Preparing for your SOC 2 Audit – Do’s and Don’ts

Legend has it that SOC 2 is one of the most challenging audits out there, achievable only by magic, the sacrificial offering of a compliance officer, and thousands of employees working madly through the night for a decade.

Like all legends, there only remains a little bit of truth to it. SOC 2 is indeed the gold-standard in infosec certifications and there is no denying it is challenging, but when approached with the right preparation, guidance and tools, it is an achievable and rewarding process. There are ways to simplify the procedures, streamline the hard work, and prove to the world that your organization maintains the highest levels of information security. 

Read on to understand SOC 2, explore who is required to be compliant, examine the benefits of undertaking the audit and finally, reveal the pathway to successfully achieve SOC 2.

Preparing for your SOC 2 Audit

What is SOC 2?

In its quest to specify how organizations should manage their customers’ data, the American Institute of CPAs developed a voluntary compliance standard for service organizations. SOC 2 has grown to be a precondition for many organizations for doing business, and is a global indicator of an organization’s commitment and investment into their information security.

Undertaking a SOC 2 assessment requires time, dedication, and involvement of third-party auditors to ensure you are compliant with the standards.

The SOC 2 audit process evaluates how effective your security controls are, in design and in operation, regarding the Trust Service Principle categories, explained below. In order to be compliant with SOC 2, organizations need an external audit whose process includes an evaluation of five categories of Trust Service Criteria the organization and auditor choose:

  1. Security (also known as “Common Criteria”) – The ‘Security’ audit is an obligatory section of the SOC 2 audit. You can pick and choose between the others, but this one is not optional. The ‘Security’ category covers the protections in place to guard data throughout its lifecycle. 

How do you safeguard systems, networks and databases from breaches and attacks? Which security controls are in place to prevent unauthorized access, damage or distortion of data, and detect any disruption? This category covers all the protective controls that encompass every aspect of information security.

  1. Availability – This is the first of the optional categories. A choice will be made whether you want to audit any of categories 2-5 according to your business activities and needs. The ‘Availability’ audit ensures information and systems are available for operation and use to meet the organization’s commitments to its customers and partners. Each organization will vary in the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of information availability, so this audit focuses on controls to support accessibility for operation, monitoring and maintenance. This is where your data-backups and disaster recovery plans will play a large part.
  1. Confidentiality – If your organization works with confidential information, you’ll be concerned with showing your customers how invested and committed you are to keeping that information confidential. The ‘Confidentiality’ audit covers controls that affect data from its creation, processing and storage, through to its ultimate disposal and removal. Your need to audit this category may come from contractual obligations or may be necessary for particular laws and regulations.  
  1. Processing Integrity – The clue is in the name. This audit is primarily involved with ensuring all your controls are in place and operating optimally to ensure data processing meets completeness, validity, accuracy, timeliness and authorization requirements to meet your company’s objectives. Are your systems achieving their aims? Do you provide data processing services? Do customers rely heavily on your system’s accuracy? 
  1. Privacy – You may ask how this is different from confidentiality. ‘Privacy’ applies to personal information whereas confidentiality applies to various types of sensitive information. If you handle personal information, or PII, this audit will evaluate how you collect, use, retain, disclose and dispose of it. The SOC 2 Privacy audit has much in common with Europe’s GDPR, with many overlapping controls, but neither is a replacement for the other. (One is a legal requirement and the other is voluntary, not to mention they cover different jurisdictions.) 

There are 2 types of SOC 2 reports:

  • The SOC 2 Type 1 Assessment looks at the design of your security controls at a specific point in time. The SOC 2 type 1 report is a great starting point to prepare for SOC 2.
  • The SOC 2 Type 2 Assessment looks at how effective your controls are over a 6-month+ period. The SOC 2 type 2 audit will measure your ongoing compliance annually.

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Who Requires a SOC 2 Audit?

No industry requires a SOC 2 report- it is neither a law or regulation. (Neither is great marketing or a quality product, but they’re certainly vital to your success.) In most instances, customers or vendors and suppliers request it in order to work with you.

