Organizations that use a data center to support their infrastructure and computing needs must consider compliance as part of their overall risk management and IT policy development strategies. One of the most common compliance standards for organizations with a data center environment is SOC 2 compliance

The Service Organization Control (SOC) is a compliance framework used to determine whether a service organization’s internal controls and practices effectively safeguard the privacy and security of its customer and client data.

The Importance of Compliance Standards for Data Centers

Compliance standards have far-reaching implications that go far beyond the clear-cut realms of compliance or non-compliance. It is a strategic necessity that goes beyond regulatory requirements. Compliance is the key to unlocking advantages that span the data center’s operating spectrum.

Ensuring compliance strengthens data centers’ security posture, protecting them against an ever-changing world of cyber threats. It reduces risks by protecting data from the potential consequences of data breaches.

Compliance is a continuous commitment to openness and responsibility, not a one-time effort. It fosters client trust by ensuring that their data is secure. 

Furthermore, compliance is critical in improving the efficiency and dependability of data center operations, resulting in a robust infrastructure capable of weathering the storms of the digital age.

What are Data Center Compliance Standards?

Data center compliance standards are an extensive collection of regulations, rules, and best practices meant to guarantee data centers’ safe and dependable operation.

At their heart, these standards serve as a road map, leading enterprises through the complexities of data management. They cover various topics, from data security and cloud data privacy to operational transparency and risk management.

SOC 1 vs. SOC 2 vs. SOC 3

SOC reports evolved from the 1992 Statement on Auditing Standards No. 70: Service Organizations (SAS 70). They can be one of three categories:

  • SOC 1 reports address how organizations handle financial information for their clients. This report ensures that financial reporting is managed securely by the transaction business.
  • SOC 2 reports review an organization’s controls for security, processing integrity, privacy, and related issues. Customers often ask for a SOC 2 report before engaging with specific vendors.
  • SOC 3 reports review the same material as SOC 2 reports but are less exhaustive and intended for a general audience. For example, a business might commission a SOC 3 report and post the results on its website.

In this article, we will discuss the SOC 2 report specifically, developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in response to growing concerns over data privacy and security.

SOC 2 Type I vs. Type II

SOC 2 is composed of two parts, Type I and Type II. The difference between SOC 2 Type I and Type II reports lies in the time each covers.

  • A SOC 2 Type I report (typically an organization’s first-ever SOC 2 report) assesses whether an organization’s internal controls are adequately designed during the audit. 
  • SOC 2 Type II reports evaluate the effectiveness of security and privacy controls over a period of time. How long? This usually occurs since the organization’s previous SOC audit, which is one year. 

After that, SOC 2 audit frequency is typically once a year. 

SSAE 18 vs. SOC 2

We should explore SOC 2’s relationship to SSAE 18, the underlying standard that provides the guidelines for what a SOC 2 report should contain. (“SSAE” stands for  “Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements.”)

As we mentioned earlier, the original source for SOC 2 reports was the Statement on Auditing Standards No. 70. That document was eventually replaced by SSAE 16 and then SSAE 18, the standard used for SOC reports today. 

The requirements outlined in SSAE 18 affect how organizations prepare for and execute SOC reports. Among other things, SSAE 18 directs service organizations to identify all sub-service organizations and to understand complementary sub-service organization controls. Service organizations must include data centers, cloud infrastructures, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms, and other outsourced vendors as part of the review.

Now that you understand what SOC 2 is, its evolution, and its requirements, let’s move on to what you need to have a SOC 2-compliant data center.

 What Threats Do Data Centers Commonly Face?

Data centers are critical components of an organization’s IT infrastructure. Its disruption of data center operations has a substantial influence on the business’s capacity to function. Threats to the underlying infrastructure and cyber threats to the data and applications housed on this infrastructure are the primary concerns to the availability and security of data centers (and the data and applications stored).

Direct Infrastructure Attacks

Data centers comprise three parts: computation, storage, and network capability. Exploits against this infrastructure influence the data center’s availability, performance, and security.

Data centers are built with several safeguards against infrastructure attacks. The use of redundancy for critical services aids in the elimination of single points of failure and the maximization of uptime. As a result, attackers will find it more difficult to disrupt the applications housed on this infrastructure.

Furthermore, data centers have backup infrastructure to deal with natural disasters and cyber-attacks that might impede service access. Examples include Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS), fire suppression systems, climate control, and building security systems.

