Jan 24, 2023

Eight SOC 2 Compliance Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Are you looking to achieve SOC 2 compliance and stay compliant for each new reporting period? Discover the top eight SOC 2 compliance mistakes and how to avoid them.

Even if a compliance standard is optional, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not critical to a business. This is particularly true for the SOC 2 standards, both Type 1 and Type 2. 

Whether you are a SaaS product provider or simply storing client information in the cloud, your business won’t scale well without this certification. You’ll need to provide evidence that you adhere to the best security and service quality practices for every new client or partnership. Plus, there may be a nagging feeling within your organization that you are not doing everything quite right. Having SOC 2 compliance in place solves both issues.

At the same time, achieving SOC 2 compliance and staying compliant for every new reporting period isn’t so easy. In this article, we’ve rounded up the most common mistakes SOC 2 compliance first-timers make and advice on how to avoid these missteps.

Poor audit management 

SOC 2 isn’t just about security. Its requirements span across your entire organization and involve IT, HR, sales, marketing, and other departments. Given that, strong management of the entire process is a must. 

So, first of all, you’ll need a project manager who coordinates the process across teams and communicates the value behind each policy detail. Meanwhile, appointing a team lead for each department involved will help enforce adequate policies in their teams. You’ll also need a documentation author—someone able to transform policies and the composition details of your system into neat documentation. 

And, of course, you should include C-levels in the auditing process. While establishing strong management of the process is useful, it is extremely challenging (if not impossible) to successfully undergo a SOC 2 audit without the upper management’s support. C-levels help you communicate and enforce changes across the entire company and provide the resources (including budgetary) needed to implement policies and controls.

On top of that, if you are undergoing a SOC 2 audit for the first time, hiring a compliance expert will help you avoid wasting time and money. You can either hire a consultant to guide you through the SOC 2 essentials and help you tailor policies and controls to your needs or outsource the entire process to an external team (including coordinating teams and communicating with auditors). Though it requires an upfront investment, a reliable compliance service provider pays off in the long run. 

For example, Talkatoo, a dictation software provider, achieved SOC 2 compliance within four months, which was possible because they hired a compliance vendor that explained what needed to be done and how. Cinchy, a data-centric startup, outsourced an external team for their gap and risk assessment, creation of the task list required to meet SOC 2, and to act as the first point of contact with auditors. Meanwhile, PROS is extremely grateful to their compliance service provider for explaining the reasoning behind each requirement: this knowledge helped their employees better comprehend new policies and their value.

Assembling a competent SOC 2 compliance team that will span your organization will also help you avoid the next mistake.

Not adapting the scope of your SOC 2 audit to your case 

Unlike PCI-DSS and other audits, SOC 2 is flexible, and its scope is unique to every organization. Out of the five Trust Service Principles, only the security one is obligatory. With the rest being optional, the option to add them to your compliance list or not depends on your business needs. 

For instance, availability, which translates into consistent service without downtime, is key if you are, for example, a data center. Meanwhile, processing integrity is fundamental for organizations where data integrity, consistency, and accuracy are paramount. Providers of financial, insurance, and healthcare services are on the list of such organizations. Meanwhile, if you don’t deal with personal data, chances are you need neither processing integrity, privacy, or confidentiality.

At the same time, identifying which of the remaining four principles of SOC 2 you need to comply with isn’t the only way to make your auditing journey more time- and cost-efficient. You should also consider the structure of your tech ecosystem and its components. Are all of its components subject to SOC 2 assessment in the first place? Or maybe some have already undergone the certification and needn’t be reassessed? Or, possibly, you have several offerings, each subject to different principles. In this case, having a separate SOC 2 report for each service will help you limit the scope of your audit.

Skipping a readiness assessment 

Unfortunately, taking shortcuts isn’t always the most efficient in the long run. For example, not performing a readiness assessment is one of those shortcuts that should be avoided, especially if you are undergoing your SOC 2 certification for the first time.

Basically, a SOC 2 readiness assessment is a rehearsal of the actual audit. Conducted by an auditing expert (internal or external), it is a final look at your policies and controls (and how they are documented). Its aim is to answer the following questions: 

Though this type of assessment is optional, it’s key to a successful SOC 2 audit completion. It allows you to detect and fix mistakes before the actual audit, thus saving you from the budgetary and reputational losses associated with a failed SOC 2 examination. 

Underestimating the significance of documentation

Proper documentation, which thoroughly and accurately describes your system - infrastructure, software, data, and controls - goes a long way toward achieving a successful audit. But if you are doing SOC 2 for the first time, you may not be aware of how much documentation you’ll need to provide to your auditor. Particularly for SOC 2 Type 2.

There are between 80 and 100 security controls alone, and there must be evidence for each. As a result, all the necessary documentation might run to 15-20 pages if you are a startup and exceed 25 pages if you are an enterprise. 

So, if you don’t want to be overwhelmed filling out forms when the assessment is already on the horizon or worse, to discover gaps in the documentation when the audit is in full swing, we strongly recommend you assign each part of the documentation to a corresponding team member. Plus, you can save time by following the example of GitLab: they make part of the information on how their system is built and works publicly available, so auditors can find answers to many questions online. 

Doing everything manually 

Achieving compliance is no mean feat. But with the rise of cloud computing and microservices, systems have become more complex than ever. As the amount of the required documentation increases, keeping error-free records and making timely amendments gets more challenging. 

Luckily, modern software solutions can help lift most of the error-prone, redundant manual work off your shoulders. They come in particularly handy with SOC 2 Type 2 assessments. Here’s what automation tools can do: 

However, you should choose automation solutions wisely. The wrong technology may even slow down the process.

Not synchronizing with other audits

Often the requirements of different compliance standards overlap. So be sure to take advantage of these similarities. 

For example, if you are undergoing SOC 2 along with, say, ISO 27001, it’s advisable to prepare for both in parallel to save your team from repeating tasks. Such a move allowed Cinchy to cut down the time required to complete both audits by 75%. 

Treating your SOC 2 compliance like a one-off

While you undergo SOC 2 Type 1 only once, the Type 2 audit is a recurring assessment. Unfortunately, many overlook this fact. 

Treat SOC 2 like school exams: you have to prepare for them quickly and pass them no matter what. The preparation is time- and cost-consuming, so failure isn’t an option. All too often, after a painful process of persuading an auditor they’re compliant, the companies receive the long-awaited compliance badge. But the euphoria is short-lived, and suddenly, there’s only a month or so left before the reassessment. 

A last-minute approach might work out for other optional compliance standards, but it doesn’t with the SOC 2 Type 2 assessment. First, it requires gathering evidence throughout the entire reporting period. Second, you don’t want to discover something hasn’t been working properly for the past few months a couple of weeks before the audit. Third, your system might update during the reporting period, and it’s important to make adjustments in time.

In an ideal world, your audit preparation never stops. It begins once you start planning the architecture of your future product and improves with every new reporting period based on the results of the previous one. 

Final thoughts 

SOC 2 compliance is a serious undertaking that requires considerable resources and effort. What’s more, just like any compliance standard, it doesn’t tolerate mistakes (well, at least, until the next reporting period.) Luckily, if you do it right, all your effort and investment will pay off with customers and partners that trust you. These tips will help in your successful SOC 2 journey. 

If you are ready to take the second step and build a SOC 2-compliant software solution (or transform an existing one based on SOC 2 requirements), look no further than Alpacked. On top of our experience in building top-notch software solutions, we excel at creating SOC 2-compliant products.

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