Organizations cannot afford to leave their clients’ trust to chance. They face complex pressures from customers, regulators and cyberattacks to implement appropriate controls within their environments to protect customer and proprietary data. For many organizations, SOC reports play an integral role in demonstrating an organization’s level of commitment – exemplifying how it will gain their customers’ trust. A SOC report helps to show an organization has identified the key threats and vulnerabilities that pose a risk to its operations and customers, and has implemented an internal controls framework to address those risks.
What is SOC?
A System and Organization Controls (SOC) attestation is a signed report produced by an independent Certified Public Accountant (CPA). The SOC report includes the overall processes and controls as described by the organization and the auditor’s assessment of the controls, at a point in time or over a period of time.
Organizations rely on SOC reports to demonstrate to customers, vendors, and stakeholders that they have the appropriate policies, procedures, and controls in place to manage and mitigate the key threats and vulnerabilities that pose a risk to their environment. Companies are asked by their clients to provide them with a SOC report to prove:
- Its internal controls environment is implemented and operating effectively such that the financially relevant systems can be relied upon; or
- Its internal controls environment is implemented and operating effectively as it relates to the security, confidentiality, availability, processing accuracy or privacy of data.
Since organizations can potentially be held liable for inaccurate financial reporting, security breaches, disclosure of confidential or private information, system downtime, and incorrect processing of transactions, SOC reports have become a method for organizations across a wide range of industries to show that these risks has been considered and addressed.
Are You In SOC Compliance?
While possessing a SOC attestation can demonstrate commitment to your customers with having the appropriate level of controls in place to prevent, detect or correct issues, it’s very important to remember that there is no such thing as “SOC compliance”. A SOC report is an attestation by an independent auditing firm that the appropriate controls for managing risk exist and/or function as intended. The report should only be utilized based on the review date or review period and not subsequently.
SOC 1 vs SOC 2 vs SOC 3
There are three different SOC reports available, all of which have a different focus and use. They do not represent a progression (e.g., a SOC 2 report isn’t “better” than a SOC 1 report), but instead address different risks and needs for the organization.
A SOC 1 report follows the guidance outlined in the Statement on Standards for Attestation Agreements, which focuses on the internal controls that have an impact on the financially relevant systems and reporting. The main goal of a SOC 1 report is to ensure the controls identified by the organization are in place and/or operating effectively to appropriately address the risk of inaccurately reporting financials.
A SOC 2 report can be used by a number of organizations that provide some sort of service (e.g. SaaS, colocation, data hosting, etc.) to another. While it addresses risks associated with the handling and access of data, it isn’t a cybersecurity assessment that evaluates specific technical configurations (although a SOC for Cybersecurity report does). A SOC 2 report focuses more on how an organization implements and manages controls to mitigate the identified risks to the different parts of an organization.
The SOC 2 audit testing framework is based on the Trust Services Criteria (TSC), which are used to identify various risks (points of focus) an organization should consider addressing. Based on the TSCs the organization selects to be in-scope, the third-party compliance and audit firm evaluates whether the organization has the appropriate policies, procedures and controls in place to manage the identified risks effectively.
There are five Trust Services Criteria. The first criteria, Security, must be included with every SOC 2 report and is referred to as the “Common Criteria”.
- Processing Integrity
A SOC 3 report is coupled with a SOC 2 report and is a scaled-down version of the SOC 2 report. The report is intended for a broader public audience including prospective customers and stakeholders. The SOC 2 report provides greater detail regarding the organization’s controls and operations. A SOC 3 report is effectively a summary of the SOC 2 report that provides less technical information, making it suitable for an organization to share publicly on its website or to hand out to prospective customers.
Understanding SOC Report Types
SOC 1 and 2 reports vary by two distinct types referred to as “Type 1” or “Type 2.” A type 1 attestation is a point in time or “snapshot” of controls designed and implemented as of a specific date. A type 1 assesses whether or not those controls are appropriate for the risks facing the organization, but does not provide an evaluation of how effective they are over a period of time. That’s because it’s only looking at the controls as they exist at that given date.
On the other hand, a type 2 attestation assesses whether the controls were designed and operating effectively over a specified period of time The compliance and audit firm typically issue type 2 reports for durations of three, six, nine, or twelve months. Type 2 reports covering a shorter duration provide less value to the readers of the report regarding the operational effectiveness of the controls in place. Understandably, a Type 2 report takes longer to complete and provides a more thorough evaluation of operational performance.
Elevate Your Compliance with ALIGN
As a licensed CPA firm with more than 20 years of experience when it comes to SOC reports, A-LIGN has the people, process, and platform you need to help your organization reach the summit of your potential as it pertains to compliance. Our strategic approach to compliance can help you meet the risks over a broad range of frameworks, making it easy to meet multiple standards without starting from scratch ahead of every audit.