Depending on the size of the organization and its security objectives, the Communication Plan could be more or less formal, fully documented as a separate document or simply stated in a few sentences within other policies, procedures and plans.

As long as the desired messages are passed to those who should make the best of it, your solution will fit your needs and the resources you can devote to it.

Why is a Communication Plan important?

To conclude, the Communication Plan is a question of creating and maintaining trust and confidence in 1) your preparedness, 2) your capability to face events, and 3) your ability to recover from crises.

The Communication Plan is a key element of a good Information Security Management System. One of the Returns On (Security) Investment of a good Communication Plan, as required by ISO 27001, is a strong image, both internal and external. Losing internal (or stakeholders’) trust is sometimes worse than losing your public image. You risk implosion.

How to create a Communication Plan according to ISO 27001

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