ISO/IEC 27032

ISO/IEC 27032:2012 – Information technology – Security techniques – Guidelines for cybersecurity


Officially, ISO/IEC 27032 addresses “Cybersecurity” or “the Cyberspace security”, defined as the “preservation of confidentiality, integrity and availability of information in the Cyberspace”. In turn “the Cyberspace” (complete with definite article and spurious CapitaL) is defined as “the complex environment resulting from the interaction of people, software and services on the Internet by means of technology devices and networks connected to it, which does not exist in any physical form”.

Scope and objectives

In reality, despite the title, the standard is actually about plain old Internet security.

The first couple of lines give the game away:

“The focus of this document is to address internet security issues and provides technical guidance for addressing common internet security risks …”

The standard does not directly address cybersafety (such as cyberbullying), cybercrime, Internet safety, Internet-related crime, protection of critical information infrastructure or cyberwar, although there are oblique references to these aspects.

Structure and content

The main sections are:

– Overview
– Assets in the Cyberspace
– Threats against the security of the Cyberspace
– Roles of stakeholders in Cybersecurity
– Guidelines for stakeholders
– Cybersecurity controls
– Framework of information sharing and coordination

Annex A. Cybersecurity readiness

Annex B. Additional resources

Annex C. Examples of related documents

As defined, ‘the Cyberspace’ appears to mean a complex, highly variable or fluid virtual online environment, and hence it is hard to pin-down the associated information risks. While a variety of information risks are connected with ‘the Cyberspace’, many (such as network and system hacking, spyware and malware, cross-site scripting, SQL injection, social engineering, plus information security issues relating to “Web 2.0”, cloud computing and virtualization technologies that typically underpin virtual online environments and applications) could be classed as normal or conventional system, network and application security risks.

In practice, the standard is largely concerned with information risks associated with the Internet, rather than ‘the Cyberspace’ per se. However, since these risks are already pretty well covered by other ISO or ISO/IEC information security standards, either published or under development, it is uncertain what information risks are truly unique to ‘the Cyberspace’. Risks to virtual assets belonging players of MMORPGs (‘Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games’) are mentioned in the standard but not directly addressed, for example. Frequent innovation in the realm of ‘the Cyberspace’ makes it especially tough to set international standards in this area and could itself be classed as an information risk, albeit again one not covered by the standard.

Section 7 of the standard distinguishes threats to personal and organizational assets, which appear to boil down to compromises of privacy/identity and corporate information, respectively: there are of course many information security standards covering both aspects. [For some obscure reason, section 7 also mentions threats to online governmental services and infrastructure including terrorism, although quite what these have to do with ‘the Cyberspace’ is unclear to me since I am not aware of any governments offering virtual environments or MMORPGs, unless perhaps ‘managing the nation’s economy’ is classed as a game!].

Status of the standard

The standard was published in 2012.

It is being revised (rewritten) with a new working title: “Information technology – Cybersecurity – Guidelines for Internet security”.

The revised standard will:

– Explain the relationship between Internet security, web security, network security and cybersecurity;
– Give an overview of Internet security;
– Identify interested parties with roles in Internet security;
– Offer high-level guidance on addressing common Internet security issues;
– Refer to controls recommended in the forthcoming 2021 version of ISO/IEC 27002.

The revision is at Committee Draft stage. It is now due to be published near the end of 2022.

Personal comments

Since 2012, “cybersecurity” has become a buzzier buzzword and yet the confusion over what it actually means persists – if anything it is even worse today. SC 27 has the opportunity in the revision project to clarify the terms and demonstrate global leadership with this and the other cybersecurity standards work now in progress. Somehow, I suspect this will be yet another opportunity lost.

The version 2 CD is so high level and dated that it’s hard to think of anyone who would benefit from this standard: there are far better introductions to Internet security on the Web, and in myriad textbooks.

The standard is strongly biased towards active hacker attacks to the exclusion of accidental issues. Its coverage of malware is pathetically weak even for a 1st WD, let alone CD.

Meanwhile, ISO/IEC TS 27100 has been published – a slight improvement, perhaps, but still way short of what I would call a worthwhile addition to the field.

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