Vanta's SOC 2 Certification 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 certification 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)
  • Availability
  • Confidentiality
  • Processing integrity
  • Privacy

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

Category
Description
Security
All SOC 2 reports include the Security category

Your systems and the data you store are protected against unauthorized access and unauthorized disclosure.
Availability
Your information and systems are available for operation and use.
Confidentiality
Confidential information is protected.
Processing integrity
System processing is complete, valid, accurate, timely, and authorized. Customer data remains correct throughout the course of data processing.
Privacy
Personal information is collected, used, retained, disclosed, and disposed of in accordance with pre-stated policies.

Although the Confidentiality category applies to any sensitive information, the Privacy category applies only to personal information.

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 certification

It used to take months of effort and many steps to obtain a SOC 2 report in the traditional way:


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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:


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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PCI Compliance Selection Guide

Determine Your PCI Compliance Level

If your organization processes, stores, or transmits cardholder data, you must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), a global mandate created by major credit card companies. Compliance is mandatory for any business that accepts credit card payments.

When establishing strategies for implementing and maintaining PCI compliance, your organization needs to understand what constitutes a Merchant or Service Provider, and whether a Self Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) or Report on Compliance (ROC) is most applicable to your business.

Answer a few short questions and we’ll help identify your compliance level.

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2
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Does your business offer services to customers who are interested in your level of PCI compliance?

Yes
No

Identify your PCI SAQ or ROC level

The PCI Security Standards Council has established the below criteria for Merchant and Service Provider validation. Use these descriptions to help determine the SAQ or ROC that best applies to your organization.

Good news! Vanta supports all of the following compliance levels:

SAQ A

A SAQ A is required for Merchants that do not require the physical presence of a credit card (like an eCommerce, mail, or telephone purchase). This means that the Merchant’s business has fully outsourced all cardholder data processing to PCI DSS compliant third party Service Providers, with no electronic storage, processing, or transmission of any cardholder data on the Merchant’s system or premises.

Get PCI DSS certified

SAQ A-EP

A SAQ A-EP is similar to a SAQ A, but is a requirement for Merchants that don't receive cardholder data, but control how cardholder data is redirected to a PCI DSS validated third-party payment processor.

Learn more about eCommerce PCI

SAQ D
for service providers

A SAQ D includes over 200 requirements and covers the entirety of PCI DSS compliance. If you are a Service Provider, a SAQ D is the only SAQ you’re eligible to complete.

Use our PCI checklist

ROC
Level 1 for service providers

A Report on Compliance (ROC) is an annual assessment that determines your organization’s ability to protect cardholder data. If you’re a Merchant that processes over six million transactions annually or a Service Provider that processes more than 300,000 transactions annually, your organization is responsible for both a ROC and an Attestation of Compliance (AOC).

Automate your ROC and AOC

Download this checklist for easy reference

Questions?

Learn more about how Vanta can help. You can also find information on PCI compliance levels at the PCI Security Standards Council website or by contacting your payment processing partner.

The SOC 2 Compliance Checklist

Most businesses look at security compliance as a mountain that is impossible to conquer without an equally mountainous budget and ample time with endless frustrations. The truth is that every organization’s experience will vary, but in most cases, you can achieve compliance and certification easier than you think if you only prepare properly.

That begins with educating yourself about the road ahead and having the right tools in your toolbox, like automated compliance software. If you’re preparing to guide your organization through SOC 2 compliance, our SOC 2 compliance checklist will break down the process and give you a digestible view of the road ahead.

1

Pre-Work for Your SOC 2 Compliance

Choose the right type of SOC 2 report:

A SOC 2 Type 1 report assesses how your organization aligns with the security controls and policies outlined in SOC 2
A SOC 2 Type 2 report has all the components of a Type 1 report with the addition of testing your controls over a period of time
The correct report will depend on the requirements or requests of the client or partner that is requested a SOC 2 report from you

Determine the framework for your SOC 2 report. Of the five Trust Service Criteria in SOC 2, every organization needs to comply with the first criteria (security), but you only need to assess and document the other criteria that apply. Determining your framework involves deciding which Trust Service Criteria and controls are applicable to your business using our Trust Service Criteria Guide.

Estimate the resources you expect to need. This will vary depending on how closely you already align with SOC 2 security controls but it can include several costs such as:

Compliance software
Engineers and potentially consultants
Security tools such as access control systems
Administrative resources to draft security policies
Auditing for your compliance certification

Obtain buy-in from your organization leadership to provide the resources your SOC 2 compliance will need.

2

Work Toward SOC 2 Compliance

Begin with an initial assessment of your system using automated compliance software to determine which necessary controls and practices you have already implemented and which you still need to put in place.

Review your Vanta report to determine any controls and protocols within the “Security” Trust Service Criteria that you do not yet meet and implement these one by one. These are multi-tiered controls across several categories of security, including:

CC1: Control Environment
CC2: Communication and Information
CC3: Risk Assessment
CC4: Monitoring Activities
CC5: Control Activities
CC6: Logical and Physical Access Controls
CC7: System Operations
CC8: Change Management
CC9: Risk Mitigation

Using Vanta’s initial assessment report as a to-do list, address each of the applicable controls in the other Trust Services Criteria that you identified in your initial framework but that you have not yet implemented.

Using Vanta’s initial assessment report, draft security policies and protocols that adhere to the standards outlined in SOC 2. Vanta’s tool includes thorough and user-friendly templates to make this simpler and save time for your team.

Run Vanta’s automated compliance software again to determine if you have met all the necessary criteria and controls for your SOC 2 report and to document your compliance with these controls.

3

Complete a SOC 2 Report Audit

Select and hire an auditor affiliated with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the organization that developed and supports SOC 2.

Complete a readiness assessment with this auditor to determine if you have met the minimum standards to undergo a full audit.

If your readiness assessment indicates that there are SOC 2 controls you need to address before your audit, complete these requirements. However, if you have use automated compliance software to guide your preparations and your SOC 2 compliance, this is unlikely.

Undergo a full audit with your SOC 2 report auditor. This may involve weeks or longer of working with your auditor to provide the documentation they need. Vanta simplifies your audit, however, by compiling your compliance evidence and documentation into one platform your auditor can access directly.

When you pass your audit, the auditor will present you with your SOC 2 report to document and verify your compliance.

4

Maintain Your SOC 2 Compliance Annually

Establish a system or protocol to regularly monitor your SOC 2 compliance and identify any breaches of your compliance, as this can happen with system updates and changes.

Promptly address any gaps in your compliance that arise, rather than waiting until your next audit.

Undergo a SOC 2 re-certification audit each year with your chosen SOC 2 auditor to renew your certification.

Prioritizing Your Security and Opening Doors with SOC 2 Compliance

Information security is a vital priority for any business today from an ethical standpoint and from a business standpoint. Not only could a data breach jeopardize your revenue but many of your future clients and partners may require a SOC 2 report before they consider your organization. Achieving and maintaining your SOC 2 compliance can open countless doors, and you can simplify the process with the help of the checklist above and Vanta’s compliance automation software. Request a demo today to learn more about how we can help you protect and grow your organization.

Download this checklist for easy reference

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“Getting our SOC 2 and HIPAA was an absolute game-changer for the way that Nayya is able to sell into larger companies.”

Akash Magoon
Co-Founder + Chief Technology Officer  |  Nayya

Related guides

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Your Guide to eCommerce PCI Compliance

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HIPAA

The Ultimate HIPAA Compliance Guide and Checklist

Everything you need to know about HIPAA Compliance
Vanta automates security compliance.
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