In our modern age, data is our number one asset. That’s why if you deal with customer data, you should ensure you have all the measures in place to protect it. One of the best ways to do so is to get a certification, like the Service Organization Control 2, known as SOC 2.
SOC 2 is a voluntary compliance standard for service companies. It gives guidelines on how companies should handle their customer data. To get this certification, though, you must pass an audit first. And before you go through the audit, you’ll need to prepare for it. This article will help you with that.
What Is an SOC 2 Audit?
An SOC 2 audit is a third-party audit to certify that your company adheres to rigid security policies that secure your customer’s data. An auditing firm—known as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)—with no associations with or interest in your company performs these audits. In essence, the auditor’s main goal is to ensure that your company protects your customer’s data and is in compliance with SOC 2. Next, let’s see what the auditors will check for.
The 5 Compliance Requirements of SOC 2
The SOC 2 certification is based on 5 pillars of data protection. Here they are:
How do you protect your data from unauthorized actors? The first and foremost answer is security. Auditors will look at your access control, security groups, entity-level controls, firewalls, etc. They’ll also check other operational and governance controls you have in place to protect your data and applications. Thus, you should ensure that your security team has the right defenses to protect your company against malicious attacks. These could be DDoS attacks, network breaches, or bad actors attempting to steal data.
In this pillar, auditors will look at your operational uptime and performance standards. Some of these standards are network performance monitoring, disaster recovery processes, and your procedure for handling security incidents. The goal is to minimize downtime, predict system capacity, and find data needing backup. Again, everything ties back into system security.
3. Processing Integrity
The SOC 2 auditors will check how you process, store, and manage the data in the cloud. In addition, they’ll look at how reliably your systems process that data. SOC 2 auditors look for records of inputs and outputs: Are the records clean? How do you handle errors, and how quickly can you correct them?
Once again, in terms of security, auditors will look at how you store and process customers’ data. They’ll want answers to questions like: Are you masking personal data when you send it across systems? Who has access to the data? Do you have proper controls and access rights to keep the data secure?
To keep data private, you need to have the proper security, like two-factor authentication, encryption, masking, etc. Auditors will also check how third-party services handle that data, too. While your company might take all the proper precautions on your end, the third-party service provider might not have as sophisticated security checks in place. In addition, if you collect data, you must ensure you get the user’s consent first. You should also limit personal data collection to the minimum required amount and delete the data after the retention period ends.
Now, these 5 pillars build out several more detailed points that auditors will search for. Let’s take a deep dive into the checklist and what you’ll want to prepare for.
SOC 2 Compliance Checklist
In this section, I’ll provide an overview of what you need to do to prepare for an SOC 2 audit. I’ll cover the major points to help your company prepare for the audit.
1. Specify the Objective of SOC 2
The first thing you need to be clear about is why you want to have an SOC 2 certification. You’ll want a good reason behind the need for an audit.
You’ll also need to ensure you can afford the high costs of conducting an audit. Usually, SOC 2 audits cost anywhere between USD5,000 and USD80,000, depending on the size of your company.
2. Identify Which Kind of Report You Need
With SOC 2, you’ll come across 2 kinds of reports, aptly named type 1 and type 2.
The first type is basic and should be the starting point. You’ll only need to check controls once at one point in time.
The second type is more comprehensive and is requested by customers, vendors, or after a type 1 report. With this report, you’ll need to continuously monitor controls over 3-6 months.
In the end, it boils down to how often you check your systems and how detailed you want your report from the auditors.
3. Determine the Audit Scope
What will the auditors look at? You don’t want them wasting their time in your POCs, sandbox, or development environments. From a technical point of view, you’ll want them to look into your production environment and maybe your QA environment.
Additionally, you’ll want them to check out your third-party connections.
As for non-technical environments, you’ll want them to look at things like finance, payroll services, tax processing, etc., and how you handle that data. The scope is important since you don’t want to waste time and money looking at things that don’t pertain to your audit scope.
4. Perform an Internal Risk Assessment (Self Audit)
Before you pay a third-party firm to do an audit, you’ll want to perform your own audit to ensure you’re as ready as you can be. In essence, this internal audit ensures you pass your real audit.
Remember, if you’re doing something wrong and an auditor finds it, your company might be subject to fines and penalties.
To prepare, you must identify any risks associated with growth, location, or infosec best practices. You’ll then need to document the scope of those risks from identified threats and vulnerabilities. In addition, assign a likelihood and impact to each identified risk and then deploy measures to mitigate them as per the SOC 2 checklist.
5. Perform Gap Analysis
After performing your own audit, you’ll find things you need to work on before your actual audit. Thus, once you figure out what items to bring up to par, you’ll need to create a remediation list and process. This is to get things up to par before the big audit. By doing remediation, you’ll save yourself time and money down the road.
6. Maintain Post-Audit Monitoring
After you pass your audit, you’ll want to establish processes to maintain your level of security, performance, and compliance. You’ll want to do this since your certification will only be valid for one year.
Thus, you’ll need to recertify if you want to keep it. In addition, for your customer’s sake and the data you care for, you’ll always want to keep on top of the compliance game.
Getting an SOC 2 certification can be a daunting task. That said, with a proper checklist and prerequisite work, you can prepare and pass the audit and get your certification. In return, this will win the confidence of your customers and drive your business further.
Keep in mind that out of all of the audit points I covered in this article, one of the most important steps you can take to prepare is to do an internal audit. You might be surprised at what you find. However, it’s better to find issues and correct them rather than be penalized by an auditor when they find them. Preparing requires several steps, but you’ll want to do it before the official audit.
Have some more questions? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below.
How long is the SOC 2 Certificate valid?
The SOC 2 is only valid for 1 year and requires recertification each year. That said, the short validity period is good for keeping your compliance levels high and maintaining your customer’s trust.
Is the SOC 2 tech-focused?
SOC 2 was created with IT in mind. It looks at the technology which handles your customer’s data and ensures it’s up to standards in securing it. Other certifications like ISO 27001 look at how you store your information instead of how you use the technology. SOC 2 is more technology focused, though.
How much does SOC 2 cost?
The SOC 2 can cost anywhere between USD5,000 to USD80,000 depending on the size of your company and infrastructure. Another factor to consider is the kind of auditor you hire to do the audit. If you hire a top-tier CPA, you should expect to pay top dollar for their service.
Is SOC 2 required?
All of the security certifications aren’t required. You get these certifications voluntarily. That said, being certified gives you many benefits in return. With a certification, you’ll enhance your company’s profile. If you’re working with a lot of customer data, a certification will go a long way to show you’re dependable and secure.
How should a company prepare?
Generally, you can first read the documentation for the certificate you want to take to prepare. You’ll then start implementing it in the workplace. This is the longest phase and could require capital expenditures to get on track. The other option is to hire a consulting company that’ll come in and hit the ground running. It’ll also reduce the time to get the certification but will cost you extra to render those services.
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