SOC 2 Compliance Checklist: 38 Questions to Prepare for a SOC 2 Audit

Updated: Jul 29


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Questions to Prepare for before a SOC 2 Audit

Data is the lifeblood of a business. Businesses that handle sensitive customer data must be equipped with controls to protect it properly and avoid data breaches. The best way to properly safeguard customer data is through meeting SOC 2 compliance standards.


But the question to ask here is- whether your organization is ready for SOC 2? Here are some helpful questions, recommendations, and best industry practices to help you determine whether your organization is prepared for a SOC 2 audit.

What is a SOC 2 report?

SOC 2 is security compliance developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The service organizations receive and share their SOC 2 reports with clients to demonstrate that their business’s non-financial reporting controls are in place to secure the service provided.

To achieve SOC 2 certification and meet the latest SOC 2 report framework standards, organizations must implement Trust Service Criteria (TSC). TSC is a framework for designing, implementing, and evaluating information system controls. Trust Service Criteria include security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.

Security

Safeguarding information and systems against unauthorized access and disclosure of details.

Availability

Information and systems should meet your organization's service objectives mentioned in SLAs.

Processing integrity

Systems should perform their functions thoroughly and accurately to meet the organization's objectives.

Confidentiality

Encrypt the data, so no one uses, retains, or discloses clients' personal data or information.

Privacy

No system or automation tool should not disclose and use an individual's personal information.

Why does an organization need a SOC 2 report?

The first question to ask yourself before going for a SOC 2 report is why does your organization need one? If you are a SaaS provider, SOC 2 is a gold standard for your organization. A SOC 2 audit will help you understand the performance of your security controls and spot potential issues.

Being SOC 2 compliant indicates that an organization maintains a high level of information security. The rigorous compliance requirements, which are tested in an on-site audit, ensure that sensitive information is being handled responsibly.

The answer to the question of why SOC 2 can be answered by the following reasons. Most if not all organizations are positively influenced by a SOC 2 report. Here are some benefits of a SOC 2 report:

Protects brand reputation

A SOC 2 report helps organizations demonstrate how effective their data security controls are. SOC 2 certification shows customers that the organization has taken all necessary measures to prevent a data breach. This, in turn, helps build good credibility and enhances the brand's reputation in the market.

Gain a competitive edge

Having a SOC 2 certificate gives your business an edge over competitors. Achieving and maintaining SOC 2 compliance proves that your infosec posture is in place and shows your customers that you're committed to keeping their data safe.

Attracts more customers

Stronger trust directly translated to long-term customers. A SOC 2 certificate will act as evidence for your customers and thereby attract more prospects which will boost your sales.

Who performs SOC 2 examinations?

Another imperative question to ask is- who performs the SOC 2 examinations? A SOC 2 audit must be performed by a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), specifically one specializing in infosec posture.

Here are a few qualities you should look at while choosing an auditor for your organization’s SOC 2 certification:

Reputation

A SOC 2 audit must be performed by an AICPA affiliate or a CPA. Organizations must only engage with an independent SOC 2 auditor or assessor to conduct an audit and receive a SOC 2 report.

Experience

Choose a CPA who has performed similar SOC 2 audits and assessments and worked with similar companies in the same industry.

Communication style

Many auditing firms deliver excellent work and match your financial goals, but all of that goes in vain when there's miscommunication. Hence, choose an auditing firm that fits your communication style.

Knowledge of tech stack

Choose an auditing firm that understands the tools you use. It will enable them to test the controls comprehensively and help you collect the right evidence with reduced effort.

Approach

The thumb rule is to understand how an auditor approaches the process. Try and understand how the auditor will execute the audit and how the auditor will interpret the policies and controls beforehand.

Team availability and escalation SLA

Check if the auditing team has enough resources to process the audit. To minimize the bill of goods, make sure you ask the auditing firm the below questions:

  • What's your average SLA on response time?

  • How is your escalation process?

How to prepare for SOC 2 audit?

SOC 2 audit can be a long-winded process; it consumes time and resources. There is an entire systematic process that organizations must follow to successfully complete SOC 2 report. This guide will help you break down the entire SOC 2 process into 5 steps which start from selecting the type of report to conducting the final assessment.

Select a report type

Before starting the SOC 2 report process, decide what type of report your organization needs, a Type 1 or Type 2 report?

The primary distinction between the two is that a Type 1 report typically evaluates if the system controls are correctly designed, whereas a Type 2 report says if those controls function as intended.

A few questions that may include:

  • Has your organization had a SOC 2 examination before?

  • Does your organization have a dedicated team to develop and implement policies and procedures?

  • Does your organization have designated employees to implement industry standards?

  • Do your employees understand their roles and responsibilities when implementing controls?

  • Do you have a system in place to communicate system changes?

If your answer to most of these questions is a "no," then you should probably start with SOC 2 Type 1 report.

