What Is SOC 2 Compliance?

5 min. read

SOC 2 (System and Organization Controls) is a compliance and privacy standard that specifies how organizations should manage customer data and related systems to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability. The standard is designed for service organizations — cloud providers, software as a service (SaaS) vendors, and other organizations that provide web-based services.

The SOC 2 standards are based on the Trust Services Criteria, a set of principles and controls developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). To achieve SOC 2 compliance, an organization must undergo an independent audit and demonstrate that it has implemented appropriate processes to protect its systems and data.

SOC 2 Explained

SOC 2 (System and Organization Controls) is an auditing framework developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) that assesses an organization's controls related to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. These five areas, known as the Trust Services Criteria, form the principles of SOC 2.

SOC 2 applies to service organizations that store, process, or transmit sensitive data on behalf of their clients or user entities. These organizations provide services such as cloud computing, data storage, SaaS, infrastructure as a service (IaaS), managed IT services, and other services within industries where data security, privacy, and system reliability are critical.

Industries and SOC 2

Healthcare: Organizations handling protected health information (PHI) must ensure the security, confidentiality, and availability of that data in compliance with regulations like HIPAA.

Financial Services: Banks, payment processors, and other financial institutions are responsible for safeguarding financial data and ensuring the integrity and availability of their systems.

E-commerce: Companies processing customer data, including payment information, need to maintain strong security and privacy controls.

Telecommunications: Providers managing communication infrastructure and services must ensure the availability and security of their systems.

Human Resources and Payroll: Organizations that process employee data, including payroll and benefits information, must protect the privacy and confidentiality of this sensitive information.

While SOC 2 compliance isn’t mandatory, many clients and user entities may require their service providers to undergo a SOC 2 audit to demonstrate their commitment to maintaining security controls and protecting sensitive data.

Why SOC 2 Compliance Is Important

SOC 2 compliance is important for several reasons, as it provides assurance over an organization's controls related to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. Achieving SOC 2 compliance demonstrates a commitment to maintaining strong internal controls and safeguards for user entities' data and services.

Builds Trust and Credibility

A SOC 2 report, issued by an independent auditor, signals to user entities and stakeholders that the organization is committed to maintaining the highest standards for its controls. This helps build trust and credibility in the organization's ability to securely manage and protect sensitive data.

Risk Mitigation

SOC 2 compliance ensures that the organization has implemented appropriate controls to identify, assess, and mitigate risks related to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. By adhering to the Trust Services Criteria, the organization can proactively address potential vulnerabilities and reduce the likelihood of security incidents and data breaches.

Regulatory Compliance

Many industries and jurisdictions have specific regulatory requirements related to data protection and privacy, such as GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA. Achieving SOC 2 compliance can help organizations demonstrate that they’ve implemented the necessary controls to comply with these regulations, reducing the risk of fines, penalties, or legal action.

Competitive Advantage 

In today's data-driven business environment, organizations that can demonstrate a strong commitment to data protection and security are more likely to win customers, partners, and investors. SOC 2 compliance can provide a competitive advantage by signaling that the organization takes its responsibilities seriously and can be trusted with sensitive information.

Improved Security Posture

The process of achieving SOC 2 compliance involves a thorough assessment of the organization's controls, policies, and procedures. This allows the organization to identify areas for improvement, implement best practices, and continuously monitor and update its controls to maintain a strong security posture in the face of evolving threats.

Streamlined Vendor Management

For organizations that rely on third-party vendors, SOC 2 compliance can simplify vendor management and due diligence processes. By obtaining a SOC 2 report from vendors, organizations can have greater confidence in the security and reliability of the services provided, reducing the need for extensive audits or assessments.

SOC 2 Requirements

SOC 2 requirements are based on the Trust Services Criteria, which provide a comprehensive set of controls that organizations need to implement and maintain.

Security Principle

Access Controls: Implement strong authentication mechanisms, role-based access controls, and periodic access reviews to ensure that only authorized users can access systems and data.

Network Security: Maintain secure network architecture and segmentation to minimize the potential attack surface.

Intrusion Detection and Prevention: Deploy firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) to monitor network traffic and prevent unauthorized access.

Vulnerability Management: Regularly conduct vulnerability scans, penetration tests, and risk assessments to identify and remediate potential security weaknesses.

Physical and Environmental Security: Implement physical access controls to facilities and data centers, monitor and surveillance systems, and environmental controls such as fire suppression and climate control.

Incident Management: Establish procedures for detecting, analyzing, and resolving incidents, including communication with affected parties and post-incident review.

