Service Organization Control (SOC) audits exist to demonstrate a business or other organization’s readiness in areas like cybersecurity, risk management, data management and other areas. These certifications, especially from SOC 2 audits, are highly sought-after because they show how dedicated your organization is to the safety and security of user data. These audits, conducted by certified SOC auditors, are intended to be a thorough and rigorous examination of your capabilities and how they promote guiding principles of security, privacy and confidentiality.
Because of the licensing and authorization structure of the SOC auditing ecosystem, however, it is sometimes difficult to understand the capabilities of an auditor. Even now, some firms advertise SOC 2 audits that take as little as 2-4 weeks!
This article attempts to dispel the myth of a rapid SOC 2 audit, and why working with trained and dedicated security firms supports better cybersecurity practices.
What is a SOC 2 Audit?
SOC 2 audits are examinations conducted by authorized organizations to ensure that a given entity is, for the purposes of certification, adhering to compliance requirements. This is important for many organizations because, while SOC 2 isn’t a required compliance framework for any specific industry, it is an important distinction that your organization is meeting strict and rigorous cybersecurity, governance and risk management goals.
Broadly, SOC 2 covers 5 Trust Criteria Services, covering different aspects of these necessary security goals. These criteria are:
- Security: Assessments that your IT systems are protected against unauthorized access or that data is protected against unauthorized disclosure.
- Availability: Demonstrations that information in your IT systems is readily available for business processes that align with organizational goals.
- Processing Integrity: System data processing is “complete, valid, accurate, timely and authorized” to meet business or technical objectives.
- Confidentiality: This Shows that your organization can maintain the confidentiality of any user data as required, from the first collection to removal.
- Privacy: Personal information remains private at any and all points in its journey through your technical and business lifecycle.
A SOC 2 audit is therefore an assessment of at least one, if not more, of these Trust Criteria. At a minimum, all SOC 2 audits include a Security assessment.
Regardless of how in-depth or extensive your audit is, the process itself is involved, and can include the following stages:
- A Readiness and Evidence Collection stage, where the auditing body begins to gather information about your organization, your technical systems and your data infrastructure.
- Audits almost always include on-site Fieldwork with on-hand assessments and tests. With COVID-19 being what it is, some security firms have had to be creative with how they accomplish this, but by and large, this is still the case. The stage can take days or weeks, depending on the depth of the audit or the size of your systems.
- Reporting and Certification follow only after the above assessments are completed to the satisfaction of the auditor, and only then if you have successfully completed any suggested remediation of security gaps or non-compliant systems.
- SOC 2 also requires re-certification every 12 months, which means repeating the process annually.
Audits are not a simple process, and for good reason: they are responsible for guaranteeing that any organization bearing the SOC seal of certification meets their requirements.
Who is Authorized to Conduct SOC 2 Audits?
Perhaps surprising to some, SOC 2 was originally conceived by the American Institute of CPAs, which is ostensibly a professional organization for financial professionals. As such the AICPA requires that SOC 2 audits be conducted by certified and licensed CPA firms.
This face presents a few problems, however, chiefly that CPA licensing does not include extensive or continuing education on topics like cybersecurity, risk management or proactive prevention. Likewise, since the primary requirement for auditing is a CPA license, it is relatively easy for smaller companies just starting in the cybersecurity or financial industries to advertise that they offer SOC 2 audits that only take a fraction of the time that they should.
The truth of the matter is that there isn’t a worthwhile SOC 2 audit that only takes 2 weeks–unless the auditor is simply checking boxes and generating reports. More often than not the preparatory work for an audit can take months, with an average of 3-9 months for a complete first-time audit depending on the depth of the assessment and the Trust Service Criteria assessed.
While that might seem like a steep time frame, the truth is that in many cases businesses and other organizations are looking to achieve their SOC 2 certification because they aren’t readily familiar with all the different facets of cybersecurity as a whole. New threats emerge daily, and complex cloud, hybrid and on-premise systems make managing user data a challenging proposition.
That challenge is why qualified auditors looking out for the best interest of their clients spend so much time gathering data, performing critical on-site and penetration tests and providing consulting and remediation support: security is a major undertaking. Furthermore, that undertaking doesn’t stop after the initial assessment. It’s important to see SOC 2 as a long-term commitment, ideally with an equally committed auditor who can help you better understand the best security, governance and risk practices for your organization as a whole.
Why Should I Hire a Dedicated Security Firm for SOC 2 Audits?
This isn’t to say that every CPA offering auditing services isn’t qualified to do so–far from it. Instead, what we want to emphasize is that cybersecurity and compliance are holistic approaches to a much larger problem than just checking boxes off a list. It is a commitment that you will make for the lifetime of your business.
It’s often worthwhile to invert the selection process. That is, there are CPAs who offer technical assessments and SOC 2 audits. There are also dedicated security firms that have also received their CPA license for the specific purpose of performing those audits.
Of course, there are several immediate benefits to hiring a dedicated security firm, including:
- Deep Security Expertise: Security firms focus on cybersecurity first–that is, they know and have worked with, the challenges that modern IT faces. They provide solutions to those problems, do research to stay ahead of those problems and hire experts whose jobs are to face these problems.
- Compliance Knowledge: Likewise, many security providers also incorporate compliance services in one or more frameworks. Some might work in the government space, others in healthcare, and others in finance. Not all compliance regulations are the same but practiced compliance experts can help streamline audits in ways that non-experts can’t–without sacrificing quality.
- Automation and Reporting: Modern compliance is built on automation. Stone Age tools like email and spreadsheets aren’t going to help when it comes time to maintain a regular SOC 2 audit calendar. Security experts that know the lay of the land can speed up the minutiae of compliance audits while still providing top-level service.
Lazarus Alliance: Professional Cybersecurity and SOC 2 Auditing
Lazarus Alliance is an established and dedicated cybersecurity and compliance firm with decades of combined experience in the field. We have spent years serving clients in diverse industries like healthcare, finance, federal government contracting, DoD contracting and SOC 2 auditing. We are also a licensed public accounting firm with licensed CPAs, putting security first to help businesses like yours get the most out of a real, substantial SOC 2 audit.
Do you want to learn how Lazarus Alliance can be your long-term partner for SOC 2 audits and beyond? If your organization is interested in proactive cybersecurity and compliance, call 1-888-896-7580 to discuss your organization’s compliance needs.