Vanta's SOC 2 Guide
If your company stores customer data in the cloud and sells to other businesses, it’s likely you’ll be asked to prove your commitment to security via a SOC 2 report. This guide will walk you through the purpose of SOC 2 reports, when and why your organization might obtain one, and how best to prepare for doing so.
What is a SOC 2 report?
A SOC 2 report is often the primary document that security departments rely upon to assess a vendor’s security risk. Created by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), SOC 2 reports assure customers and other business partners that you have security guidelines in place and that you follow through on them. That might mean performing background checks on all employees, ensuring employee laptops are password-protected, or configuring your company’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) utilities in safe ways. No two SOC 2 reports look the same, because companies follow different security practices.
What a SOC 2 report covers
A SOC 2 report can include up to five categories, known as the Trust Service Criteria:
- Security (also known as Common Criteria)
- Processing integrity
All SOC 2 reports include the Security category; the others are optional. Many early-stage startups choose to start with the Security criteria only. Determine whether you should add additional categories by evaluating the commitments your customers expect; Vanta’s “SOC 2's Trust Service Categories and your business” guide may help.
The latest set of Trust Service Criteria, TSP 100 – 2017, includes 33 main requirements (“Trust Service Criteria and Points of Focus”) and 28 optional requirements. Each requirement should be broken down into 1-5 sub-requirements that describe security best practices.
The trick is figuring out how to fulfill the necessary requirements and commit to practices your company can sustain. Often, companies will hire an auditor or consultant to verify their practices uphold the SOC 2 criteria. In addition, the AICPA revises the rules every few years, introducing more complexity.
The Trust Service Criteria categories
Type I versus Type II reports
You can choose from two types of reports—Type I or Type II. A Type I can be obtained faster, but a Type II report is more detailed and trusted. Customers and prospects generally prefer – and sometimes even require – a SOC 2 Type II report.
- Type I reports give a snapshot of your company’s practice on a particular date. They describe the security rules (“controls”) your company follows but do not judge their effectiveness. You can think of them as conveying “hereare the appropriate security rules for our service.” Type I audits are often faster because they don’t test theeffectiveness of your security measures. They tend to carry less weight, especially with larger firms.
- Type II reports describe and evaluate your company’s practices over time (typically 3-12 months.) You can think of them as conveying “here are the appropriate security rules for our service, and here’s how well they work.” They provide more assurance that your company is able to secure sensitive information.
For more information on Type I and Type II reports see Vanta’s “SOC 2 Type I or SOC 2 Type II?” guide.
Obtaining a SOC 2 report
It used to take months of effort and many steps to obtain a SOC 2 report in the traditional way:
- Develop a list of security controls, or rules, that your company plans to follow. While you can pay an outside expert to develop the list, it’s also possible for an employee to research and produce it on their own. The full list might include dozens or even hundreds of rules. You’ll need these roles to conform to AICPA guidance.
- Test yourself. Go through the list of rules and determine which the company currently meets and where it is falling short. Often, companies hire outside consultants to help with this step; their output is often a long task list.
- Implement new practices to fulfill your stated rules. This step can require buying new security tools (e.g. laptop management software to ensure laptop hard drives are encrypted), changing internal practices (e.g. instituting code review for all commits), and adopting new processes (e.g. performing background checks on new hires.)
- Go through a formal audit. During an audit, an auditor examines your list of rules and determines which you follow. (Hopefully you follow all of them!) To do so, they’re likely to ask questions of key employees, request screenshots of configuration dashboards, and even visit your office. You’ll need to produce a “paper trail” of evidence for each security control. Expect the process to take a few weeks of dedicated time and paperwork.
- Receive a report detailing your adherence to your security controls. The report can take weeks for the auditor to finalize and is generally valid for one year.
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Obtaining a SOC 2 report with Vanta
The process of obtaining a SOC 2 report with Vanta is faster, requires much less manual work, and proceeds with more certainty:
- Vanta builds a list of security controls tailored to your company. Vanta has seen hundreds of companies security practices and can match your company’s maturity with AICPA guidance.
- Vanta tests continuously to ensure security and compliance. Vanta verifies your company’s infrastructure, data, organizational, and physical security with integrations to your existing tools. This way, your engineers don't have to maintain spreadsheets, cron jobs, or internal checks.
- Vanta provides tools and guidance to fix weak spots. Vanta walks you through step by step instructions to fix gaps in your security, so everything is airtight before the audit.
- Have a short chat with your auditor. Instead of spending days or weeks walking an auditor through your systems and processes, your auditor may access Vanta data – what’s needed for an audit. We use an hour-long video call to cover anything outside of Vanta’s scope.
- Receive the report. Audit reports are often produced faster via Vanta because auditors need to complete less manual work. This means you’ll get your report faster.