A SOC 2 audit may seem intimidating, but companies can take steps to make the process smoother. We break down five key steps to start on SOC 2 compliance today.
Many organizations hear the word “audit” and freeze—even the idea of an audit conjures a vision of hours spent tracking down paperwork and digital evidence, making organizational changes, and months of work. While an audit may seem overwhelming at the beginning, organizations can take steps to make the process streamlined, smooth, and successful.
One of the most common audits that service organizations seek out is a System and Organization Controls (SOC) 2 audit, which aims to ensure that the organization employs adequate controls to protect customer information in its systems. Meeting the AICPA’s SOC 2 criteria can look slightly different for every organization, and organizations must attain a report by a CPA firm to document the attestation.
Oftentimes, these reports—which come in two formats, SOC 2 Type 1 and Type 2 reports—will be requested by prospective customers as part of their due diligence for new partners, or as part of their own audit and risk management processes.
Attaining and maintaining an annual SOC 2 attestation is valuable to many service providers. As noted, SOC 2 is often a requirement to do business with certain partners or customers. It can help build customer and partner confidence in your organization’s security and it demonstrates you take their trust seriously. By implementing the best practices required to meet the SOC 2 trust services criteria, your organization can uncover security vulnerabilities, remediate them, and ensure a responsible level of security practices.
In this post, we will walk through five key steps that can make the SOC 2 audit process less intimidating, especially if you’re seeking SOC 2 for the first time. Use these steps to get in shape for an audit and start your SOC 2 journey today.
Prioritize the Most Important Controls
The technology landscape is getting more complicated every year, and threat actors are always looking for a way into organizations to steal or exploit their data. Security controls are crucial for preventing or limiting the impact of breaches, yet it can seem like an endless list of to-dos and must-haves.
Before diving headlong into a SOC 2 audit with an external partner, examine the different controls required by SOC 2 and bolster any gaps you are aware of. By prioritizing the controls your organization needs, compliance becomes bite-sized—and less intimidating.
The areas of controls that are most important during a SOC 2 examination include:
- Information Security
- Access Control
- Password Management
- Change Management
- Risk Assessment and Mitigation
- Incident Response
- Logging and Monitoring
- Vendor Management
- Data Classification
- Acceptable Use
- Information, Software, and System Backup
- Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery
Determine which policies and procedures need the most attention, and in what order. Then, begin working through them methodically. A few ways to prioritize policies could include:
- Starting with those that require the least work, so you can tally up accomplishments
- Starting with those that require the most work, so you get them out of the way and can assess your time commitment going forward
- Starting with those that are the most visible to build awareness and momentum within your organization around the effort
Schedule Key Compliance Tasks to Stay on Track
In some ways, practicing year-round compliance is like going to the dentist—you may only visit your dentist once or twice a year for a cleaning, but you still brush, floss, and rinse every day. Good dental hygiene doesn’t happen as a result of a single visit, and neither does SOC 2 compliance.
If you’re seeking a SOC 2 audit, one of the best ways to make the process easier and to reduce the chances of an undesirable outcome to your audit is to practice compliance year-round—rather than in a rush at audit time. Cybersecurity threats never sleep, and neither can your controls.
Once you’ve determined your priority policies and procedures, break down the components of each and make a list of the controls that need to be put in place and kept up. Some activities can be done weekly, such as checking your logs, while others can be monthly or quarterly, such as reviewing access to systems or conducting vulnerability scans.
Make a timeline of these activities or a SOC 2 checklist, and then hold the organization accountable for maintaining each element. This will make your life much easier at audit time, and it reduces the likelihood of needing remediations.
Get Started with Audit Automation
As technology becomes more advanced and security risks grow, organizations are increasingly building the audit process into their cybersecurity stack. Elements of the auditing process can be automated, which can reduce the time needed for preparation and make auditing faster.
For example, our A-SCEND compliance management software can centralize and store evidence, re-use and repurpose evidence for multiple audits or frameworks, automatically create requests, track milestones in the audit process, and more. All of this reduces the pressure on an organization’s staff and also ensures that information makes its way into the right place.
IT organizations are looking for every opportunity to automate their tech stack, so they can move faster and get more done with fewer people. Implementing compliance management and audit automation software is a great way to get some small wins quickly.
Start Small and Grow Alongside Your Business’ Needs
Don’t bite off more than you can chew—especially when it’s your first time completing an audit of any kind. The SOC 2 criteria are flexible, and organizations can choose to comply with only the common criteria or to add in additional criteria. Either way, make sure you right-size with the correct criteria and keep your process streamlined and efficient.
This attitude applies to your auditing and security approach in general. While SOC 2 is an excellent framework for service providers to start with, compliance and regulations tend to grow alongside businesses as they expand. It’s likely that you will encounter more applicable regulations or requirements in the future.
For example, if you are a service organization and you begin working with payment card data, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)—a requirement from most global credit card providers—may become crucial. Depending on your client base, industry, business strategy, and how you expand, other possible requirements could include HITRUST, FedRAMP, ISO 27001, and more.
Completing a SOC 2 audit is an excellent learning experience. It can help your organization get into the right mindset for future certifications, frameworks, and regulations. And as you are subject to more compliance directives, you can build off what you’ve learned from the SOC 2 process.
Choose a Partner—Not Just an Auditor
SOC 2 compliance must be certified by an external auditor. For an organization seeking a SOC 2 report for the first time, an expert guide can be a boon. With deep experience and trained eyes, the right audit partner can help companies complete the auditing process smoothly and confidently. Notice that I used the word partner—not vendor or even auditor.
Attaining and maintaining compliance is not a one-time endeavor, and as organizations grow, they’re likely to encounter further policies, frameworks, and regulations that require certifications and audits, such as ISO 27001 or HITRUST. It takes a partner who will walk, step for step, beside your organization. A partner will take the time to understand your business, provide guidance and support around the audit experience, and help you reach your goals.
Getting Started on SOC 2 Compliance
Organizations beginning the SOC 2 audit process for the first time can get the ball rolling with the five steps above. By understanding and prioritizing controls, getting into shape internally with regard to policies and procedures, finding ways to automate the audit process, and joining forces with a true partner, SOC 2 compliance is within reach.
Start Your SOC 2 Journey Today
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