Information security compliance has become a key concern as businesses increasingly depend on cloud and colocation services to host and process sensitive data. The Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 standard is one of the primary compliance frameworks for data centers. A business that hosts data in a third-party data center should verify that its vendor complies with SOC 2.
But what is SOC 2 and how does the SOC 2 examination process work? Who conducts examinations and what are the criteria by which compliance is judged? This article explores SOC 2, the Trust Services Criteria, and the importance of data center compliance.
What Is a SOC 2 Audit?
A SOC 2 audit thoroughly assesses a service organization’s controls related to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. The audits must be conducted by an independent Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or accredited auditing firm.
The audit results in a SOC 2 report that attests to the organization’s adherence to the relevant Trust Services Criteria, providing assurance to customers and stakeholders that their data is being managed securely and responsibly.
What Are the SOC 2 Trust Services Criteria?
The Trust Services Criteria are the guiding principles for SOC 2 audits. They address five areas related to information security, privacy, and other relevant factors, which are:
- The Security criterion focuses on protecting information and systems against unauthorized access, disclosure, and damage. It encompasses controls like firewalls, intrusion detection, and access management.
- The Availability criterion ensures that the system, products, or services are available for operation and use. Controls include network monitoring, performance management, and disaster recovery planning.
- The Processing Integrity criterion pertains to the accurate, timely, and authorized processing of transactions and events. Controls include quality assurance, data validation, and error correction processes.
- The Confidentiality criterion addresses the protection of sensitive information from unauthorized access or disclosure. Controls include encryption, access controls, and data classification policies.
- The Privacy criterion relates to the collection, use, retention, and disposal of personal information in accordance with privacy policies and applicable regulations. Controls include privacy notices, consent management, and data minimization.
The SOC 2 auditee typically chooses the most relevant Trust Services Criteria for their business and clients, but the Security criterion is always included, which is why it’s known as the common criterion.
Why Does Data Center SOC 2 Compliance Matter?
Data center SOC 2 compliance matters for several reasons. Trust is perhaps the most important. A SOC 2 compliance report demonstrates that the data center follows industry best practices. This trust is essential for maintaining business relationships and attracting new clients.
Verifying SOC 2 compliance is often part of a data center user’s risk management process. Adhering to the SOC 2 criteria can minimize the risk of data breaches, service disruptions, and other security incidents, protecting the data center and its clients from financial and reputational damage.
Finally, SOC 2 compliance matters to data centers because it gives them a competitive edge over those that cannot demonstrate compliance. They can offer clients, particularly large companies with rigorous vendor selection processes, greater assurance of the security and reliability of their services.
SOC 2 Type I vs. SOC 2 Type 2
There are two types of SOC 2 reports:
- SOC 2 Type I evaluates the design of an organization’s controls at a specific point in time. It provides assurance that the controls are in place and designed effectively, but does not assess their operation over an extended period.
- SOC 2 Type II goes a step further, assessing controls’ design and operation over a specified period, usually six months to a year. A Type II report provides greater assurance of the ongoing effectiveness of an organization’s controls.
While a SOC 2 Type I report is a good starting point, many data center clients prefer the more comprehensive assurance a Type II report provides.
Are Your Data Centers SOC 2-Compliant?
SOC 2 allows data center operators to demonstrate their commitment to security, availability, and other critical factors. Any businesses hosting sensitive data in a cloud or colocation data center should verify that their chosen vendor can demonstrate SOC 2 data center compliance.