Define Scope

Plan and strategize systematically to define the scope. People, location, policies and procedures, and the technology stack your organization uses can impact the security of sensitive data. Start by determining which of the Trust Service Criteria (TSC), such as security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy, you want to include in your scope.

A few questions that may include:

  • Which of the five Trust Service Criteria (TSC) will you test?

  • What's the system in scope?

  • What's the actual timeline of the audit?

Test Controls

When preparing for a SOC 2 audit, developing the organization's internal controls is equally important. The internal controls will help in protecting information security and compliance risk management. These controls include:

  1. Description and design: Write a complete description for each internal control you want to test and how it impacts the user operations. A few questions that may include:

  2. What all test controls do you want to test?

  3. How will those controls affect user operations?

  4. Do these controls rely on third-party software? If yes, what controls do you have in place to prevent data breaches?

  5. Why and how are these controls important for users?

  6. Risk assessment: Risk assessment is a description of all the risks involved in implementing all the controls. It is performed to evaluate potential threats in the system and remediate them to protect the users against such threats.

  7. Do you know the risks associated with your system and controls?

  8. Have you identified the impact of these risks on your system?

  9. Do you have a remediation plan to mitigate risks?

  10. How often do you perform a risk assessment to identify these threats?

  11. How do you handle environmental risks?

  12. Physical and logical access controls: Define who can access different files and folders in your system and add necessary permissions to protect the data. Some useful questions may include:

  13. Are there any physical, logical restrictions and controls in your organization?

  14. Do you have relevant access controls in place?

  15. Have you set permissions to users on roles and responsibilities?

  16. Trust Service Criteria (TSC): SOC 2 compliance is based on Trust Service Criteria (TSCs). These were established by the Assurance Services Executive Committee (ASEC) of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The TSCs- Security, Availability, Processing Integrity, Confidentiality, Privacy- are used to evaluate and report the suitability of the design and operating effectiveness of controls relevant. For example:

  17. If an organization stores data containing personal information, then security and privacy, TSCs are a must include.

  18. If the organization offers storage as a service, then security and availability TSCs are a must include.

1. Security

Security controls are designed to include an array of risk-mitigating solutions such as endpoint protection and network monitoring tools. The security trust criteria help in protecting information throughout its lifecycle in an organization. It protects the data from

  • Unauthorized access

  • Unauthorized disclosure

Some useful questions may include:

  • How do you monitor and prevent intrusions and cyber-attacks?

  • Do you have a list of procedures to handle incidents?

  • Do you update your applications regularly?

  • How do you handle issues in your systems?

  • Did you test and document the security procedures?

  • How do you address unauthorized access?

2. Availability

The availability of trust criteria determines whether the organization's employees, clients, and partners can rely on its systems to do their work. It addresses whether systems include controls to support and maintain system operation, such as performance monitoring, sufficient data backups, and disaster recovery plans.

Some useful questions may include:

  • Are your services available 24/7?

  • Have you restricted your services from some people?

  • Do you have backup and recovery procedures in place?

  • Do you have an action plan to handle service issues that affect your availability?

3. Processing integrity

Processing integrity focuses on data accuracy and the completeness of the end-to-end process to ensure applications function without delay, error, omission, or accidental data manipulation.

For example, a hospital system deals with the patients' blood types - to ensure the information entered stays accurate across all the systems. Data should be accessed quickly, securely, and accurately.

Some useful questions may include:

  • Do your processing systems provide data to the users accurately and timely?

  • Do you have a backup plan to handle system failures and issues? If yes, how?

  • Do you have the relevant procedures in place to remediate errors?

4. Confidentiality

Confidentiality evaluates how organizations protect confidential information – limit access, storage, and use. It ensures that only authorized individuals can view sensitive information like legal documents or Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

Some useful questions may include:

  • How do you handle and process confidential data?

  • Is your data protected all the time?

  • Have you assigned permission levels to avoid unauthorized access?

5. Privacy

Privacy assesses how, why, and when an organization shares information like name, address, email, or any other personal information.

Some useful questions may include:

  • Is your data retention policy well tested and documented?

  • How are you processing and classifying personal data?

  • Do you store any personal data? If yes, where do you store it and how?

  • How do you protect customers' personal information (PI)?

Conclusion

AICPA does not provide clear guidelines with respect to the controls an organization must have in place to be SOC 2 compliant. What works for an organization might not work for others and vice versa.

We at Scrut recommend you be aware of your industry's common legislation and security regulations and ensure you comply with them.

Start your compliance process with us!

Scrut Automation is a smart and radically simple Governance, Risk, and Compliance automation platform for growing startups and mid-market enterprises. With Scrut, Compliance teams can reduce ~70% of their manual effort in continuously maintaining compliance towards SOC 2, ISO 27001, GDPR, PCI DSS, and privacy laws like HIPAA, GDPR, and CCPA. Schedule your demo today to see how it works.


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