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What is the Difference Between a SOC 2 Audit and a SOC 2 Certification?

When exploring SOC 2 and the various other certifications out there, one may wonder what the difference is between an audit/examination and a certification. In this article, we will outline both of these to help answer this common question.

SOC 2 Audit

A System and Organization Controls (SOC) 2 examination, also called an audit, is a process where controls at a service organization are tested against criteria defined in the Trust Service Criteria principles: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. During a SOC 2 examination, an independent auditor from a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) firm will examine evidence at the organization to validate whether controls developed by the organization, that are relevant to the selected principles, such as security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, or privacy, are in place and functioning. The security criteria is a required principle. Depending on the type of organization and system, all or some of the four other principles can be selected for a SOC 2. The timeline of this process can vary depending on the needs of the organization and the length of the period which has been selected for testing.

SOC 2 Certification

When it comes to certification, SOC 2 is not technically a certification, rather an audit or examination that provides assurance in the form of a written report that controls at the organization are in place and functioning. This is often a misconception when it comes to SOC 2. An example of a certification would be HITRUST e1, i1, and r2 reports. These reports are issued by HITRUST and provide 1 year, 1 year, and 2-year certifications respectively.

Following the conclusion of the SOC 2 audit, a report is provided that notes whether the organization is compliant with SOC 2 criteria and if there were any findings within the testing performed by the independent auditor. Depending on the level and criticality of findings, a modified report may be required. This SOC 2 report is what is called a “restricted use” report where it can only be provided to the organization’s customers, board members, and other users of the organization audited system. A SOC 3 report can be provided to a broad range of users since it does not specifically contain the organization’s controls and results of testing.

In summary, when it comes to SOC 2, independent auditors issue an opinion on the system which is different from a certification. Some organizations may refer to their SOC 2 compliance as a form of certification, but technically, it’s an audit report on compliance rather than a certification. By successfully completing a SOC 2 audit and obtaining a favorable report, the organization can demonstrate to users that the service organization has implemented effective controls to protect their systems and data.

For more information, be sure to visit our System and Organization Controls (SOC) service page and don’t hesitate to contact Dave Hammarberg, CPA, CFE, CISSP, GSEC, MCSE, CISA with further questions regarding SOC 2 reports and our services.

About the Author

Christopher Fieger

Chris joined McKonly & Asbury in 2019 and is currently a Manager with the firm. He is a member of the firm’s System and Organization Controls (SOC) & Technology consulting practice, performing SOC 1, SOC 2, and SOC 3 engagements, as… Read more

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