How to Read and Review a SOC 2 Report
Updated: May 3
Khalilah Scott | Cybersecurity Risk Governance Specialist | May 2, 2023
If you are in cybersecurity or the GRC realm, SOC 2 reports or equivalant frameworks are some of the many reports or audits that you have engaged in. One thing that I found interesting about reading SOC reports is that many people within the cybersecurity or compliance space do not have a guide on what they should be looking for. I will attempt to break this down for everyone who has questions on how to read or review SOC 2 reports, so you do not have to struggle like I did in the begining.
First, let's dive into what a SOC 2 is for those who are not familiar with this framework. A SOC 2 (Service Organization Control 2) report is a comprehensive document that provides an independent evaluation of a service organization's controls and processes related to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. SOC 2 reports are used to provide assurance to customers, partners, and other stakeholders that a service organization has implemented adequate controls to safeguard their sensitive data and meet regulatory requirements.
Here are some key steps to help you read and understand a SOC 2 report:
Review the scope of the report: The scope of the report should be clearly defined at the beginning, and it should describe the specific services or systems that were evaluated during the SOC 2 audit. Understanding the scope of the report will help you determine whether the controls and processes covered in the report are relevant to your needs.
Understand the trust service categories: SOC 2 reports are based on the Trust Service Criteria (TSC) established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The TSC includes five categories: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. Each category is evaluated based on specific criteria related to the relevant control objectives.
Review the auditor's opinion: The auditor's opinion is a key part of the SOC 2 report, as it provides an independent assessment of the effectiveness of the service organization's controls. The auditor's opinion should be clearly stated and should indicate whether the controls were effective in achieving the relevant control objectives.
Unqualified opinion - (Great) issues/exceptions identified were minor or able to be remediated or fixed.
Qualified opinion - (Good) issues/exceptions identified were not able to be remediated or fixed.
Disclaimer opinion - (Bad) inability to issue an opinion based off of the limited service organization's systems.
Adverse opinion - (The Worst) and deems that the auditor can not place any reliance on the service organization's system.
Review the management assertion: The management assertion is a statement by the service organization's management that the controls are operating effectively. The assertion should be reviewed to ensure that management is taking responsibility for the controls and that they are confident in their effectiveness.
Review the control descriptions and tests of controls: The SOC 2 report should include a detailed description of the controls implemented by the service organization, as well as the results of the tests performed to evaluate the effectiveness of those controls. The control descriptions and test results should be reviewed to ensure that the controls are adequate and effective.
Review any exceptions or deficiencies: The SOC 2 report may include a list of exceptions or deficiencies identified during the audit. These should be reviewed to understand the nature and severity of the issues and any remediation plans that have been put in place.
Complementary Subservice Organization Controls (CSOCs) - These are controls that the management of the organization assumes will be implemented by the subservice organizations to ensure trusted services criteria.
Complementary User Entity Controls (CUECs) - User entity level controls that are to be implimanted by user entities.
Overall, reading and understanding a SOC 2 report requires careful attention to detail and a thorough understanding of the trust service categories and control objectives. It is important to review the report carefully to ensure that the service organization has implemented adequate controls to protect your sensitive data and meet your compliance requirements.