How to Conduct a SOC 2 Compliance Audit (with Checklist)
Prioritizing information privacy with SOC 2 certification proves to both customers and prospects that you’re willing to go the extra mile to earn their business and keep their data safe. But how do you get there? While only a third-party auditor can grant SOC 2 certification, we’ve created a checklist to help you take proactive steps toward compliance and pass your next SOC 2 compliance audit with flying colors.
Don’t stress if you feel overwhelmed by the time and resources needed to pass an audit and earn your SOC 2 certification. We’ve broken the process into four steps—preparation, proactive work, auditing, and maintenance—with clear objectives to help your team effectively and efficiently work toward SOC 2 compliance.
Prep for the SOC 2 Process
The first step toward prepping for the SOC 2 certification process is to choose which reporting method you’ll use to document SOC 2 compliant operations for an eventual audit. There are two options: type 1 SOC 2 reports are ideal for product or service-focused companies whose work affects or could affect how their clients report financial information. Type 2 better serves service-based businesses that hold or store information not directly related to finances.
My ideal SOC 2 reporting option is:
After choosing how you’ll report the results of your efforts toward SOC 2 compliance, it’s time to determine which of the five trust services criteria (TSC) you want to meet—and that an eventual audit will cover. Each TSC governs a unique set of internal controls over a different part of your security program. You may need to cover one or all of them, depending on your industry and services. If you aren’t sure which criteria to pick—in addition to security, which is mandatory—consider which ones have the best potential ROI or those you’re close to compliant in already.
Consult this article for a detailed breakdown of each control to help determine which ones you should address.
My SOC 2 report should cover the following TSCs:
With this framework in place, it’s time to estimate and prepare the resources you might need to access during the audit process. While you may not have the exact numbers or perfectly anticipate your needs at every stage, estimating them enables you to address them better when they do arise.
What questions should I ask to prepare for SOC 2 compliance?
Software – What systems and platforms do your governing controls use?
Tools and personnel – Which people keep your operations running smoothly, and what tools do they use?
Administrative assistance – How will you report your efforts, and who will be in charge of that documentation?
Funding – How is your certification process financially supported, and how much funding do you need to make it happen?
Executive support – Who will be the public face of your certification process, and how can they privately and publicly support your efforts?
Work Toward Compliance Before Auditing
Once the prep work is done, your real work begins. You’ll want as many controls and operations in order as possible before your SOC 2 audit, which measures whether those efforts are compliant—or not—with SOC 2 standards.
Here are a few ways you can proactively work toward SOC 2 compliance:
- Run a system assessment
Like a corporate security audit, system assessments provide a litmus test—like a baseline for what implemented controls and operations are up to SOC 2 standards and which should still be addressed. These evaluations examine which of the applicable trust controls (in the next step!) aren’t up to standards and what must be done to improve them, so you can pass a SOC 2 audit.
Any assessment you run should be catered specifically for your business. However, most businesses break them down into steps, which makes them easier to follow. For example, Missouri State suggests a four-step assessment process that you can easily apply to the pre-SOC 2 assessment process.
- Review and improve applicable TSCs you don’t yet meet
Your company falls short of passing one or more necessary trust services criteria (security, availability, process integrity, confidentiality, and privacy) needed to pass a SOC 2 audit, especially if this is your first attempt at certification. Review AICPA’s qualifications and follow their necessary steps to improve internal controls. Speaking of controls…
- Use compliance or internal audit software to implement controls one by one to work toward compliance
Internal audit software, like that offered by Resolver, helps jump-start and streamline your process by identifying and automating controls that must be up to SOC 2 standards to pass an audit. Internal controls usually fall under one (or more) of the above TSCs, so use this software to determine which controls are essential to your company as you narrow down your options.
- Pick a third-party auditor and audit framework based on your applicable trust criteria
Though third-party auditors help ensure a fair audit and SOC 2 certification process, not all auditors and audit frameworks are the same. Outline some must-haves, including which framework you want your audit to follow and how you want that third-party auditor to work with your team, to find your ideal partner.
Complete a SOC 2 Compliance Audit
Now that you’ve done your prep work and picked an auditor to help you succeed, here are some steps you should be prepared to take during your SOC2 audit to pass with flying colors.
- Complete a readiness assessment
The auditor usually provides readiness assessments to make sure your company is audit-ready before starting the actual inspection. This gives you one more chance to correct any non-compliant controls that may have squeaked past your pre-audit efforts.
- Cooperate with the auditor’s requests during auditing
The complexities of audits often require the auditor to examine various systems, processes, documentation, and operations. Get them what they need before they need it to streamline the process. Though you gathered anticipated resources during the prep phase, consider designating a relevant team member (likely from finance or compliance) to assist your auditor in ensuring they have the information they need for a timely audit.
- Document and verify SOC 2 compliance for certification
After completing the audit, use the auditor-provided SOC 2 report to document and demonstrate your compliance with the operational standards and apply for the official certification by sending the completed report to AICPA. If you don’t pass the audit, this report also outlines where specifically your operations fell short and how you must improve them to pass.
Monitor and Maintain SOC 2 Compliance
Finally, here are two ways to keep operations up to SOC 2 compliance standards and maintain your certification.
- Regularly monitor SOC 2 compliance requirements
Have your compliance department (or the same dedicated team member) review SOC2 requirements—at least quarterly—for any revisions or additions to the set of standards. You’re more likely to stay on top of these changes and maintain compliance by addressing them as needed instead of waiting for your annual re-certification audit. This keeps you from losing certification or slowing down the renewal process.
- Conduct an annual re-certification audit
Your trusted SOC 2 auditor can help you maintain SOC 2 compliance by running an annual audit to make sure systems and operations continue to meet standards, even as they change. It’s also wise to use the same auditor for certification maintenance since they understand your company and goals better than someone who would be new to your processes.
Ease the Certification Process with Resolver
If you need external support to work toward SOC 2 compliance, Resolver’s IT Compliance Software accelerates the end-to-end process of certification against required frameworks. Dramatically reduce certification efforts with the ability to test once and apply to multiple frameworks. Request your free demo today.