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Vanta's SOC 2 compliance guide

Vanta's SOC 2 compliance 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 SOC 2?

SOC 2 stands for Service Organization Controls 2. It is a security standard that is widely recognized and respected throughout North America as a way to maintain best practices for a secure information system. SOC 2 compliance involves implementing a variety of security practices and policies that are applicable to your organization and then completing an audit from a third-party auditor. That auditor creates a report that details your security strategies, and this SOC 2 report is designed to assure your potential clients and business partners that when you interact with their data, you have the protocols in place to protect it.

History of SOC 2

SOC 2 has expanded and shifted its focus through the years. In fact, it began as a tool of the financial industry.

The start of SOC 2

SOC was initially created by the American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants or AICPA. In the early 2000s, the AICPA published the Statement of Auditing Standards (SAS) 70 to offer guidelines for protecting digital information systems. The goal was to have a measured way for organizations to demonstrate that their systems were low-risk for investors. In the absence of specialized data security standards, companies began using SAS 70 to demonstrate their information security.


Because that was not the intended purpose of SAS 70, the AICPA decided to create a standard that was better aligned with this new goal. It was called the Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE) 16. The AICPA continued to enhance and fine-tune its standards until releasing its SOC reporting framework. SOC 2 is the SOC report that focuses on information security.

Why SOC 2?

SOC 2 started as a way for investors to determine if it was safe to invest in an organization or if the organization was vulnerable to critical data leaks. As technology has become a more vital part of our economy and data security has become more crucial, SOC 2 has become a trusted mainstay that businesses rely on throughout North America.

Importance of SOC 2 compliance

SOC 2 is a widely used standard across numerous industries, specifically in North America. But why is it so important and when might you need it?

When is SOC 2 compliance required?

SOC 2 is not a legal requirement but a private report. However, many businesses and investors in North America will only do business with organizations that can demonstrate their information security due diligence with a SOC 2 report. If you plan to do business with organizations in North America, especially in industries that deal with highly confidential information, a SOC 2 report can open lucrative doors.

What are the benefits of SOC 2 compliance?

The most notable SOC 2 benefits involve the potential for your business to sign on with high-value clients and business partners. Many organizations won’t sign a contract with a vendor that doesn’t have SOC 2 compliance, so reaching compliance takes your potential to the next level.

Second, SOC 2 compliance shows you to be a trustworthy business. Even for clients and partners that don’t require SOC 2 compliance, if you can provide them with a SOC 2 report, it instills confidence in your organization. You can start out your business relationship with trust and confidence.

Finally, if you’re SOC 2 compliant, your organization is following powerful best practices for information security. You’ll have a lower risk for a data breach and the potential costs that a data breach can bring.

What is a SOC 2 audit report?

A SOC 2 audit 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 audit report covers

A SOC 2 audit 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

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 “here are the appropriate security rules for our service.” Type I audits are often faster because they don’t test the effectiveness 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.

SOC 2 compliance attestation

To get the most value from your SOC 2 compliance, you need to complete the process by going through an audit and receiving a SOC 2 report, or SOC 2 compliance attestation.

What is a SOC 2 compliance attestation?

A SOC 2 compliance attestation is another name for the SOC 2 report that a third-party auditor creates from your audit. Your compliance attestation is a detailed report of the security practices you’re following to protect private data in your system.

How to get a SOC 2 compliance attestation

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.

You can still do this, but today, there’s a simpler way too: using an automated compliance tool like Vanta.

Obtaining a SOC 2 compliance audit with Vanta

The process of obtaining a SOC 2 compliance audit 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.

Future proof your SOC 2 compliance with Vanta

Vanta is a comprehensive solution to SOC 2 compliance. One of the top challenges with SOC 2 compliance is that you don’t just need to reach compliance once; you need to maintain it over time. Vanta automates this process by using continuous monitoring to notify you of any gaps that appear in your compliance.

In other words, Vanta doesn’t just save you time with SOC 2 compliance today, but it saves you time for years in the future so you can keep enjoying the benefits of compliance without the work. To learn more, request a Vanta SOC 2 compliance demo today.

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

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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.

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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.

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