Headed to RSA in San Francisco? May 6-9 | Join us!

SOC 2 Checklist: Preparing for a SOC 2 Audit  

No matter how big or small your organization is, preparing for a SOC 2 audit can be overwhelming. We hear from many businesses that they don’t know where to start as they prepare for the SOC 2 process. To help you kick off your audit journey, we have created a comprehensive checklist that covers key areas of SOC 2 readiness and preparation to set your business up for success. 

Download the SOC 2 checklist PDF.

Understanding SOC 2 compliance  

Before diving into the checklist, it’s essential to have a solid understanding of what SOC 2 compliance entails. SOC 2, which stands for Service Organization Control 2, is both a voluntary compliance standard and a report on controls at a service organization level. The criteria included in a SOC 2 was developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). It assesses an organization’s controls and processes related to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.  

Meeting SOC 2 compliance standards helps organizations demonstrate their commitment to data privacy and security. It is especially crucial for businesses that handle sensitive customer data, such as Software as a Service (SaaS) companies including healthcare organizations. Achieving SOC 2 compliance not only demonstrates controls are in place and operating effectively to mitigate the risk of unprotected data, but also enhances an organization’s reputation and provides a competitive advantage compared to companies that do not conform to the SOC 2 standard.  

The SOC 2 audit preparation checklist 

Once you have a clear understanding of the SOC 2 framework, your organization can learn how to prepare for the audit. These steps will ensure that your organization is ready to undergo a SOC 2 audit:  

Conduct a risk assessment  

Start by conducting a thorough risk assessment to identify the potential threats and vulnerabilities that could impact your organization’s systems and data. This assessment will help you understand the areas that require the most attention and allow you to allocate resources effectively while better understanding which documents and evidence is needed to demonstrate compliance.  

Establish written policies and procedures  

Develop documented policies and procedures that outline the controls and processes you have in place. These policies should cover areas such as, but not limited to, infrastructure, service provided, people, access control, data management and classification, incident response, and change management, and other operations. Determine that these policies align with the Trust Services Criteria and are regularly reviewed and updated as needed to govern the processes associated with the corresponding controls.  

Implement strong access controls  

Access controls play a vital role in protecting the access to sensitive and restricted data. Ensure that you have robust user authentication mechanisms in place, such as strong passwords and multi-factor authentication. Regularly review and update user access privileges to ensure that only authorized individuals can access sensitive information.  

Protect data privacy and confidentiality  

Implement encryption and appropriate data handling practices to protect the privacy and confidentiality of data. This includes encrypting data at rest and in transit, implementing secure data storage practices, and regularly assessing and addressing any vulnerabilities in your systems.  

Develop and test an incident response and disaster recovery plan  

Establish an incident response and disaster recovery plan that outlines the procedures and protocols to follow in the event of a security incident, data breach, or environmental disaster. This should include steps for incident identification, containment, eradication, and recovery. Regularly test and update your response plan to ensure its effectiveness.  

Monitor and audit system changes  

Implement a robust change management process to track and review any changes made to your systems. This includes changes to configuration settings, software updates, and system patches. Regularly monitor, audit, and document these changes to ensure their security and effectiveness.  

Stay informed of regulatory changes  

Keep up to date with any changes to industry regulations and standards related to SOC 2 compliance. Adapt your controls and processes accordingly to ensure ongoing compliance.  

Continuously monitor and assess controls  

Regularly monitor and assess the effectiveness of your controls and processes. This can be achieved through regular management review, internal audits, vulnerability assessments, and security testing. Identify any gaps or weaknesses and take prompt action to address them.  

Engage a trusted third-party auditor  

To achieve SOC 2 compliance, you will need to engage a trusted, independent, third-party auditor who specializes in SOC 2 assessments. Select an auditor with extensive experience in your industry and a track record of high-quality SOC 2 reports. Collaborate closely with the auditor throughout the process to ensure a streamlined and efficient assessment.  

Best practices for engaging employees for SOC 2 compliance 

Successfully preparing for a SOC 2 audit goes beyond just completing the checklist. Because SOC 2 compliance is a team effort, it is essential that your employees are aware of the importance of compliance and their role in maintaining it. 

In addition to completing the items on your SOC 2 readiness checklist, here are some other ways your organization can create a culture of security and comply with the SOC 2 framework:  

Create an organizational chart 

To comply with SOC 2, your organization should have a defined and organized hierarchy to ensure clear reporting responsibility and accountability. The organizational chart should reflect the structure of the organization and indicate the roles and responsibilities of each department. 

Define roles and responsibilities 

Clear roles and responsibilities define specific duties that can lead to efficient and effective operations within an organization. Defining roles and responsibilities of employees within your organization increases the likelihood that they understand their responsibilities, including the policies and procedures they need to follow.  

Establish Segregation of Duties (SOD) 

SOD ensures that no single employee has complete control over a process. This reduces the risk of fraudulent activities or errors since it would require collusion for SOD violations to occur. Your SOC 2 compliance requires clearly documented SOD policies and segregation. 

Outline hiring & onboarding policies and procedures

 Your organization must have hiring and onboarding policies and procedures that comply with SOC 2 guidelines. The policies should consider background checks, reference checks, and ensure that new hires receive relevant training and are aware of the organization’s policies and procedures as well as complete annual training relevant to their job descriptions. 

Employee handbook & code of conduct 

An employee handbook outlines the organization’s policies and procedures, including expected workplace behaviors and key policies such as data security policies. A code of conduct, on the other hand, is a set of ethical and behavioral guidelines that employees must adhere to. SOC 2 requires these policies to be formal, documented, and acknowledged. 

Hold information security awareness training 

Every employee in your organization should receive proper training on information security awareness. The training should cover policies, procedures, and data security measures. Your SOC 2 compliance acknowledges information security awareness training as a vital component, so it must be effectively implemented and performed. 

Distribute policies to all employees of the organization 

Your organization must document policies and make them accessible to all employees to comply with SOC 2 guidelines. This ensures that every employee fully understands their responsibilities and can follow policies that protect the organization from inherent risks. 

Raise awareness and conduct other ongoing training activities 

Ongoing awareness training is essential to ensure that employees remain informed and updated on the organization’s policies and procedures. Awareness training is an opportunity to educate employees about new risks and communicate any policy changes. 

Partner with A-LIGN to achieve SOC 2 Compliance  

Preparing for a SOC 2 audit requires careful planning, diligent implementation of controls, and ongoing commitment to cybersecurity best practices. Protecting your organization’s data and fostering a culture of security will not only enhance your reputation, but also provide a competitive advantage in today’s digital landscape.  

By focusing on the areas outlined in our checklist, you can identify gaps in your compliance program and determine a suitable strategy to bolster your cybersecurity defenses. Take the first step in preparing for your SOC 2 journey today and download our SOC 2 checklist to pave the way for a secure and compliant future.