Introduction to SOC 2

What is a SOC 2 audit?

SOC 2 report and what goes into it

There is no one-size-fits-all method for strengthening your organization’s information security, but almost every organization will eventually need to prove to its stakeholders that it's secure. There are various compliance standards you can choose from to demonstrate your security and prove you’re trustworthy, but one of the most common ways is to get a SOC 2 audit.

There are three types of SOC audits: SOC 1, SOC 2, and SOC 3. A SOC 1 audit reviews an organization’s financial reporting procedures, a SOC 2 audit reviews your information security, and a SOC 3 audit reviews your information security controls for public view. A SOC 2 is used for stakeholders like customers, partners, or prospects while a SOC 3 goes on your website. For this reason, a SOC 3 includes much less confidential information than a SOC 2. 

In this article, we’ll cover the most important aspects of SOC 2 audits and what you can expect during the process.

What is the purpose of a SOC 2 audit?

If you want to obtain a SOC 2 report, you’ll need to go through the SOC 2 audit process. This involves hiring a third-party auditor to investigate your information security and create a conclusive document that details your security posture and the controls in place to protect your organizational and customer data. 

Many businesses seek out a SOC 2 once prospects begin asking for it. Before agreeing to do business with you, your customers will need to see your SOC 2 report to get an understanding of how you’ll protect their data. Completing a SOC 2 audit demonstrates that you've created policies that have been reviewed to be trustworthy and effective. As lengthy as a SOC 2 audit might seem, it’s often well worth the investment to unblock deals and build trust with customers. 

What are the SOC 2 Trust Services Criteria (TSC)?

Your SOC 2 auditor will evaluate how your security infrastructure stacks up against five categories, known as the five Trust Services Criteria, or TSCs. 

These include:

  • Security: Protecting overall data security.
  • Availability: Ensuring that the intended people have continued access to the data they need.
  • Processing integrity: Maintaining the accuracy of data and data processing practices.
  • Confidentiality: Keeping data out of the hands of unauthorized users.
  • Privacy: Having processes that allow users to maintain the privacy of their data.

The five Trust Services Criteria, or TSCs, of SOC 2.
The five Trust Services Criteria, or TSCs, of SOC 2.

Each TSC category includes a list of various practices and standards. The security criteria is mandatory for all SOC 2 reports, while the other four criteria categories only need to be included if they apply to your organization’s products and services.

What is the process for a SOC 2 audit?

The SOC 2 audit process will vary depending on the structure, size, and industry your organization is in. SOC 2 is more nuanced than other compliance standards since it’s designed so that  organizations can customize the controls and requirements of their business. 

In general, a SOC 2 auditor will go through these steps:

  • Review and agree upon the scope of the audit.
  • Collect information about your systems and operations, including appropriate documents.  
  • Develop a plan for your audit. 
  • Identify which of the five Trust Services Criteria are relevant to your organization.
  • Investigate and test each security control to determine if they are SOC 2 aligned.
  • Collect evidence to document your security posture.
  • Prepare a report of their findings.

Who needs SOC 2 compliance?

SOC 2 compliance is not legally required for any organization. It’s completely voluntary for businesses to get and there are no fines or penalties for not having a SOC 2. It is, however, an expected standard among organizations that process, transfer, or access customer data. 

This standard is commonly used by:

  • SaaS companies
  • Organizations that provide business intelligence or analytics
  • Managed IT providers

Obtaining a SOC 2 report shows your prospects, customers, and partners that you’ve invested time and effort into proving your security and demonstrating trustworthiness. Most often, prospects or potential partners will request a SOC 2 report before agreeing to do business with you. 

SOC 2 is particularly common in North America and is often expected by customers and partners from this region.

Who can perform a SOC 2 audit?

A SOC 2 audit must be performed by a certified public accountant (CPA) at a firm that is accredited by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). This must be a third-party individual outside of your organization. 

Types of SOC 2 audits

There are two types of SOC 2 audits: SOC 2 Type 1 and SOC 2 Type 2. During a SOC 2 Type 1 audit, your auditor will review and document the security controls you have in place at a single point in time. A SOC 2 Type 2 audit is done over a period of time where your auditor will review and document your controls and test how effective they are. 

What is the outcome of a SOC 2 audit?

After undergoing a SOC 2 audit, you’ll receive a SOC 2 report that details the auditor’s findings. 

This report will include the following components:

  • Section 1 - Independent service auditors' report: This section confirms the audit took place and includes details about the scope of the audit and the company and auditor responsibilities.
  • Section 2 - Management assertion: This section is your company’s verification that the content of the report, both the controls and the description, is accurate. 
  • Section 3 - System description: This section describes the scope of the SOC 2 report and includes important info about the employees, processes, technology, and controls that support your products and services.
  • Section 4 - Description of criteria: This section is a list of controls that were assessed, how they were tested, and the result of the test. This will also include any exceptions highlighted by the auditor. 
  • Section 5 - Appendixes: Optional pages with additional information that your company believes may be helpful for your customers that will receive your SOC 2 report. This section can also include management response to any exceptions highlighted by the auditor in the prior section. 

As new customers ask for proof of SOC 2 compliance, this is the report you’ll share with them going forward.

How long does a SOC 2 audit take?

The average SOC 2 process takes between six months to a year from the moment you start preparing the controls to when you have a completed SOC 2 report in hand. This is because you’ll need to see which controls are missing, set your security controls, test them, collect evidence, and then find an auditor. Once you’ve found an auditor, their assessment will take between four to six weeks. 

However, you can cut this time in half with compliance automation

With Vanta’s trust management platform, you can streamline your SOC 2 audit. Here’s what an automated SOC 2 process can look like: 

  • Connect your infrastructure to the Vanta platform with our 200+ built-in integrations.
  • Assess your risk holistically from one unified view. 
  • Identify areas of non-compliance with in-platform notifications.
  • Get a checklist of actions to help you make the needed changes. 
  • Automate evidence collection and centralize all your documents in one place.
  • Find a Vanta-vetted auditor within the platform. 
  • Streamline reviews by giving your auditor the information in your Trust Center
  • Complete your SOC 2 in half the time. 

By using Vanta, you can save your business valuable time and money during your SOC 2 audit process. Learn how you can get your SOC 2 faster by requesting a demo.

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