Organizations are responsible for safeguarding sensitive data in their possession (including customer data) and maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture. One way to do this is by implementing the SOC 2 standard, developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) as a comprehensive framework to evaluate your internal controls for data security and privacy

SOC 2 is based on a set of five “trust services criteria” that help you assess your ability to meet data security objectives. In this article we’ll explore what those criteria are and how to use SOC 2 to improve your data security efforts.

What Is SOC 2 Security?

SOC 2 is a security framework that outlines robust controls and safeguards that technology service providers can use to protect sensitive customer data and information systems. Developed by the AICPA, a SOC 2 audit evaluates an organization’s security posture against five trust services criteria: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.

The growing threat landscape of data breaches and security incidents has made information security a top priority for all businesses. High-profile incidents, such as the ransomware attack against Change Healthcare, demonstrate the severe consequences of inadequate data protection measures, including financial losses and reputational damage.

Amid that difficult climate, SOC 2 provides a set of guidelines for organizations to implement robust security controls, safeguard sensitive data and systems, and mitigate vulnerabilities. 

By achieving SOC 2 compliance, companies can demonstrate their commitment to maintaining a secure control environment and protecting customer data’s confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

SOC 2 Trust Services Criteria

The SOC 2 standard’s five trust services criteria (TSC) are the foundation for assessing an organization’s ability to maintain an effective control environment and to mitigate security risks. These criteria are:

  • Security: evaluate the measures against unauthorized access, use, or modification of systems and data.
  • Availability: assesses the organization’s ability to ensure system and data accessibility for authorized users as agreed upon.
  • Processing integrity: examines the completeness, accuracy, validity, and timeliness of system processing and data delivery.
  • Confidentiality: focuses on the protection of sensitive information from unauthorized disclosure.
  • Privacy: evaluates the organization’s procedures for collecting, using, retaining, disclosing, and disposing of personal information.

SOC 2 Scoping and Framework Application

Achieving SOC 2 compliance begins with a thorough scoping process to understand the systems, methods, and specific services that a qualified CPA firm will evaluate. This crucial step determines which trust services criteria will be used and what the boundaries of the audit will be.

The SOC 2 framework can be applied to various service providers, including cloud-based technology providers that handle sensitive customer data. It evaluates an organization’s controls related to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of clients’ information systems.

SOC 2 audits also come in two types, depending on the attestation you need. A SOC 2 Type 1 audit provides a snapshot of controls at a specific point in time; a Type 2 audit offers an assessment of operating effectiveness over several months.

The flexible nature of SOC 2 allows for integration with other cybersecurity standards such as ISO 27001 and industry-specific regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This assures a comprehensive evaluation of an organization’s security posture, risk management, and data protection measures.

Assessing Against the SOC 2 Framework

The SOC 2 audit involves a comprehensive evaluation of an organization’s control environment by an independent, qualified CPA firm. This typically includes:

  • Risk assessment: identifying potential risks, vulnerabilities, and threats related to the in-scope trust services criteria.
  • Control identification: documenting the organization’s security measures, policies, and procedures to mitigate identified risks.
  • Control testing: evaluating the design and operating effectiveness of implemented security controls over a specific period.
  • Reporting: issuing a final audit report detailing findings, including any control deficiencies or areas for improvement.

The SOC 2 assessment can be tailored to specific industries and integrated with other security standards such as ISO 27001, for a more holistic evaluation of your security program and compliance with regulations such as HIPAA.

Achieving Ongoing SOC 2 Compliance

Maintaining SOC 2 compliance is a process that requires continuous monitoring, risk management practices, and adherence to established security policies and procedures. 

Organizations must regularly conduct risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities, implement mitigation strategies, and enhance their security controls to protect sensitive customer data and personally identifiable information (PII).

Achieving long-term SOC 2 compliance requires that you collaborate with stakeholders, business partners, and qualified Certified Public Accountant (CPA) firms to perform periodic readiness assessments. This approach assures that your security program, access controls, firewalls, incident response procedures, and overall cybersecurity posture remain aligned with the AICPA’s trust services criteria and industry best practices.

Furthermore, organizations should consider pursuing SOC 2 Type II attestation, which provides a comprehensive assessment of the operating effectiveness of their security controls over an extended period, typically six to 12 months. 

With ongoing SOC 2 compliance, organizations can meet the requirements outlined in the AICPA’s framework, mitigate risks associated with security incidents and data breaches, and uphold their reputation as trustworthy service providers committed to safeguarding customer data and systems.

ZenGRC Helps Organizations Maintain SOC 2 Compliance

Maintaining ongoing SOC 2 compliance can be challenging for organizations. ZenGRC offers a comprehensive solution to streamline the process, providing automation tools, compliance checklists, and expert guidance.

Our platform facilitates stakeholder collaboration, so that you can establish a strong security posture, demonstrate your commitment to data protection, and build trust with customers and business partners.

Schedule a demo today and safeguard your systems, protect customer data, and foster a culture of information security and operational integrity.