The SOC 2 standard for assessing cybersecurity was established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). This means only independent Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and licensed CPA firms are qualified to conduct SOC 2 compliance audits and attestation for service organizations. The auditor or service auditor must be fully independent, with no ties to the organization they are auditing.
A proper SOC 2 audit evaluates a service provider’s controls for security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy — the five Trust Services Criteria of the SOC 2 standard. The audit report documents the operating effectiveness of controls over a while.
The SOC 2 audit process provides transparency around controls, and demonstrates a service provider’s commitment to cybersecurity for its customers. While complex, an adequately planned audit helps organizations automate and optimize compliance long-term.
What Is SOC 2?
SOC 2 is a framework for determining whether a service organization’s controls and practices effectively safeguard the security of its customer and client data. The AICPA created SOC 2 in response to growing data privacy and security concerns.
SOC 2 is one of three AICPA frameworks for third-party service organizations. The other two are:
- SOC 1, which governs internal controls affecting the enterprise’s financial reporting and statements. Are the controls well designed? Do they work, helping the organization to meet its financial goals?
- SOC 3 covers the same subject matter as SOC 2, but the report generated is aimed at a more general audience. SOC 3 reports are often used for marketing purposes to demonstrate compliance with SOC 2, and are not as thorough as a SOC 2 report.
Audits for all three reports use a set of AICPA auditing standards known as Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 18 (SSAE-18).
There are two types of SOC 2 reports:
- Type I, usually an organization’s first SOC 2 report, assesses whether your data security and privacy controls are properly designed for your objectives. Type I takes a “snapshot-in-time” approach, setting a baseline for future audits.
- Type II reports assess the effectiveness of your cybersecurity controls over a period of time, usually six to 12 months. The Type II report comes after a Type I report.
How SOC Audits Work
SOC auditors must comply with AICPA professional standards. They must also adhere to AICPA guidance on planning, executing, and supervising audit procedures, and submit to a peer review attesting to their credentials and the validity of their audits (that is, whether the auditor uses accepted auditing standards).
CPA organizations may employ IT and cybersecurity professionals to help them prepare for a SOC 2 audit, but a CPA must issue the final report.
- Which five Trust Services Criteria (TSCs) apply to your organization?
- Which SOC report do you need: Type 1 or Type 2?
For each Trust Services Criteria included in your audit, the auditor will examine your controls. This will include collecting evidence to evaluate whether the controls are working as they should. Documents the auditor may examine include:
- Organizational charts
- Asset inventories
- Onboarding and off-boarding processes
- Change management processes
If the auditor finds problems or gaps, no worries: You’ll have an opportunity for remediation. Findings can, however, drive up audit costs. Hence your best bet is thorough preparation using a SOC 2 audit checklist.
Who can perform SOC audits?
Navigating a SOC 2 audits requires expertise and specific qualifications. Only CPAs and firms recognized by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) can do this work.
What does a SOC 2 auditor do?
A SOC 2 auditor evaluates whether a service organization’s controls protect customer and client data in alignment with the SOC 2 framework. This framework is designed to ensure robust data-safeguarding practices. Auditors adhere to AICPA auditing standards, specifically Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 18 (SSAE-18).
SOC auditors, regulated by the AICPA, follow professional standards and AICPA guidance throughout the audit process. This involves defining the audit scope, assessing the organization’s applicable Trust Services Criteria (TSC), and determining whether a Type I or Type II report is most appropriate. This comprehensive process is crucial to assure the effectiveness of an organization’s controls and its adherence to SOC 2 standards.
How do I choose a SOC 2 auditor?
When selecting a CPA or firm to perform your SOC 2 audit, evaluate their experience, qualifications, reputation, pricing, and cybersecurity expertise. Seek out auditors with proven experience conducting SOC 2 attestations within your industry. Confirm they have key certifications in information security and risk management.
Assure that the pricing structure is transparent and fits your budget. Prioritize auditors with knowledge of current cybersecurity trends and threats. Create a checklist covering these factors and methodically assess potential partners.
The goal is to choose an auditor or audit firm that enhances compliance, optimizes controls, and builds long-term security resilience. A meticulous selection process results in a smoother audit and a partnership that adds strategic value.
Checklist for Evaluating SOC 2 Auditors
Here are key criteria to consider when selecting a SOC 2 auditor.
- Assess the auditor’s track record, emphasizing experience in conducting SOC 2 audits.
- Look for industry-specific experience to assure a nuanced understanding of your organization’s challenges.
- Verify that the auditor holds relevant certifications, particularly in information security and risk management.
- Confirm the status of the auditor as a licensed CPA firm, assuring compliance with professional standards.
- Request and thoroughly review references from previous clients.
- Gauge the auditor’s reputation, professionalism, and performance based on insights from others who have undergone SOC 2 audits.
- Consider the auditor’s pricing structure. Be sure it aligns with your organization’s budget.
- Seek transparency in the pricing model to avoid unexpected costs during the audit process.
- Evaluate the auditor’s expertise in cybersecurity. Confirm their awareness of current cybersecurity trends.
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