SOC 2 is the gold standard in Information Security certifications and shows the world just how seriously your company takes Information Security. An incredible way to systematically evaluate and improve your company’s handling of customer data throughout its lifecycle, the SOC 2 certificate is equally challenging and worthwhile to attain.
Originally established by the American Institute of CPAs, the original report (SAS 70) was used by a CPA to determine if an internal control was effective for financial reporting. Whilst not intended for such use, people began to use the SAS 70 to assess the safety and security of vendors they wanted to work with. This report eventually evolved into the SOC 1 report which led to the creation of the SOC 2 report, or SSAE 18 as it’s known amongst the technical crowd. It is still amongst the most effective ways to assess internal controls for their effectiveness in security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and/or privacy of a system.
SOC 2 is a voluntary standard, not a law or regulation, which is built upon the Trust Service Principles:
- Security – Protecting the system against unauthorized access, disclosure or damage.
BONUS TIP: The ‘Security’ audit (aka “common criteria”) is an obligatory section of the SOC 2 audit. You can determine which of the others apply to your organization, but this one is not optional.
- Availability – Ensuring the system is available for operation to meet company objectives or according to contractual agreements
- Processing integrity – Data that gets processed remains complete, valid, accurate, timely, and authorized.
- Confidentiality – Confidential data or PII remains confidential at all times.
- Privacy – Ensuring personal information that is collected, used, retained, disclosed and destroyed in accordance with the privacy notice commitments.
SOC 2 is primarily used by software companies but is intended for any service provider, or SaaS company, who stores their customers data in the cloud, or within their software. Many companies find the SOC 2 report a fundamental component of their vendor risk assessment when onboarding a new vendor.
Customers often look to 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 the data breach it’s protecting you from (currently averaging on $4.24 million).
Companies in their early stages find SOC 2 overwhelming but necessary as they need to meet the certification early on in order to operate. The SOC 2 audit is conducted annually at which point it needs to be renewed.The difficulty for many new companies may be a lack of experience, budget or resources to achieve this crucial testament to their reliability. The audit itself is conducted by an official auditor, often from the “Big-4” (the 4 largest accounting firms in the US) but the preparation isn’t required to be.
Using a third-party auditor for preparation is a great asset but also a great expense. Many SMBs are choosing to prepare for their SOC 2 themselves, leveraging a SOC 2 compliance automation platform or SOC 2 compliance checklist to work through.
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It doesn’t need to be an insurmountable challenge. We have put together a SOC 2 audit checklist with tips that will help you prepare for the SOC 2 compliance audit year after year.
✅ 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 so if you don’t have enough staff, assign members to the audit and reduce their regular workload for realistic results.
✅ Define your Systems & Structure
Take a good look at your organization as a whole. Now is the time to identify the components of your systems and processes in order to identify which areas need SOC 2 certification. It can help to have a visual “inventory” of systems, processes and equipment so draw up network and process maps to see where data is being handled. This is also the time to decide which of the SOC 2 Trust Service Principles apply to your organization. Do research and ask for help to ensure you are preparing for the correct part of the audit.
✅ Board Level Support
A SOC 2 compliance audit 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
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 will 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.
✅ Time for a Risk Assessment
This is probably the most important step you’ll take. A risk assessment is not just one of the security controls required by SOC 2 but it will help you to identify and fix problems before the audit begins. Analyze the results and remediate those gaps.
✅ Look for Automated Tools
A SOC 2 audit is a marathon. Using an automated compliance platform will save you hundreds of hours and resources. Features to look for in a SOC 2 Compliance Platform are:
- Easy to Use: Look for an intuitive visual software that is easy to deploy and start working with. Modern platforms will save you significant amounts of time with easy onboarding and smart questionnaires to get you started in minutes and manage your data collection for you.
- Automation. A great compliance platform will automate the processes. It should collect your data, analyze and generate results clearly, and automatically provide insightful remediation steps and track your progress. Automated scanning, monitoring and alerts will remove more of the manual labor and aid you in managing the audit.
- Reporting. Make sure the platform you choose has automated report capabilities to compile your data into audit reports and also help you keep track of your progress. Customizable reports can help to keep everyone on board with the audit.
- Preloaded SOC 2 framework & Smart Mapping: Platforms that leverage preloaded frameworks will give you a comprehensive list of the SOC 2 controls list, eliminating the worry of missing anything and discovering your mistake during the audit. Smart mapping maps and applies compliance controls to your systems, endpoints, and processes.
BONUS TIP: An automated compliance platform with a smart mapping feature will take your data from the SOC 2 security controls list and apply it to other compliance frameworks to see where you’re compliant, eliminating dual labor if you need to achieve ISO 27001, HIPAA or others.
✅ Remediate now
Don’t wait for the audit to discover non-compliance. Take the opportunity to remediate and mitigate now! Save time and reduce pressure by using the results from your risk assessment to fix any issues, close gaps, make changes and ensure your policies and procedures are aligned and up to date before your audit.
✅ Policies and Procedures
Policies dictate what you do and procedures are the practical implementation of how you do it. Review your policies and make sure everything that needs to be stated is there. Check that procedures are aligned with company policies. There are a number of policies that may be required that will depend on your organization, but here are a few to get you thinking:
- Information Security Policy
- Access Control Policy
- Password Policy
- Privacy Notice (for your customers)
- Change Management Policy
- Acceptable Use Policy
- Logging and Monitoring Policy
- Vendor Management Policy
- Risk Assessment and Mitigation Policy
- Incident Response Policy
- Data Classification Policy
- Backup Policy for Information, Software and Systems
- Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans
The Key to a Successful SOC 2 Audit is in the Preparation
The checklist above should put you on the path to a triumphant SOC 2 audit. Simplify the preparation for SOC 2 with a compliance automation platform like Centraleyes. Our free trial offers you the opportunity to onboard in minutes and see for yourself how our cutting-edge visual platform will save you hundreds of hours with all of the above mentioned features and more.