Any company that processes or stores personal consumer data has likely encountered the Service Organization Control Report (SOC 2) and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). These two sets of requirements can appear similar at first glance, but several key differences that set the two apart.

Neither standard is required by law, but non-compliance with either one has considerable consequences. For example, if your business isn’t PCI DSS-compliant, you run the risk of having your credit card processing privileges revoked. A company without an up-to-date SOC 2 report might lose business to rivals that can demonstrate that their customer data is safe, which a SOC 2 report helps to do.

It’s important for your company to understand the differences between these two standards, and to know which aspects of each are required for your overall risk management.

So what’s the difference between SOC 2 and PCI DSS compliance?

What Is a SOC 2?

SOC 2 reports are comprehensive reviews of your organization’s data security controls, according to standards determined by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). There are several kinds of SOC reports—most notably the SOC 3, which uses the same trust services criteria as the SOC 2. The SOC 2, however, contains more sensitive data and is meant to be confidential; SOC 3 reports are designed to be certified and shared.

The trust services criteria of the SOC 2 are derived from five key principles: 

  • Security: All procedures and security controls included in an organization’s defense against data breaches should be effective and tested regularly. 
  • Availability: Systems and information should be accessible to staff and clients in accordance with the company’s purpose and goals. 
  • Processing Integrity: System processing must meet the objectives of the company and user entities while remaining both accurate and efficient. 
  • Confidentiality: Any information deemed confidential should be appropriately shielded from access by unauthorized parties. 
  • Privacy: Any information that is connected to an individual’s identity should be both stored and disposed of securely. 

The most important of these principles is security; the rest can be examined on a case-by-case basis. While preparing for a SOC audit, companies should consider which of these principles matter most to their clientele. Ask yourself if non-compliance with each principle would harm the relationship with your client. If so, that principle will need to be addressed accordingly as part of the SOC 2 audit.

What Is the PCI DSS? 

The PCI DSS was developed by the major credit card providers to ensure that cardholder data is protected by companies that process credit card information. There are 12 primary PCI compliance requirements. Those primary requirements are further divided into 281 sub-requirements, which may or may not apply to an organization based on the volume of transactions it performs annually and how those transactions are processed. Companies must validate their compliance with PCI DSS to process transactions, and any part of their network which is found not to be PCI compliant in the event of a breach could lead to heavy monetary penalties.

What’s the Difference Between PCI DSS and SOC 2?

The primary difference between PCI DSS and SOC 2 is that the former only applies to businesses that process payment card data; the latter applies to any company that processes or stores personal consumer information of any kind. So some overlap does exist between the two standards, but SOC 2 applies to a far larger number of organizations than PCI DSS.

Another difference is the kind of professional who is allowed to conduct each audit. SOC 2 examinations can only be conducted by CPA firms, while PCI DSS compliance is proven by either an audit from a qualified security assessor (QSA) or a self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ). PCI DSS assessments must also be accompanied by an attestation from the bank that performs the company’s financial transactions. 

Finally, SOC 2 allows much more flexibility in adhering to its trust service principles. A company striving to meet SOC 2 compliance standards can tailor its business and security strategies to meet its specific needs—for example, by choosing which of the five trust service principles to include in a SOC 2 audit. 

In contrast, the PCI DSS standard is far more prescriptive about what a business must do to secure payment card transactions. Future PCI DSS updates might offer some new flexibility, but nowhere near what the SOC 2 standard allows.

Whether your company needs to adhere to SOC 2 or PCI DSS requirements—or both—it’s critical to examine the standards you must meet to achieve compliance. These requirements were put in place to protect all parties, and to ensure your organization is providing the highest possible level of security for your customers’ sensitive data.