Achieving SOC 2 as a framework ensuring that your organization can be trusted with sensitive data is a critical step, especially for organizations that grapple with the pressing concern of safeguarding sensitive data from the never-ending cyber attacks. After all, in today’s interconnected world, businesses, whether they’re B2B, B2C, or else, are entrusted with an expanding volume of critical data, ranging from customer financial data to intellectual property, and this trust is neither unconditional nor easily gained. In this atmosphere, learning SOC 2 controls as requirements to comply with the SOC 2 criteria appears as a prerequisite to cybersecurity.
SOC 2 compliance represents a formidable framework comprising five Trust Service Criteria (TSC) and a total of 64 individual criteria. To meet these SOC 2 requirements and criteria effectively, organizations need to implement distinct systems, policies, procedures, and processes, collectively referred to as SOC 2 controls. To shed light on these requirements and provide actionable insights, the essentials for this compliance have been categorized into five different groups.
The Key Focus of SOC 2 Controls & Compliance
When clients and potential partners request a SOC 2 report, their primary concern usually revolves around security. The following are the pivotal questions for most individuals, and they are precisely the queries that a SOC 2 audit, along with its resultant report, is meticulously designed to address.
- Is your system genuinely secure?
- Can you ensure the safety of my data?
- Are there vulnerabilities that could result in breaches?
- Is your organization fully aligned with the latest security best practices?
To provide comprehensive answers, the audit process typically assesses 80-100 controls of SOC 2—a comprehensive and intricate list, extending beyond the scope of most Trust Services Criteria (TSCs). It’s crucial to understand that these controls don’t represent rigid mandates dictated by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA.) Instead, they encompass the measures and protocols you establish to meet the AICPA’s specified requirements.
SOC 2 Controls List
In the contemporary landscape, your clientele seeks assurance that you have the necessary security and privacy measures in place to safeguard their information. Much like any established security compliance framework, SOC 2 primarily revolves around instilling the peace of mind your customers desire. However, when delving into SOC 2 controls, you might find yourself pondering where to initiate this process.
SOC 2 compliance security control primarily revolves around thwarting the efforts of external unauthorized entities seeking access to or disclosure of information. These security controls encompass robust operational procedures related to security and compliance, as well as safeguards against a spectrum of threats, spanning from man-in-the-middle attacks to malevolent individuals physically breaching your server defenses. When implementing controls that fall within this category, it’s crucial to strategize on how to avert potential harm to systems that could:
• Jeopardize the availability, integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of data.
• Hamper your business’s capacity to accomplish its goals.
To ensure compliance with SOC 2 controls, auditors may scrutinize elements such as two-factor authentication systems and web firewalls. They also delve into factors indirectly influencing cybersecurity and data security, such as the policies governing the hiring of personnel for security roles. When safeguarding information, your controls should factor in risks like:
• Individuals bypassing segregation of duties.
• System breakdowns.
• Unauthorized data theft or removal.
• Unauthorized seizure or extraction of system resources.
Privacy pertains to any information classified as sensitive. In order to align with SOC 2 privacy requirements, your organization must effectively communicate the policies to anyone whose data you hold.
When your organization gathers sensitive information, it must adhere to these essential principles:
- Obtain consent from all involved parties.
- Restrict the collection of private information to a necessary minimum.
- Gather this information through legal means.
- Use it solely for the purposes it was originally collected.
- Once the personal information has fulfilled its intended purpose, the service organization is obliged to securely dispose of it.
The privacy criteria emphasize the following aspects:
- Notice and communication of objectives: Clearly articulating to individuals why their information is being collected.
- Choice and consent: Ensuring individuals understand how you collect, use, retain, disclose, and dispose of their information, empowering them to make informed decisions about their data.
- Collection: Explaining to individuals how the information supports the purpose for which it is being requested.
- Use, retention, and disposal: Imposing limitations on how personal information is employed, retained, and ultimately disposed of.
- Access: Providing individuals with a means to access the personal information collected, allowing them to review or request corrections to it.
- Disclosure and notification: Informing individuals about the parties with whom their data is shared and promptly notifying them in case of data breaches.
- Quality: Ensuring the collection and maintenance of accurate, complete, and relevant personal information.
- Monitoring and enforcement: Vigilantly overseeing compliance, including addressing inquiries, complaints, and disputes related to privacy.
In essence, privacy hinges on transparency with customers. To put it simply, complying with privacy controls entails elucidating to individuals the reasons behind your desire for their information.
You must ensure that confidentiality controls are in place to safeguard sensitive information from unauthorized access, such as preventing competitors from gaining access to valuable trade secrets. This may seem similar to applying privacy controls, but it’s important to note that privacy pertains specifically to personal data, whereas confidentiality encompasses a broader spectrum of information. Rather than solely focusing on securing information, the emphasis within the confidentiality category lies in securely sharing it.
Confidential information stands apart from private data, as it often needs to be shared with various parties to be of value. For example, consider health data—it’s highly sensitive, yet it must flow seamlessly between hospitals, pharmacies, and specialists to ensure effective healthcare.
Within this category, your responsibility is to protect all data that has been designated as confidential, including personally identifiable information (PII), intellectual property, trade secrets, and financial records. During audits, your measures for safeguarding this information throughout its entire lifecycle, from creation or collection to eventual disposal, will be thoroughly assessed.
