Updated: Mar 3
It's amazing how many products "automate SOC 2 compliance". They range from system monitoring, security configuration management, automated preparation of policies, audit support tools, compliance assessment workflows and GRC solutions that track, monitor and document your risk, control and compliance activities.
Many of these solutions are highly effective in improving security practices, simplifying compliance activities, and managing audits. None of them "automate SOC 2 compliance"!!
We're often asked what the best tools are. We also get questions wondering why we need to conduct audit procedures even though they are using these "automated SOC 2 compliance" solutions. We'll explain why it's impossible to automate SOC 2 compliance, and shed light on how these tools can help you.
What is SOC 2 "Compliance" and why can't it be automated?
SOC 2 contains 33 "Common Criteria" that reports over Security. The term "Compliance" in this context refers to demonstrating that you have control practices that are (a) implemented, (b) designed effectively, and (c) operating effectively (Type 2 only), to meet those defined criteria.
The criteria are NOT specific system security settings;
They are NOT limited to technical security practices; AND
The control activities to meet the criteria are NOT the same for every business.
Most SOC 2 reports include between 80-150 control activities to meet the criteria. That's a mix of general governance and management activities, technical security measures and configurations, defined and documented processes, and monitoring of the systems and processes.
The other thing to consider, is that the SOC 2 outcome people care about is the SOC 2 report(s) issued. That requires (a) being "compliant"; with controls to satisfy the criteria, (b) having an independent audit conducted by a CPA firm, and (c) preparing and issuing the actual SOC 2 report.
How does automation help achieve and issue SOC 2 reports?
The majority of tools claiming to automate SOC 2 compliance, are referring to a specific section of the SOC 2 criteria, or automating a part of the SOC 2 preparation process.
System scanning and monitoring tools: demonstrate the types of monitoring controls required to satisfy the "System Operations" and to some extent "Logical Access" criteria in SOC 2 through automation of the processes and audit evidence.
Security configuration management tools: demonstrate system configurations are set up and monitored to maintain effective technical security measures.
Automated document preparation tools: can generate baseline policies and documentation that can be leveraged for your security, risk, incident and change management (and more).
Compliance assessments: Can automate the assessment of your compliance, provide guidance on how to become compliant and prepare documentation ready for the audits and the final SOC report(s).
Governance, Risk, Compliance (GRC) tools: Track your control activities, risks, compliance requirements, and associated documentation to support audits and monitoring.
If you used all of the above types of tools, it would automate a lot of the requirements and steps involved in obtaining a SOC 2 report. But there's still a residual component of pulling it all together. You need to apply effective governance and management of the functions those tools assist with. What's the point having system logging, if the logs are never reviewed? You also need to tailor the way they are used to be appropriate to your specific environment. Technology is only as effective as the way it's used in practice.
The many tools out there can certainly help you in your pursuit of SOC 2. Hopefully this post has given you an insight into how tools can support the process, while setting realistic expectations of the role they play.
AssuranceLab's own technology; SOC 2 Readiness Assessment is a compliance assessment tool. It assesses your compliance, documents your control practices and guides you through the requirements for SOC 2. Our recommendation would be to start here - it's free and provides a holistic view of the requirements, tailored to your business and scope. It highlights where there are gaps that may be addressed by using other tools and solutions.