Cyberattacks Against Hosted Services

The data center’s goal is to house mission-critical and customer-facing applications. These applications can be targeted and used in a variety of ways, including:

  • Web and application attacks: Web applications are subject to various attacks, including those in the OWASP Top 10 and CWE Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Weaknesses.
  • DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) Attacks: A pleasant customer experience requires service availability. Denial of service attacks jeopardize availability, resulting in financial, customer, and reputation losses.
  • DNS assaults: DNS DDoS assaults, cache poisoning, and other DNS threats might be possible for data centers that host DNS infrastructure.
  • Credential Compromise: Credentials compromised due to data breaches, credential stuffing, phishing, and other vulnerabilities can be used to access and exploit users’ online accounts.

These and other threats can jeopardize data center-hosted applications’ availability, performance, and security. Businesses must implement security solutions that handle all of these possible attack channels.

What Does My Data Center Need to be SOC 2 Compliant?

All SOC 2 reports revolve around the following requirements, known in SOC 2 documentation as “trust services principles.”

  • Security. The organization must have data protection controls in place to prevent unauthorized access. All SOC 2 reports must include an attestation of this criterion from the service provider.
  • Availability. A service provider must have reasonable security controls to ensure its system is available and can be used under the terms of service.
  • Processing integrity. All transactions must be processed promptly and accurately, without errors or unauthorized processing.
  • Confidentiality. All private or confidential data must be protected according to the security policies in the organization’s service agreement.
  • Privacy. All personal and private information must be handled according to relevant privacy regulations or controls specified in the service agreement or privacy notices.

How do I Make my Data Center SOC 2 Compliant?

If your organization is attempting to achieve SOC 2 certification for any trust services principles, here are some helpful steps to get you there.

Step 1: Get Help With Auditing

When hiring an auditor to help you prepare for compliance, you’ll need help ensuring that all details are correctly addressed. To do that, choose a SOC 2 compliance tool with the following:

  • Quick, easy deployment
  • User-friendly design
  • Easy internal audit capabilities
  • Vendor management tools
  • Continuous controls monitoring
  • Integration with your software and services stack
  • At-a-glance compliance dashboards that include your other frameworks

Step 2: Select the Trust Principles That Apply to You

Again, the principles are:

  • Security: Is your data center protected against physical and virtual unauthorized access?
  • Availability: Is your data center available for operation and use?
  • Processing Integrity: How does your data center process data? Does it do so accurately, promptly, and in a lawful manner? 
  • Confidentiality: Do you guard confidential information and prevent unauthorized access as you’ve agreed to with your customers?
  • Privacy: Do you collect, transmit, store, or delete personal data in compliance with your privacy policy?

Step 3: Design a Path to SOC 2 Certification

After you’ve audited your organization’s systems to find any gaps, map out a plan to remediate those gaps before submitting your organization for a SOC 2 audit.

Once you’ve defined your SOC 2 compliance processes, everyone in the organization needs to follow them—and follow them continuously- to ensure that your annual renewal audits will also succeed. 

Step 4: Perform a Self-Audit

After you’ve taken the necessary steps to create SOC2-compliant systems, you’ll want to perform a self-audit. This is to ensure that all your controls suitably prevent unauthorized access, meet the goals established in your compliance roadmap, and that you continue to implement the proper controls over time. 

Step 5: Have Your Official SOC 2 Audit

This final step is where you submit your organization for an official SOC 2 audit and get certified. Then, to maintain certification, you’ll need to plan for annual renewal audits to prove that your security controls and documentation are still in place and working optimally for your organization.

Is There Compliance for Data Centers from Other Frameworks that Overlap with SOC 2?

Yes, several data security standards can overlap with SOC 2, depending on your organization type. 

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) 800-53 NIST Data Center Security Standards dictate security and privacy controls for federal information systems and organizations.
  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) will apply to any health organization and its associates with protected health information (PHI) stored in a data center.
  • The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) will impact any organization that processes financial transactions and receives, stores, sends, or deletes credit card information.
  • The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27001 is the most widely accepted certification for information security, physical security, and business continuity. 
  • The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) is for organizations within the federal government and requires them to develop, document, and implement an information security and protection program.

How ZenGRC Can Support SOC2 Compliance For Your Data Center

Developed initially for technology service companies, SOC 2 has become an essential standard for every enterprise doing business online, particularly those with data centers. Failure to comply sets a bad precedent and shows your customers that they can’t trust you to secure their data.

Enterprise compliance can be a nightmare to manage manually. At that level, spreadsheets simply can’t handle the number of moving parts that go along with the many forms of compliance your business is responsible for. 

ZenGRC takes the worry out of SOC 2 certification and walks you through the framework step by step. 

Our “single source of truth” dashboard displays compliance gaps within your infrastructure and tells you how to resolve them. ZenGRC can save time and money by providing audit information in an easy-to-use format when hiring an auditor.

ZenGRC can support various compliance frameworks and cross-check objectives across multiple platforms, streamlining your compliance efforts and freeing your compliance team to work on other areas of the business.

If you’d like to see ZenGRC in action, contact us today for a free demo.