Five best practices for achieving and maintaining SOC 2 compliance

A crucial framework for technology companies and cloud-based organizations, SOC 2 is both a technical audit and a requirement that comprehensive information security policies and procedures be written and followed.

SOC 2 compliance

Overall, the goal of SOC 2 is to ensure systems are set up to prioritize security, availability, processing, integrity, confidentiality and privacy of customer data. SOC 2 compliance is evaluated by independent third-party auditors who assess a company’s ability to comply with these core principles.

SOC 2 was developed by the American Institute of CPAs and designed specifically for service providers that store customer data in the cloud, meaning virtually every SaaS company operating today should consider achieving SOC 2 compliance. Given how fast organizations are expanding in the cloud as well as the proliferation of cloud-based security threats, however, many have difficulty meeting the framework’s requirements.

Below are five tactical best practices for organizations struggling to achieve and/or maintain SOC 2 compliance:

1. Create a dedicated GRC function

It’s tempting to assign one employee to single handedly own and execute on the tasks of building SOC 2 criteria into all security processes and communicating with auditors, as such an approach can result in thoroughness and high work quality. However, relying on one employee to collect enormous amounts of evidence from across an entire organization and evolve all SOC 2 processes over time isn’t maintainable or scalable.

Instead, implement a more distributed, company-wide approach by building out a dedicated GRC function within your security team. Leverage engineering, operations and platform security teams to support audits, and solicit necessary information from key stakeholders across all departments for more streamlined SOC 2 processes, shortened onsite audit visits and help achieve successful examinations.

2. Monitor the known and unknown

To achieve SOC 2 compliance, it’s essential that organizations use a predefined process for monitoring unusual system activity, authorized and unauthorized system configuration changes, and user access levels. Things move quickly in cloud environments, so it’s particularly important to monitor for not just known malicious activity but also the unknown.

This can be achieved by baselining what normal activity looks like in your cloud environment so you can then determine what abnormal activity is. By establishing a continuous security monitoring practice – one that can detect potential threats coming from both external and internal sources – organizations can ensure that they and their customers will never be left in the dark about what’s happening within their cloud infrastructure.

3. Set up anomaly alerts

In today’s threat landscape, it’s no longer a question of if a security incident will occur but rather when. Each time an incident occurs, organizations must demonstrate sufficient alerting procedures so that if any unauthorized access to customer data takes place, they can prove their ability to respond and take corrective action in time. To combat the problem of too many false positive alerts, create a process unique to your environment and risk profile that sounds the alarms only when activity deviates from the norm.

This will help ensure you’re alerted the second something happens and that you can take swift action to prevent data loss or compromise. Additionally, note that SOC 2 requires companies to set up alerts for any activities that result in authorized exposure or modification of data, controls or configurations; file transfer activities; and privileged filesystem, account or login access.

4. Implement detailed audit trails

To identify the root cause of an attack and determine a productive remediation plan, organizations require access to deep, contextual audit trails. Make sure your audit trails are as detailed as possible and provide the necessary cloud context (i.e., the who, what, when, where and how of a security incident) so you can make quick and informed decisions about how to respond – especially during an active attack.

Effective audit trails should give organizations deep insights into the modification, addition or removal of key system components; unauthorized modifications of data and configurations; and breadth of attack impact and the point of origin.

5. Make forensic data actionable

Monitoring for suspicious activity and receiving real-time alerts is vital, however organizations also need to be able to take corrective action on relevant alerts before a system-wide situation occurs that exposes or compromises critical customer data.

Also, driving down Mean Time To Detect (MTTD) and Mean Time To Remediate (MTTR) are key for complying with SOC 2. Leverage host-based monitoring to make sure your data is as actionable as possible and that it’s positioned to help you make the most informed security decisions quickly. More specifically, an organization’s forensic data should be able to provide visibility into an attack’s point of origin, its path of travel, its impact on various parts of a system, and what its next move may be.

These security best practices can help organizations achieve SOC 2 compliance, stay out of trouble with auditors, and compete in a crowded SaaS market. However, remember that SOC 2 compliance standards change every year.

It’s therefore imperative that organizations continuously learn and improve their SOC 2 examination processes and remain flexible so they can positively adapt to changes in the nature and scope of SOC 2 operations. When security postures and operating procedures are perpetually reinforced and optimized, organizations can evolve to view SOC 2 compliance as a net business enhancer, both internally and also externally as a result of proactively sharing security learnings with customers.

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