These days, cybersecurity is becoming an important part of daily business operations — especially for large, complex service organizations. As large companies transition to cloud-based data maintenance and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect cybersecurity worldwide, service organizations must ensure that they are using the best possible security practices. Fortunately, there is a relatively simple way for service organizations — as well as their users and stakeholders — to confirm compliance with the latest cybersecurity protocols. This can be achieved through SOC 2 attestation.
Though organizations often seek SOC 2 certification, there is technically no such thing. In fact, SOC certification simply refers to a clean report following a full SOC 2 audit. The SOC 2 framework was developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants or AICPA. This framework uses 5 basic trust principles (security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy) to evaluate the efficacy and overall vulnerability of a service organization’s data security protocols.
When a CPA performs the SOC 2 report, they can either provide SOC 2 attestation (a clean report), or they can provide an adverse opinion and suggestions for improvement. Most service organizations conduct SOC 2 self-assessment prior to an official report to ensure SOC 2 attestations. In any case, SOC 2 attestation requires the CPA to attest that a service organization’s controls meet the minimum standards set out by the AICPA. However, there is a certain degree of subjectivity in every report, as each organization has different security needs based on various factors, including the volume of data that it processes and the agreed-upon standards set out in its user service agreement.
There are two different types of SOC 2 audits: SOC 2 Type 1 and SOC 2 Type 2. Type 1 is the simpler of the two reports, as it only evaluates whether or not a service organization’s controls are designed effectively at a certain point in time. This is a good way to assess the basic mechanisms underlying a cybersecurity system. However, the SOC 2 Type 1 report provides minimal guidance on the operational efficacy of a given system. As a result, it is generally easier to achieve SOC 2 attestation for a Type 1 audit.
SOC 2 Type 2 audits are much more thorough and rigorous than Type 1 audits. While a Type 1 audit just looks at controls for a given point in time to evaluate their design, the SOC 2 Type 2 audit evaluates both the design and implementation of controls over a set period of time (at least 6 months). Thus, SOC 2 Type 2 attestation is both harder to achieve and a greater indication of your organization’s ability to securely manage both internal and external data.
As previously stated, it is vital that you conduct the SOC 2 self-assessment prior to arranging an official SOC 2 report with a CPA. This way, you can assert that you have the necessary controls in place so that the CPA can conduct the audit and either confirm or deny your assertion. During the SOC 2 self-assessment, you’ll want to evaluate your own system and operational efficacy based on the 5 trust principles: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. Additionally, you’ll want to ensure that your system includes some or all of the following protocols:
Security breach management
While this is not a comprehensive list and SOC 2 compliance requirements will vary a little for each organization, the controls listed above will greatly increase your chances of achieving SOC 2 attestation. However, you’re not required to focus on all 5 trust principles. You can request to have an audit to focus on the efficacy of one or more aspects of your system, though a thorough evaluation of all 5 trust principles will provide a more comprehensive SOC 2 attestation.
Even if you’ve requested a third-party audit and received SOC attestation for Type 1 or Type 2 reports (or both), this doesn’t mean you’re finished. Cybersecurity is constantly evolving and, more than likely, your organization will need to evolve with it. This means that you may have to scale your controls as you scale your business. To ensure that you’re continuously following the best practices with your data management, you should seek out SOC 2 attestation annually or bi-annually. This way, you can implement enhanced security protocols as needed.