The SOC 2 framework helps you identify potential risks to your business and mitigate them with approved controls. To pass a SOC 2 audit, you must first define your audit objectives, determine your audit scope, and undergo a number of preparation steps and assessments.
While these steps can be time-consuming, expensive, and arduous, achieving SOC 2 compliance can have huge business benefits for organizations, from improved compliance risk management to more sales opportunities.
What is SOC 2?
SOC 2 stands for Service Organization Control 2 and is a widely recognized auditing standard that evaluates an organization’s security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy controls. Each of these aspects makes up the Trust Services Criteria (TSC) that are the foundation of SOC 2.
The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) developed SOC to assist organizations as they communicate the effectiveness of their cybersecurity and risk management platforms. There are two SOC categories: SOC 1 relates to financial reporting controls, while SOC 2 is related to information security controls with a particular focus on customer data.
There are two types of SOC 2: Type I and Type II. Type I assesses the design effectiveness of controls at a single point in time, while Type II assesses the design and operational effectiveness of controls over a period of 3-12 months. SOC 2 Type II measures controls in action, while SOC 2 Type I assesses their design.
Having a SOC 2 certification allows businesses to provide assurance to customers and stakeholders that effective controls are in place to protect sensitive data and ensure operational reliability.
What is a SOC 2 audit?
A SOC 2 audit evaluates an organization’s controls as they relate to data security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. SOC 2 audits must be performed by independent auditors.
Passing a SOC 2 audit demonstrates to customers, partners, and internal stakeholders that sensitive information is secure and operations are running as expected, and the necessary controls are in place and effective.
SOC 2 Audit Report
After an organization goes through a SOC 2 audit, it receives a report with detailed information about its controls and the auditor’s related assessment. This report is not a certification and is not valid forever. AICPA recommends organizations conduct SOC 2 audits once a year to ensure controls meet requirements over time.
An auditor may offer a few types of opinions: unmodified opinion, qualified opinion, and adverse opinion.
Receiving a report with an unmodified opinion is the goal. This indicates the auditor found no material inaccuracies or system flaws.
A qualified opinion indicates the auditor found some material misstatements in system control descriptions but the issues are limited to specific areas. This is cause for some concern and should initiate action to remedy the discrepancies.
An adverse opinion is the worst of the three. This indicates the auditor found sufficient evidence of material inaccuracies in control descriptions, design weaknesses, and operational inefficiencies. Organizations that receive an adverse opinion should immediately invest resources into system control design and operation.
5 Trust Service Criteria (TSC)
SOC 2 audit requirements are based on the trust and services criteria framework, which includes five trust principles for which organizations must demonstrate compliance.
- Security: Systems and data are protected against unauthorized access, theft, misuse, or damage.
- Availability: Systems are available for operation and use as needed.
- Processing integrity: Systems process data accurately, timely, and completely.
- Confidentiality: Confidential information is protected from unauthorized access, disclosure, use, or deletion.
- Privacy: Personal information is collected, retained, used, disclosed, and deleted in accordance with the organization’s privacy policies.
To meet the trust service criteria requirements, organizations must follow a set of defined procedures, policies, and controls that ensure the protection and security of their systems and data. These controls can include access controls, network security, data backup and recovery, incident response, change management, and physical security.
Preparing for a SOC 2 audit
Thorough SOC 2 preparation begins with self-discovery. How do existing system controls match up to SOC 2 requirements? Are there any gaps? If so, chart a course to close them before the audit.
These preparations can take weeks or months to complete. Even when properly designed controls are in place, teams require training to adopt information security best practices to maximize the chances of passing the SOC 2 audit.
During the audit, organizations must supply the auditor with proof of policies and internal controls to demonstrate effectiveness. This also helps the auditor understand how the controls work.
SOC 2 Audit Process
Understanding the SOC 2 audit process will help teams prepare. In general, an auditor will go through the following set of actions during the audit:
- Administer a security questionnaire
- Gather evidence of controls
- Evaluation of evidence
- Follow-up for more evidence as needed
- Provide the SOC 2 report
Most SOC 2 auditors will first administer a security questionnaire to the organization’s IT team. These usually include questions related to company policies, procedures, IT infrastructure, and system controls.
During the evidence gathering and evaluation stages, auditors will ask team members to provide them with information and documentation regarding system controls. Owners of each process within the SOC 2 audit scope may be asked to walk the auditor through related business processes.
After the auditor completes their initial evaluation, it’s not uncommon for them to follow up requesting more information or clarification. If an auditor finds obvious compliance gaps that can be remedied quickly, they may give the organization the opportunity to fix the issue before proceeding with the report.
SOC 2 compliance checklist to prep and pass
Teams can set themselves up for success by using this SOC 2 audit checklist to prepare and pass the audit.
Define the SOC 2 audit scope and objectives
Organizations must choose between a Type I or Type II report and determine the audit’s scope and objectives. Audit categories include infrastructure, data, people, risk management policies, software, and more. Organizations must decide who and what will be subject to the audit as it relates to each category.
Define the trust services criteria
Organizations do not need to undergo an audit for all five trust service criteria at the same time. The only mandatory principle is security.
If organizations have the resources, they can attempt to cover all five at the same time, but the cost of the audit will increase with each additional trust principle. Alternatively, organizations can select criteria alongside security that requires the least amount of work to comply with or offers the highest ROI potential.
Run an initial readiness assessment
Think of a readiness assessment as a trial run of the SOC 2 audit. While some organizations may hire a professional auditor, there are SOC 2 automation solutions that ease the way.
TrustCloud can automate readiness assessments, condensing a process that usually takes 4-6 weeks down to minutes. Organizations can instantly see how their controls, policies, and evidence relate to the SOC 2 requirements and get a detailed breakdown of action items needed to become audit ready.
Perform a gap analysis
After the readiness assessment is complete, organizations should perform a gap analysis to prepare for the SOC 2 audit. This step involves evaluating what is currently in compliance with SOC 2 trust criteria, identifying gaps, then fixing any problems.
Gap analysis and correction can take several months. Common actions related to a gap analysis include implementing additional controls, interviewing and training employees, creating or updating documentation, modifying workflows, and more.
Conduct a final readiness assessment
Once all gaps have been closed and any compliance issues resolved, organizations should conduct one final readiness assessment. This is an opportunity to identify any low-hanging fruit that takes little time and effort to remedy before the audit.
Next, it’s time to request a formal SOC 2 audit.
SOC 2 audit preparation with TrustCloud
TrustCloud offers organizations the fastest and most secure way to get audit-ready and earn SOC 2 compliance. Through programmatic security and privacy programs, TrustCloud is able to generate custom controls, tests, policies, and other compliance artifacts.
By implementing automation to collect evidence and establish common control frameworks, TrustCloud helps organizations easily meet SOC 2 requirements and multiple standards simultaneously.
Organizations can securely share compliance programs with customers through a smart trust portal that updates in real time. Programmatic risk analysis enables businesses to identify risks before they pose a threat.
Supporting numerous standards, including SOC 2, TrustCloud offers a guided experience. This ensures organizations understand what type of SOC 2 audit they require and know how to create a compliance program. From there they can identify which controls to implement and collect evidence to prove compliance.
Get a structured plan that maps out milestones for a successful SOC 2 audit, including pre-audit milestones, observation period milestones, and post-audit milestones. Getting started with SOC 2 compliance is simple with TrustCloud.