A Guide to SOC 2 Compliance and Certification

With the growing awareness of effective information security, it’s no surprise that so many organizations are turning to SOC 2 for guidance.

SOC 2 is an auditing procedure that ensures that an organization’s service providers are managing sensitive information securely and responsibly.

In this blog, we explain how the procedure works and what you can do to achieve certification.

What is SOC 2 compliance?

Unlike other cybersecurity frameworks, such as the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) and federal data protection laws, SOC 2 is a voluntary compliance standard.

It’s designed for service organizations and was developed by the AICPA (American Institute of CPAs).

Organizations that certify to the Standard demonstrate a commitment towards information security, and prove to potential partners that they have appropriate safeguards in place.

As part of their compliance practices, organizations create an internal SOC 2 report that outlines their approach to one or more of the Standard’s Trust Services Criteria: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.

These reports provide organizations and their stakeholders with information about how their sensitive data is processed and used.

Why is SOC 2 compliance important?

There are two main benefits of SOC 2 compliance. First, it ensures that the organization maintains a high level of information security.

The compliance requirements, which are put to the test in an on-site audit, ensure that sensitive information is handled securely. Organizations that implement the necessary controls are therefore less likely to suffer data breaches or violate users’ privacy.

A second benefit of SOC 2 compliance is that organizations can use compliance to gain a competitive advantage. With proof that they have processes in place to protect sensitive data, they are more likely to win business and strengthen existing relationships.

Additionally, SOC 2 states that compliant organizations can only share data with other organizations that have passed an audit. As such, achieving SOC 2 compliance creates business opportunities that wouldn’t ordinarily be available.

Who does SOC 2 apply to?

SOC 2 is designed for organizations that provide services and systems to client organizations. This includes the likes of Cloud computing providers and software as a service providers.

SOC 1 vs SOC 2: what’s the difference?

If you thought the name ‘SOC 2’ implies the existence of a ‘SOC 1’, you’d be right. There is another version of the framework, but it’s not an antecedent but in fact a separate framework altogether.

SOC 1 is less common, and applies to organizations that process financial information that could affect third parties’ financial reporting.

SOC 2 applies for all other types of sensitive information related to the third party. If you don’t host financial data, this is the only compliance audit you must complete. 

Depending on the service or system you provide, you might be required to complete a SOC 1 or SOC 2 audit – or perhaps both.

Five Trust Services Criteria

SOC 2 is built around five Trust Services Criteria. Depending on the nature of their business, organizations can focus on one or more of these principles – although the first, security, is mandatory.

1. Security

This principle refers to the steps organizations take to prevent unauthorized access. That includes protections against network vulnerabilities that would enable a criminal hacker to breach the organization’s systems, as well as defences designed to prevent phishing.

Tools that an organization might implement include web application firewalls, multi-factor authentication and breach detection tools.

2. Availability

This refers to the ability of authorized personnel to access sensitive information and services.

An organization’s goal with this principle is to build robust defences that prevent systems from being knocked offline – whether that’s due to infrastructure failures, an unauthorized intrusion or another disruption.

3. Processing integrity

Processing integrity is similar to the more common concept of data integrity, which requires sensitive information to be correct and complete.

But whereas data integrity refers to the way information is inputted into a system, processing integrity refers to the way information moves through the organization.

As such, this principle is less concerned about the information provided to the organization, because this is a requirement of the processing entity rather than the service provider.

Instead, with processing integrity, organizations must ensure that their systems provide complete records of information they have and that the information is valid, accurate, timely and authorized.

4. Confidentiality

Organizations must take steps to identify restricted information and ensure that it is only accessible to appropriate personnel.

Confidentiality can be ensured through effective physical and technological defences. For example, sensitive paper records should be held in a separate filing system that’s protected by lock and key. Likewise, sensitive digital records should be stored in password-protected folder.

5. Privacy

The final principle addresses the way an organization collects, uses, retains, discloses and disposes of sensitive information.

An organization’s processes for each of these should be outlined in its privacy notice and follow the criteria described in the ACIPA’s generally accepted privacy policies.

How to get SOC 2 certified

To achieve SOC 2 certification, you must pass an external audit and receive a SOC 2 audit report.

A SOC 2 audit report provides detailed information and assurance about your practices related to the framework’s Trust Services Criteria.

The auditor will review your systems and determine whether they comply with SOC 2’s requirements. This will include an on-site assessment, an evaluation of your documentation and a discussion with relevant employees.

If the auditor is confident that all processes have been followed and documented, you will be deemed SOC 2 compliant in the criteria you selected.

SOC 2 certification with IT Governance USA

Get the support you need to prepare for a SOC 2 audit with IT Governance USA’s SOC 2 Audit Readiness Assessment and Remediation Service

One of our expert consultants will advise you on which audit or audits are right for your organization, and give you all the information you need to pass. 

They’ll do this in two ways. The first is the SOC 2 Audit Readiness Assessment, which compares your organization’s practices to the AICPA’s TSC, highlighting any requirements where you fall short. 

This is followed by the SOC 2 Remediation Service, which explains the corrective actions your organisation must take to ensure its security controls are sufficient.