As data breaches and cyberattacks become more widespread, most businesses are making information security and data privacy a top priority. That means they want to know whether your business can be trusted with their sensitive information.

SOC 2 compliance is one of the most effective methods to instill that confidence.

SOC 2 Compliance Explained

SOC 2 (formally known as a Report on Controls at a Service Organization Relevant to Security, Availability, Processing Integrity, Confidentiality, or Privacy) is an independent attestation report that service providers can give to customers to demonstrate the provider’s cybersecurity control environment.

Unlike regulatory standards such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the SOC 2 framework as a voluntary cybersecurity framework developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Any service provider can use it, and many do.

To demonstrate SOC 2 compliance, organizations must create a compliant cybersecurity program and submit to an audit from a certified public accountant (CPA). That auditor reviews and tests the cybersecurity controls per the SOC 2 standard and then reports on his or her findings.

The result: instead of your organization filling out lengthy cybersecurity questionnaires from every would-be customer that comes along, you have a single, comprehensive SOC 2 report that sales teams can present to potential clients to demonstrate your cybersecurity posture. 

Even though people commonly talk about “SOC 2 certification,” SOC 2 is actually an attestation. SOC 2 compliance audits do not confirm that a specific company has met the standard; instead, the report reflects what the auditor observed in the organization’s security program.

Benefits of Compliance with SOC 2

While a SOC 2 is not required by law (there are no fines for noncompliance), potential clients frequently request to view your SOC 2 report before agreeing to do business with you. 

Here are three reasons a SOC 2 report is critical for you and your clients.

Building a Strong Reputation

If you manage, process, or handle client data, your customers must trust you before they’ll be comfortable doing business with you. SOC 2 provides that comfort.

This is critical because if you have a data breach that affects your customer’s data (or their customers’ data), their business will also suffer. SOC 2 compliance demonstrates to your stakeholders that you have taken steps to avoid an attack and keep their data secure. 

New Business Opportunities

SOC 2 compliance not only helps you establish your trustworthiness to clients and partners. It can also open the door to agreements that need a SOC 2.

Many companies, particularly in North America, will demand to see a vendor’s SOC 2 before agreeing to engage with them. Without a SOC 2 report, your sales prospects may abandon a nearly completed contract.

Even if your prospects don’t require a SOC 2, having one can still give you a competitive advantage. A SOC 2 report assures clients and potential customers that their data will be more secure with your systems than with rivals’ systems that aren’t SOC 2 compliant.

Secure Infrastructure 

A SOC 2 can help you to build a robust information security architecture. As you prepare for your audit, you’ll put in place the best practices and measures to reduce the chance of a data breach and the costly implications that come with it.

According to IBM security, the typical data breach these days costs $4.45 million. Those costs include compensating staff to offset the breach, paying regulatory fines or penalties, and losing income when consumers shift to other providers. Furthermore, a breach will harm your brand’s reputation in the long run.

Common Challenges to SOC 2 Compliance

SOC 2 compliance might be daunting for small and medium-sized businesses, but it is achievable. As with other business operations, you should know ahead of time what problems you might face, so that you can plan accordingly. The three significant challenges of achieving SOC compliance are as follows.

Time Constraints

SOC 2 compliance cannot be completed overnight. It involves extensive planning, preparation, documentation, testing, and auditing. 

You must devote a substantial amount of time and resources so that your policies, procedures, and controls are aligned with the SOC 2 requirements, properly implemented, and regularly monitored.

The time required to complete the process is determined by how mature your existing security processes are and how much time your team can devote to compliance efforts. (Assume it will take months, at least.)

SOC 2 Budgeting

SOC 2 compliance is not cheap, and determining the commitment (in both time and money) may be difficult. You will need to invest in various tools, technologies, and services to help you achieve and maintain compliance over time.  

For example, you may need to acquire or upgrade security software, employ external consultants or auditors, invest in compliance automation tools, and pay for penetration testing services. You must recruit security and compliance experts and perhaps launch a security operations center.

Skills Required for SOC 2

Your staff cannot manage SOC 2 compliance as a side job. Understanding and implementing SOC 2 standards and best practices will require high security and operational competence.  

You must also instill security awareness and accountability among your employees, vendors, and partners. You’ll need to teach them how to manage sensitive data and report and respond to events or difficulties.

Best Practices for Maintaining SOC 2 Compliance

Maintaining SOC 2 compliance requires methods similar to any other cybersecurity framework. Most of the best practices for general regulatory compliance, such as PCI DSS, GDPR, or NIST compliance, may be used for SOC 2 compliance while taking specific factors into account.