So Why Be Compliant with SOC 2?

SOC 2 has become the benchmark for the highest standards of information security and obviously protecting your clients personal and trusted information is not just your top priority, but crucial to your organization’s success.   

Customers often look for SOC 2 compliance for reassurance and trust, giving you an edge over your competitors. The peace of mind knowing that your systems are continuously in the best state possible is topped only by the time you’ll save being prepared in advance for other compliance laws and regulations, like ISO 27001 or HIPAA. And keep in mind, the cost of an audit doesn’t compare to the cost of a data breach (currently averaging on $4.24 million!) and protects you from them too.

Do’s and Don’ts of SOC 2 Audits – Steps to Success

Dedicate a team: Choose the right people from the organization to form a dedicated team that can focus on the audit. This will be essential to drive the audit through to completion. Obviously, your day-to-day business demands need to continue during the audit. Ideally, you’ll have a team dedicated solely to the SOC 2 audit, but if you don’t have team members to spare, at least reduce the regular work of the people you choose to allow them enough time for the audit process.

Communicate: Compliance with SOC 2 can involve members of every department across an organization. When working with so many people, misunderstandings are common. Particularly when communicating regarding controls, ensure the team dedicated to remediation fully understands the gaps that need to be addressed. Communicating best practices and what is expected of employees in advance of an audit will preempt problems later. Make sure to communicate clearly and ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. 

Prioritize: Paving the road to success includes ensuring that everyone is on board with the audit. It needs to be a priority from the top-level downwards. Ensure your Executives are on board and understand the importance of the audit, and then include the rest of the organization to make it a group effort. 

Limit Scope: Take a good look at your organization as a whole. Identify and choose which systems to include in your audit. You may think including every system in your organization may be the highest form of due diligence, but you may be unnecessarily increasing the workload and even including services from third-parties that are already SOC 2 certified. Limit your scope to increase manageability and focus.

Conduct a Risk Assessment: An incredibly productive way to get to know your current security position and gain deep insights into your organization is to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. Using the right GRC platform, you can simplify the task of identifying and closing gaps, and use the outcome of the risk assessment to communicate the importance of the audit easily across the organization. 

Prepare, prepare, and prepare some more: Do what you can in advance. Take a risk assessment. Begin evaluating your security posture. Identify and remediate gaps now- don’t wait until the audit requires it. Go through the SOC 2 compliance requirements and make sure you understand the SOC 2 compliance controls. Use a SOC 2 audit checklist and make sure you have combed through each of the SOC regulations. 

Keep policies up to date and take care to outline all the standard security processes: System Access, Disaster Recovery, Incident Response, Risk Assessment & Analysis, Security Roles and Training. Addressing these will be a great springboard to get your organization into line. All of these efforts will pay off as you work through the audit.

Automation and Technology: There are an incredible array of innovative tools and platforms out there to help you streamline the SOC 2 process. Choose a GRC platform capable of compliance automation to automatically identify, monitor, remediate and report. Keep in mind that compliance with SOC 2 will involve an annual audit, so use a platform that is easy to update and that will easily scale up with your company as you need.

Cutting edge technology should help you to centralize evidence collection, allow multiple team members to collaborate and contribute, and keep you updated on the situation in real time. Look out for features that simplify the complex & tedious process of SOC 2 audits and take out some of the manual labor.

And don’t create dual labor or waste the opportunity to simultaneously map controls to other compliance audits! Use software that automatically maps controls you fulfill for SOC 2 with controls required for other regulations to save hours of time and work in the most productive and effective way.

SOC 2 is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself, plan and prepare. 

See for yourself how the automated Centraleyes Risk & Compliance Management platform will get you through SOC 2 and to the finish line. Schedule a demo today to see our specialized SOC 2 pathway and pave the way for next-gen automated compliance management.

Start Getting Value With
Centraleyes for Free

See for yourself how the Centraleyes platform exceeds anything an old GRC
system does and eliminates the need for manual processes and spreadsheets
to give you immediate value and run a full risk assessment in less than 30 days