For many security-conscious companies looking for a SaaS provider, SOC 2 compliance is a minimum requirement. Unfortunately, many vendors are unsure how to implement SOC 2 compliance requirements, as they are inherently vague.
In this article, we will learn what SOC 2 is and explain the essential SOC 2 compliance requirements so that your business can do what is required to build trust with auditors and customers.
What is SOC 2 compliance?
Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 is a set of compliance requirements and audit processes targeted for third-party service providers. It was developed to help companies determine whether their business partners and suppliers can securely manage data and protect their customers' interests and privacy.
SOC 2 was developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Within its procedures, there are two types of SOC 2 reports:
1. SOC 2 Type 1 details the systems and controls you have in place for security compliance. Auditors check the evidence and see if you meet the relevant trust principles. Think of it as a point-in-time verification of controls.
2. SOC 2 Type 2 evaluates the effectiveness of your processes in providing the desired level of data security and management over a while.
What are the essential SOC 2 compliance requirements?
SOC 2 compliance is based on specific criteria for the proper management of customer data, which consists of five categories of trust services: security, availability, the integrity of treatment, confidentiality, and privacy.
Security is the baseline for SOC 2 compliance, which consists of broad criteria common to all five categories of trust services.
The principle of security focuses on protecting service assets and data under SOC 2 compliance against unauthorized use. Access controls can be implemented to prevent malicious attacks or unauthorized removal of data, misuse of corporate software, unauthorized alteration or disclosure of corporate information.
When it comes to security, the most basic SOC 2 compliance checklist (which will satisfy an auditor) is detailed in the Trust Services Criteria for Security, Availability, Processing Integrity, Confidentiality, and Privacy document, and should address these checks:
Logical and Physical Access Controls - How logical and physical access is limited and managed, to prevent any unauthorized access
System Operations - How system operations are managed to detect and mitigate deviations from established procedures
Change Management - How to implement a controlled change management process and prevent unauthorized changes
Risk Mitigation - How risk mitigation activities are identified and developed when addressing business disruptions and the use of any provider service
Some SOC 2 criteria are very broad and more policy-oriented, while others are technical, but even the technical criteria won't tell you exactly what you need to do. As such, the SOC 2 criteria are somewhat open to interpretation. It is up to each company to achieve the goal of each criterion by implementing various controls. The Trust Services Criteria document includes various "points of attention" to guide you.
For example, to meet the criteria for logical and physical access controls, a company can implement new onboarding processes, two-factor authentication, and systems to prevent customer data from being downloaded while support is being run. another can restrict access to data centers, conduct quarterly permit reviews, and strictly control what is done on production systems. No combination is perfect or even specifically required. What is required is to reach the final state desired by the criteria.
When addressing the common criteria above, you cover the safety principles, which is the minimum requirement to become SOC 2 compliant.
What are the other SOC 2 compliance requirements?
With security covered, you should be able to attract business. However, if you are in the financial or banking sector - or any other industry where privacy and confidentiality are paramount - then you need to achieve a higher standard of compliance. Many companies look for fully compliant vendors, as this instills confidence and demonstrates a commitment to minimizing risk.
You can go beyond basic security principles to achieve compliance with additional criteria in the other trust service categories below.
The principle of availability focuses on the accessibility of your system, meaning that you monitor and maintain your infrastructure, software, and data to ensure that you have the processing capacity and system components necessary to meet your business goals.
SOC 2 fast compliance requirements in this category include:
Measure Current Usage - Establish a baseline for capacity management, which you can use to assess the risk of compromised availability from capacity constraints.
Identify Environmental Threats - Assess environmental threats that can impact system availability, such as adverse weather conditions, fires, power outages, or failures to environmental control systems.
Integrity of processing
The principle of processing integrity focuses on delivering the right data at the right price and at the right time. Data processing must not only be timely and accurate, but it must also be valid and authorized.
SOC 2 compliance requirements in this category include:
Create and maintain records of system inputs - Compile accurate records of system input activities.
Define Processing Activities - Defines processing activities to ensure that products or services meet specifications.
The principle of confidentiality focuses on limiting the access and disclosure of private data so that only specific individuals or organizations can see it. Confidential data can include sensitive financial information, business plans, customer data in general, or intellectual property.
The compliance requirements of COI 2 in this category include:
Identify confidential information - Implement procedures to identify confidential information when it is received or created, and determine how long it should be kept.
Destroy Confidential Information - Implement procedures to delete confidential information after it has been identified for destruction.
The Privacy Principle focuses on the system's adherence to customer privacy policies and AICPA's Generally Accepted Privacy Principles (GAPP). This SOC category considers the methods used to collect, use and retain personal information, as well as the process of disclosure and disposal of the data.
SOC 2 compliance requirements in this category include:
Use clear and prominent language - The company's privacy notice language is clear and consistent, leaving no room for misinterpretation.
Collect information from reliable sources - The company confirms that the third-party data sources are reliable and manages its data collection process fairly and legally.
Can you use software to accelerate SOC 2 compliance?
SOC 2 focuses primarily on policies and processes, rather than technical activities. Therefore, there is no dedicated, automated tool that can quickly make your company SOC 2 compliant.
Since SOC 2 requirements are not prescriptive, you should devise rigorous processes and controls for SOC 2 compliance, and then use tools that make it easy to implement controls. (Tweet this!) In this way, you will have a system that monitors and alerts you whenever a specific technical check fails.
For example, let's say that one of your controls intends to restrict access to Linux systems to a few specific administrators. You can use a tool to track and retrieve the status of permissions on a system in real-time.
For each control you implement, think about the proof you would present to an auditor. Remember that having control is only part of SOC 2 compliance requirements - you also need to be able to demonstrate that it works effectively.
Learn more about how our SOC 2 Expert can help you with your audit and compliance.