Security Awareness Training: Provide regular security awareness training to employees to educate them on potential threats, security best practices, and organizational policies.

Availability Principle

System Monitoring: Continuously monitor system performance and availability to identify potential issues and respond to alerts in a timely manner.

Capacity Planning: Assess system capacity requirements, plan for future growth, and maintain sufficient resources to handle anticipated workloads.

Backup and Recovery: Implement backup and recovery procedures to ensure the timely restoration of systems and data in the event of a disruption or failure.

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery: Develop and maintain business continuity and disaster recovery plans to ensure the organization can continue to operate and recover from disruptions.

Processing Integrity Principle

Input and Output Validation: Implement processes to validate the accuracy, completeness, and authorization of data inputs and outputs.

Data Processing Controls: Ensure that data processing is accurate, complete, timely, and authorized, with error detection and correction mechanisms in place.

Quality Assurance and Testing: Establish testing and quality assurance processes to verify that systems are functioning as intended and meeting user requirements.

Confidentiality Principle

Data Classification: Define and implement data classification policies to identify sensitive data and apply appropriate protection measures.

Encryption: Use strong encryption mechanisms to protect sensitive data both in transit and at rest.

Secure Data Handling: Establish policies and procedures for securely storing, transmitting, and disposing of confidential data, including access controls and monitoring.

Privacy Principle

Privacy Policies: Develop and maintain comprehensive privacy policies that outline the organization's practices for collecting, using, storing, and disclosing personal information.

Notice and Consent: Provide clear notice to individuals about the collection and use of their personal information and obtain their consent when required.

Data Minimization: Collect and retain only the minimum amount of personal information necessary for legitimate business purposes, and securely dispose of it when no longer needed.

Compliance with Applicable Regulations: Ensure that the organization's privacy practices and controls comply with relevant data protection and privacy regulations, such as GDPR or CCPA.

In addition to these specific requirements, organizations undergoing a SOC 2 audit must establish a strong control environment, including policies, procedures, and internal communication mechanisms that promote a culture of security and compliance. What’s more, organizations need to continuously monitor and update their controls to maintain SOC 2 compliance as threats and regulatory requirements evolve.

Who Can Perform a SOC Audit?

A SOC audit can only be performed by a licensed certified public accountant or a CPA firm that has the necessary qualifications, expertise, and experience in auditing and reporting on controls at service organizations. Auditors must possess a deep understanding of the relevant SOC framework, be it SOC 1, SOC 2, or SOC 3, and be well versed in the associated Trust Services Criteria.

To perform a SOC audit, the auditor must adhere to stringent requirements.

Licensing and Professional Qualifications

The auditor must be a licensed CPA or a member of a CPA firm that is authorized to perform attestation services. They must also have the appropriate professional qualifications, such as relevant certifications (e.g., Certified Information Systems Auditor or CISA) and experience in IT auditing and internal controls.


The auditor must be independent of the organization being audited, with no conflicts of interest or other relationships that could compromise their objectivity and integrity. This ensures that the audit results are unbiased and reliable.

Knowledge of the SOC Framework

The auditor must possess a thorough understanding of the specific SOC framework (SOC 1, SOC 2, or SOC 3) and the associated Trust Services Criteria. This includes knowledge of the requirements for each type of SOC report (Type 1 and Type 2) and the relevant auditing standards, such as the AICPA's Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE).

Industry Expertise

The auditor should have experience in auditing organizations within the same industry or sector as the service organization being audited. This enables the auditor to better understand the unique risks, regulatory requirements, and industry-specific controls relevant to the organization.

Risk Assessment and Audit Planning

The auditor must conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to identify the key areas of focus for the SOC audit. This includes understanding the organization's control environment, assessing the design and operating effectiveness of controls, and developing an audit plan that addresses the specific risks and requirements of the SOC framework.

Reporting and Documentation

The auditor must prepare a detailed SOC report that includes an opinion on the effectiveness of the organization's controls and adherence to the Trust Services Criteria. This report should be supported by sufficient evidence and documentation to provide a basis for the auditor's opinion.