Periodic Requirements

Once you achieve SOC 2 compliance, you must then make periodic reports to confirm that your IT systems remain in SOC 2 compliance. This means your business must test its controls and collect data according to the rules and the cycle outlined in the original SOC 2 report.

For example, assume that your business’s policies and procedures need quarterly logical access checks. In such instances, you must provide quarterly documentation that the evaluations were completed throughout the past year.

Employee Training

As a company-wide goal, employees must be informed of the specific security policies that must be followed. So your organization must design a clear and straightforward employee training approach.

Continuous Compliance

Continuous compliance is the steady, ongoing reviewing of your company’s security posture to verify that it still fulfills all regulatory requirements and industry best practices. Continuous compliance helps to speed the audit process by informing you about your compliance requirements during the year, something a yearly audit alone cannot do. 

In other words, continuous compliance keeps you secure on a daily basis by warning you of noncompliance issues in real-time. It keeps you updated on industry norms and regulations and ensures everyone in your business complies.

This approach assures that IT, HR, and all other departments are aligned on their security practices and responsibilities. That said, ongoing compliance requires time, energy, and leadership focus.

Achieving Continuous Compliance for SOC 2

Although it takes work to reach SOC 2 compliance, the effort is worth it. Here are some of the essential procedures that will help you get there.

Identify and Understand Compliance Standards

The first step toward ongoing compliance is determining what you must comply with. SOC 2 is available to all, but many businesses must comply with similar cybersecurity standards as well. 

  • Healthcare organizations must follow HIPAA regulations.
  • Businesses that serve EU citizens must comply with GDPR.
  • Retailers processing credit card transactions must comply with PCI DSS.
  • Cloud service providers should comply with SOC 2.

Once you’ve determined which standards apply to you, you can align your security practices to those criteria. When faced with multiple frameworks (which is quite common), mapping the requirements of each standard will assist in reducing duplication.

Perform a Risk Assessment and Establish Controls

Once you understand what compliance entails, you can assess how near you are to attaining it.

First, examine every IT asset, system, process, and third-party interaction affecting compliance.

Then assess the compliance gaps identified by this audit.

Finally, implement the necessary controls to address the gaps and bring your business into compliance. These restrictions are not necessarily technical. They might be new procedures or even simple improvements to training programs.

Monitor Continuously and Act Quickly

With controls in place, you must monitor compliance every minute of every day; it never stops. This never-ending procedure is challenging to complete manually so you’ll need systems that can monitor all controls automatically. 

Machine learning can use activity records to define “normal” and identify unexpected activities. Alerts and notifications can inform the control’s owner of the appropriate steps.

Document and Communicate Everything

Keep track of every decision and incident that occurs during the compliance process. Apply what you’ve learned to make better decisions and plan for the future.

Documentation also helps individuals understand how their activities affect compliance — and how noncompliance affects the firm! That matters since compliance ownership is not centralized in the IT department. Everyone has specific duties that they must understand and accept.

Continuous Compliance and Automation

Automation eliminates the headache of compliance and allows you to transition from seasonal audits to ongoing monitoring. Continuous compliance detects weaknesses before they become problems, eliminating the requirement for all hands on deck during audit fire drills.

Implementing continuous compliance automation to handle all of an organization’s compliance management responsibilities provides relief to process owners. Keeping track of all regulatory and policy modifications can be onerous when done manually. An automated continuous compliance monitoring system offers:

  • Complete insight over cloud assets
  • Cyber attack surface management
  • Automatic process controls
  • Continuous monitoring of resources and settings
  • A method that prevents vulnerabilities
  • Automated warnings and notifications every time an unusual occurs

The correct solution for continuous compliance monitoring and visibility enables firms to reduce asset complexity while continually monitoring them for compliance.

ZenGRC is Your Continuous Compliance Solution

SOC 2 was developed initially for technology service companies, but it has since become a benchmark for every organization doing business online, especially those with data centers. Failure to comply sets a bad precedent and warns consumers they cannot trust you to protect their data.

Enterprise compliance can be complex to handle manually and time-consuming for outdated systems. At that level, spreadsheets simply cannot handle the number of moving pieces associated with your company’s many types of compliance. 

ZenGRC simplifies SOC 2 certification by walking you through the framework step by step, allowing you to become audit-ready in record time.

Our “single source of truth” dashboard identifies compliance weaknesses in your infrastructure and describes how to fix them before your next audit. ZenGRC may help you save time and money by delivering audit information in an easy-to-understand format when choosing an auditor.

ZenGRC can support a variety of compliance frameworks and cross-check goals across many platforms, easing compliance activities and freeing up your compliance staff to focus on other aspects of the company.

If you want to witness ZenGRC, please contact us for a free demo.