5 things you need to know before certifying to SOC 2

Despite being a mostly voluntary compliance scheme, SOC 2 is one of the most important and sought-after information security frameworks.

Its audit process requires organisations to establish strict policies and procedures based on five Trust Services Principles:

  • Security
  • Availability
  • Processing integrity
  • Confidentiality
  • Privacy

These principles are consistent with most information security frameworks, so what makes SOC 2 so special? We answer that, and four other essential issues, in this blog.

1. Why is SOC 2 compliance important?

The most obvious answer is that SOC 2 compliance demonstrates that your organisation maintains a high level of information security.

The rigorous compliance requirements, which are put to the test in an on-site audit, ensure that sensitive information is being handled responsibly. Organisations that implement the necessary controls are therefore less likely to suffer data breaches or violate users’ privacy.

This protects the organisation from the negative effects of breaches, such as regulatory action and reputational damage, and gives them a competitive advantage. SOC 2-compliant organisations can use this fact to prove to customers that they’re committed to information security.

SOC 2 compliance also creates new business opportunities, as the framework states that compliant organisations can only share data with other organisations that have passed the audit.

As a result, implementing its controls enables you to work with a range of software-as-a-service providers, for which SOC 2 compliance is mandatory.

2. Types of SOC 2 certification

SOC is broken down in many ways. There are SOC 1, 2 and 3 – which all contain slightly different requirements – but even within SOC 2, which we’re focusing on here, there are two types of certification.

Type 1 involves passing the SOC 2 audit and proving that your policies, procedures and technologies adhere to the framework’s requirements at that time.

Type 2 involves ongoing compliance with SOC 2 and a thorough audit process that tests the real-world application of your policies, processes and technologies.

3. What areas does SOC 2 certification cover?

To achieve SOC 2 certification, organisations must implement controls on:

  • System monitoring

Organisations must always monitor their information systems, keeping track of who is accessing sensitive information and what changes they are making to it.

This process should include the adoption of access controls, which ensure that only approved users can open certain, sensitive information.

A sophisticated access control management system will contain layers of controls that ensure employees can only view information that’s relevant to their job.

This not only reduces the risk posed by malicious insiders but also mitigates the damage should a cyber criminal gain unauthorised access to an account.

As such, access controls provide an extra level of security in the event that employees choose weak, easily guessed passwords or expose their credentials in a phishing scam.

  • Data breach alerts

No matter how sophisticated your cyber security defences are, you will suffer a data breach sooner or later. There are simply too many attackers and too many vulnerabilities to prevent them all.

When a security event occurs, you need a system that will alert you of the threat. This doesn’t just refer to unauthorised access, but also to suspicious file transfers or changes to sensitive data.

These are particularly important to look out for when it comes to threats such as spear phishing, where an attacker poses as a senior employee or third party and requests that a lower-level employee sends them a certain file.

The organisation in question hasn’t technically been breached – the attack is nothing more than an email from an illegitimate address – but when the employee complies with the request, a serious incident has occurred.

  • Audit procedures

Organisations must adopt a rigorous audit procedure to ensure they keep detailed records of the way personal information and other sensitive data are used.

It’s only by doing this that you can trace the source of a data breach and determine the full extent of the damage.

  • Forensics

The final aspect of SOC 2 compliance concerns the way you respond to threats. This covers the steps you take to identify the full extent of the breach, understand how the incident occurred and prevent further damage.

Having such forensics systems in place gives you the assurance that incidents will be handled promptly, ensuring that a bad situation doesn’t get any worse.

4. What is the cost and timescale of SOC 2 certification?

There are three things to consider when evaluating how much SOC 2 certification will cost and how long it will take:

  • Your existing compliance posture.
  • The size and complexity of your organisation.
  • The cost and availability of a SOC 2 auditor.

However, even if you know the answer to those questions, there’s no set price structure or timescale for when you can expect to certify.

Every organisation has its own requirements, and it would be overly simplistic to suggest that there was a cost-per-day estimate for certification.

In that regard, SOC 2 is more variable than other information security standards, which tend to have a consistent timeline for certification.

The most well-prepared organisations might be able to complete their audit in a few weeks, whereas others could spend 18 months or more implementing the necessary controls in the Trust Services Criteria.

5. How the certification process works

A SOC 2 assessment is much the same as any other audit. The CPA (Certified Public Accountant) firm you select can help you determine the scope of your audit, after which it will evaluate your controls and inspect whether they work as they should.

When the CPA has finished the assessment, it’ll provide an audit report containing detailed information and assurance about your organisation’s compliance with SOC 2’s requirements.

You should be confident in your compliance posture before starting the audit process, because a failed audit will cost you time, money and resources.

If you have any doubts, we suggest getting a second pair of eyes to inspect your organisation before you attempt an audit.

Our SOC 2 Audit Readiness Assessment and Remediation Service provides the assurance you need that your compliance journey is on track.

This two-pronged consultancy service provides the insight you need to determine your readiness for a SOC 2 audit.

First, we’ll conduct a SOC 2 Audit Readiness Assessment, which is a report based on the framework’s Trust Services Criteria and designed to identify the suitability of your controls.

Next, we provide the SOC 2 Remediation Service, in which we highlight the corrective actions you must take to ensure your security controls conform to the framework’s requirements.

With this information, you’ll have everything you need to ensure that you pass the SOC 2 audit first time.

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