Confidentiality requirements typically encompass:
- Implementing strict user access limitations.
- Governing how data can be utilized.
- Establishing defined retention periods for information.
- Restricting data disclosure to authorized individuals only.
Processing Integrity Controls
Certain controls within the PI series pertain to an organization’s capacity to delineate the data required to fulfill its objectives. Conversely, others characterize processing integrity in relation to inputs and outputs. Consider this example: when a customer submits an order via an e-commerce platform, the desired output is the prompt delivery of the ordered product.
It is imperative that outputs are exclusively disseminated to their designated recipients, with any issues promptly identified and rectified.
Are the service organization’s systems securely backed up? Is there a comprehensive recovery plan in place to address potential disasters? Does a robust business continuity plan exist that can be swiftly enacted in response to unforeseen events or security incidents? The formalized processes of risk assessment, risk management, and risk mitigation play pivotal roles in pinpointing threats to data centers and upholding high availability standards.
Controls within the A1 series necessitate that organizations:
- Proactively forecast system capacity.
- Identify and proactively mitigate environmental threats.
- Delineate the specific data that warrants backup measures
Common Practices for SOC 2 Controls
SOC 2 compliance is a rigorous process designed to demonstrate a company’s commitment to safeguarding sensitive data and ensuring the highest levels of security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.
While some of these controls are expected, such as technology systems crafted to safeguard data and systems, those new to the world of SOC 2 controls may find it enlightening that the requirements encompass more. This includes administrative policies and procedures, vendor management, risk assessment, security training, as well as employee onboarding and offboarding, among various other aspects.
In this exploration of SOC 2 compliance, we will delve into the common practices and essential steps that organizations undertake to meet the stringent requirements of this framework.
Password Security Assessment
How robust is your password security infrastructure? Are your employees consistently adhering to your password policies, assuming you have them in place? Achieving compliance with this requirement often hinges on the implementation of a password management solution, such as 1Password or LastPass, to enforce stringent password protocols.
Security Awareness Training and Verification
Have your employees received comprehensive security awareness training encompassing your security protocols, phishing countermeasures, best practices, and protocol adherence? Most importantly, can you substantiate this training? While SOC 2 controls don’t prescribe specific security protocols (given the unique nature of each business), it does mandate documented proof of consistent policy implementation, employee acknowledgment, training execution, and ongoing adherence tracking.
This necessitates the development of well-defined security protocols, formalized training programs, and a robust mechanism for monitoring and ensuring employee compliance.
Automated Employee Access Termination Procedures
Do your systems automatically restrict access for departing employees? Or do lingering accounts pose vulnerabilities? SOC 2 security audits require the establishment of controls to prevent employee departures from evolving into security vulnerabilities.
Physical Access Control Measures
What mechanisms do you employ to deter unauthorized physical access to your facilities? These controls encompass solutions such as secure door locks, employee ID card requisites, and access-restricted security gates.
Incident Response Framework
How does your organization recuperate from significant security incidents? How do you restore system functionality, communicate effectively with stakeholders, investigate root causes, and implement permanent solutions? To fulfill these requirements, you must institute comprehensive policies, procedures, and systems to facilitate incident recovery. Moreover, you must demonstrate an annual commitment to enhancing these policies by conducting simulation exercises.
Multi-Factor Authentication Implementation (MFA or 2FA)
How secure are your system logins? Can you confidently assert that only authorized personnel gain access? Multi-factor authentication (MFA or 2FA) represents a fundamental control mechanism employed to bolster login security and substantiate that access remains confined to authorized individuals.
How Do I Know What Controls I Need to Meet the Trust Services Criteria for My SOC 2 Report?
In regard to attestation engagements, the parameters you establish delineate the trust services criteria that come under audit scrutiny. Consequently, these parameters serve to both define the criteria and identify the controls encompassed by the audit. It’s essential to note that for each trust services criteria considered within the audit’s scope, meticulous attention must be given to addressing all stipulated criteria.
Comprehensive Coverage: The Security Criteria
The security criteria play a pivotal role in shaping the contours of your attestation, as it encapsulates the foundational set of criteria. Consequently, any attestation engagement must encompass all security-related requirements. This pivotal focus on security explains why SOC 2 audits are a popular choice for discerning customers seeking insights into an organization’s cybersecurity management practices.
Expanding Horizons: Exploring Business Value Across Criteria
While the security criteria are paramount, a holistic perspective necessitates the exploration of the broader business value embedded within other trust services categories. Delving into these additional categories amplifies the spectrum of criteria and the corresponding controls that must be adhered to and implemented.
This multidimensional approach ensures that your organization not only demonstrates its commitment to security but also acknowledges and addresses the multifaceted aspects of trustworthiness demanded by customers and stakeholders.
The journey to SOC 2 compliance demands meticulous consideration of controls that encompass password security, security awareness training, employee access termination, physical access controls, incident response frameworks, multi-factor authentication, and much more.
By embracing these controls and criteria, organizations not only instill confidence in their customers but also strengthen their overall resilience in a rapidly changing digital world. In this blog, we covered SOC 2 controls and common practices to help you on your journey towards security maturity and resilience.