SOC 2 Audit Checklist

A SOC 2 audit evaluates an organization's security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy controls based on the AICPA's (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) Trust Services Criteria. The following checklist provides an outline of the key areas that need to be addressed during a SOC 2 audit:

Organization and Management

  • Organizational structure and governance
  • Risk assessment and management processes
  • Internal and external communication policies

Human Resources

  • Background checks and employee screening
  • Security awareness training and education
  • Disciplinary processes and termination procedures

Information Systems

  • Inventory and classification of information assets
  • Access controls and authentication mechanisms
  • Change management processes for hardware, software, and configurations

Network and Infrastructure Security

  • Network architecture and segmentation
  • Firewalls, intrusion detection, and prevention systems
  • Vulnerability scanning and penetration testing

Physical and Environmental Security

  • Physical access controls to facilities and data centers
  • Monitoring and surveillance systems
  • Environmental controls, such as fire suppression and climate control

System Operations

  • Monitoring and alerting of system performance and events
  • Incident response and management processes
  • Backup and recovery procedures

Change Management

  • Policies and procedures for system development and maintenance
  • Testing and quality assurance processes
  • Approval and documentation of changes

Data Privacy and Confidentiality

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

  • Business continuity planning and testing
  • Disaster recovery procedures and infrastructure
  • Backup and redundancy of critical systems

Vendor and Third-Party Management

  • Vendor risk assessment and due diligence
  • Contractual agreements and service level agreements (SLAs)
  • Monitoring and review of vendor performance

It's important to note that the specific controls and requirements for a SOC 2 audit will vary depending on the organization's unique circumstances and the scope of the audit. Engaging a qualified auditor to perform a gap analysis or pre-assessment can help identify any areas requiring improvement before the actual SOC 2 audit takes place.

SOC 1 Vs. SOC 2

SOC 1 and SOC 2 are both types of System and Organization Controls (SOC) reports, which are designed to provide assurance over an organization's internal controls. However, they differ in their objectives, scope, and intended audience.

SOC 1 (Type 1 and Type 2) reports focus on controls relevant to financial reporting, while SOC 2 (Type 1 and Type 2) reports assess controls related to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.


SOC 1: The primary objective of a SOC 1 report is to evaluate the effectiveness of an organization's internal controls over financial reporting (ICFR). This report is designed to provide assurance to user entities and their auditors that the financial data processed by the service organization is accurate and reliable.

SOC 2: The objective of a SOC 2 report is to assess an organization's controls related to one or more of the AICPA's Trust Services Criteria: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. This report is intended to provide assurance to user entities and other stakeholders that the service organization is maintaining appropriate controls to safeguard their data and ensure the quality of the services provided.


SOC 1: The scope of a SOC 1 report is limited to controls that have a direct impact on the accuracy and reliability of financial reporting. This scope may include controls related to transaction processing, data accuracy, and segregation of duties.

SOC 2: The scope of a SOC 2 report is broader, encompassing controls related to the Trust Services Criteria. Depending on the specific criteria selected, SOC 2 may involve controls related to data security, system availability, data processing integrity, data confidentiality, and privacy.

Intended Audience

SOC 1: The primary audience for a SOC 1 report includes user entities, particularly their financial auditors, who rely on the service organization's financial data as part of their own financial reporting.

SOC 2: The intended audience for a SOC 2 report includes user entities, their management, and other stakeholders who require assurance about the service organization's controls related to the Trust Services Criteria.


A data owner is a stakeholder responsible for the classification, protection, use, and quality of a dataset. Data owners need to consider the interests of the people in the organization who are using the data, as well as those of the data subject (i.e., the individual whose data is being processed). In the context of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), data subjects are legally viewed as the ultimate owners of their own personal data — giving them the right to request a copy of the data, or its deletion.

The concept of data ownership may be challenging for some in the organization, as there could be different interests at play with regard to a specific dataset or data initiative. However, identifying data owners helps to ensure accountability, define policies, create trusted data, and eliminate redundancies in data management. The data owner doesn't necessarily have to be the person who created the data or the department that uses it most frequently.

Privacy policies are legally binding documents that outline how an organization collects, processes, stores, shares, and protects personal data. These policies inform users about the types of data collected, the purpose of data collection, data retention periods, and the rights of data subjects. Privacy policies also detail the organization's compliance with data protection laws and regulations, such as GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA. By providing transparency and establishing user trust, privacy policies play a critical role in ensuring responsible data management practices and legal compliance.

Access control models are frameworks that define how permissions are granted and managed within a system, determining who can access specific resources. They guide the development and implementation of access control policies. Common models include:

  • Discretionary access control (DAC), where resource owners decide who can access their resources
  • Mandatory access control (MAC), where a central authority regulates access rights based on clearances and classifications
  • Role-based access control (RBAC), where permissions are granted according to roles within an organization
  • Attribute-based access control (ABAC), where access is granted based on a combination of user attributes, resource attributes, and environmental factors