About to go for the SOC 2 audit?
You probably have a thousand questions on what the next steps are.
Being SOC 2 compliant gives you extra credibility and considerable competitive advantage.
But passing the audit successfully means all your documentation, policies and operations have to be adjusted to a certain standard.
To clear up exactly what you need to do next to get your SOC 2 certification, we prepared an easy-to-follow SOC 2 compliance checklist.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about SOC 2 including:
- The basics – What’s SOC 2 and why it’s important
- Benefits of being SOC 2 compliant
- SOC 2 compliance checklist
Let’s get started!
SOC 2, or System and Organizational Control, is an auditing process that ensures that service providers comply with certain criteria when working with sensitive customer information (usually business-to-business services).
But SOC 2 certification doesn’t just end once the audit is passed successfully. SOC 2 is the guidelines and policies your company has to comply with on a daily basis when handling customer data.
To be SOC 2 certified you have to build and follow strict information security policies and trust service criteria.
However, you can choose which trust service criteria you want to audit for. Your choice will be based on what is most important for the type of customers you’re serving.
The 5 trust service criteria are:
- Security – protection against unauthorized access
- Availability – protection that systems and data will be available as stated in the contract or service agreement
- Processing integrity – protection that the data is not changed without authorization
- Confidentiality – protection against unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information
- Privacy – protection of personal information and its use, collection, retention and disposal
And once you decide to go for a SOC 2 audit, you’ll have to choose whether you want to do a Type I or Type II report.
The only difference between them is their time span. Type I report is conducted to see if your organization complies with the trust service criteria at a single point of time. Type II report gives an overview of your compliance for a period of 6 or 12 months.
Preparing for a SOC 2 audit might take between 6 to 12 months and implementing lots of changes to your already existing procedures and policies.
So why should you put the time and resources to shift things around and get the SOC 2 certification in the first place?
Being SOC 2 compliant comes with a ton of benefits, including:
- Better security policy. It’s important to have established security measures and policies that you use on a daily basis to prevent possible system attacks or failures. This will only give you a significant advantage over other service providers. It also shows your clients that you are prepared for any sort of breaches in the system and you know how to handle them.
- Well-organized documentation. Every business has processes and procedures. After all, that’s how you carry out your operations. But do you actually have them documented in detail somewhere or you just do everything on the go? Getting SOC 2 certification will definitely require you to sort out all of your processes in an organized manner and have them on record. This, in turn, makes your business processes easier to manage.
- Improved risk management policies. Usually companies deal with risky situations as they arise and are not aware of even half of the possible risks that might occur. When you have gone through SOC 2 audit, you show that you’ve prepared for different types of risks and unexpected situations. This allows you to quickly respond and recover from any sort of emergencies.
- Reliability. Getting a SOC 2 report approved isn’t that easy. That’s why companies that get a SOC 2 certification are seen as more reliable and secure. So being SOC 2 compliant will give you competitive advantage against other service providers. This way, you will win over the clients who want a SOC 2 certified service provider or put emphasis on having their data in safe hands.
Looking to become SOC 2 compliant?
We prepared this easy-to-follow SOC 2 checklist to help guide you through the process.
It’s important to make the decision of getting a SOC 2 certification with a clear goal in mind.
Are you doing it to be a step ahead of your competition?
Or because most of your clients require a SOC 2 certification?
Whatever the case is, understand how being SOC 2 compliant will help your business.
At the same time, you should also understand exactly how much time and resources you will need to go through the process so it doesn’t conflict with other company goals or set back any of your regular operations.
Once you’re clear on what exactly is your objective, you can go ahead and choose the auditing firm you’ll be working with.
Whichever firm you choose, make sure it has lots of auditing experience and preferably experience in your industry.
Once that’s done, the firm will select the employees that will work with you. They are usually certified public accountants (CPAs) who will assess your processes and security measures, and approve the SOC 2 audit.
Here you choose which of the 5 trust service criteria you want to prepare and audit for. The only criteria that is present in every SOC 2 compliance audit is security. The other 4 are optional and you can decide which ones to include depending on your goals.
You can also define the scope based on your customers’ priorities. What will make your customers trust you and feel safe when their information is in your hands?
They might put emphasis on quality control and process monitoring. Or they might insist on impeccable data encryption and rigid access control for confidentiality reasons.
Or in some cases companies omit the privacy trust service criteria since they focus on being compliant with other more strict and mainstream privacy policies like the European GDPR. That’s because most European companies value and use GDPR much more than SOC 2 privacy criteria.
Another example is the integrity criteria. This one is mostly used by financial institutions or companies that deal with transactions. So, if you don’t fall into any of these categories, you might want to omit this one too.
So, should you go for SOC Type I or Type II?
Well, if you’re doing SOC 2 for the first time, you can only get the Type I report since you won’t have any prior policies and record of compliance.
But once you establish a functioning SOC 2 policy, you have to do regular reports on how you perform against it.
Type II will be much more valued by all of your stakeholders and it includes the information from Type I report too.
In this case, it’s advisory to go for the Type II report since it encompasses a certain time span and it shows your clients that the security controls you’ve set up are effective.
However, to do that you will need a system of record that has kept track of your performance over that time.
Now that you defined your goals, scope and the type of report, you can start preparing for the audit. A few guidelines to follow here are:
- Collect and evaluate any existing procedure documents, security control policies and self assessments that you have created so far.
- Find the gaps that these documents might have. Depending on which trust service criteria you’re aiming for, the focus will be different. For example, you might reevaluate who gets access to sensitive data, how you measure your security policy effectiveness, etc.
- To improve the control system and current security policies, you have to come up with an improvement plan. How are you going to make these better than they are right now so you meet SOC 2 requirements?
- Now that you’ve closed the gaps in your current policies, double-check if they really work as expected. Once you make sure that’s done, you can schedule a meeting with your auditor.
And from there on, the auditor has to check the scope and come on-site to conduct some interviews and review all the documents. Once you get his approval, you’re officially SOC 2 certified.
To wrap it up, let’s see what we covered so far:
- SOC 2 reports show that you comply with standardized criteria when working with sensitive customer data.
- Some of SOC 2 compliance benefits are: better security policy, well-organized documentation, improved risk management policies, and reliability.
- The SOC 2 compliance checklist includes the following stpes: define the organization’s goals, define the scope of compliance, choose the type of SOC 2 report, prepare, assess and improve your control system and policies.
Now that you know the exact steps towards SOC 2 certification, you just have to go ahead and implement it to your organization. Once you qualify for SOC 2, make sure you stick to these policies in your everyday procedures.