Startups that focus on moving, storing, and processing data need to ensure their systems are managed securely and efficiently. For data-driven startups, this security is an existential threat, as clients will leave if you can’t prove you have well-managed security.
One framework that has gained popularity to show clients you manage your security well is the Service Organization Control 2, commonly known as SOC 2.
Here’s why SOC 2 is a must for data-driven startups and some key aspects auditors focus on.
Trust is vital for startups that rely on data movement and processing. Given the risks of breaches causing financial losses and reputational damage, it’s crucial for clients, investors, and partners to have confidence in the utmost integrity and security of the managed data.
This is where SOC 2 comes in. A SOC 2 report signifies that a startup has not only established robust controls and met high standards for security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, or privacy of customer data, but it also showcases a commitment to proactive risk management. This commitment goes beyond the surface level and delves into the intricate mechanisms that safeguard both the startup’s operations and the sensitive data it handles.
In an era where cybersecurity threats loom large and privacy concerns are at the forefront, the SOC 2 report becomes a beacon of trust, illuminated by the expertise of auditors. This beacon shines through the competitive startup ecosystem, reinforcing the startup’s dedication to safeguarding data and inspiring confidence among clients and partners.
But what do auditors focus on when evaluating a data-driven startup for SOC 2 compliance? You can find plenty of generic articles and checklists online for the general SOC 2 approach, but here are a few things that we’ve noticed as part of our Virtual CISO practice that are of special importance for data-driven startups.
Auditors carefully examine the presence of a well-structured change management process, a central element of robust change control practices. Their primary objective is to verify that all modifications, spanning from infrastructure adjustments to code updates, adhere to a systematic procedure and can be effectively traced back to their origin.
This thorough assessment underscores the auditors’ commitment to establishing a comprehensive framework that surpasses mere change tracking. It encompasses the validation of the necessity of these modifications, meticulous documentation of potential impacts, and establishing secure authorization channels. By ensuring the implementation of these processes, auditors reinforce the startup’s ability to mitigate potential risks, prevent unauthorized alterations, and maintain the stability and security of its data environment.
This means that there should be
- A documented process for proposing changes.
- An approval mechanism for those changes.
- Testing procedures to ensure changes don’t introduce vulnerabilities.
- Logs and tracking mechanisms to monitor changes.
- Segregation of duties such that the person making the change is not the same as the person approving or testing the change.
Note: This can be challenging in very small startups, and auditors will sometimes accept an automated alert process to someone other than the person making the change to demonstrate control.
The Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) involves planning, creating, testing, and deploying software. Auditors meticulously assess each phase to ensure a structured approach that prioritizes security. This rigorous evaluation not only meets SOC 2 compliance but also fortifies the startup’s capability to safeguard sensitive data throughout the software development journey.
Elements auditors will be interested in include:
- Secure coding practices.
- Regular code reviews.
- Test environments that mirror production systems.
- Automated security testing during the CI/CD process.
- Periodic penetration testing against any web-facing applications/endpoints.
Startups leveraging Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers like AWS or Azure must showcase their control over these environments. Auditors focus on this control and secure configuration of IaaS environments, meticulously assessing the startup’s ability to manage and protect data within these platforms.
Some focal points are
- Secure access controls to the IaaS platform.
- Monitoring and logging of activity.
- Proper configuration of security groups and firewall rules.
- Use of encrypted storage and data transmission.
- Regular vulnerability assessments and patch management.
- Compliance with well-known configuration standards, like CIS.
For a data-driven startup, knowledge of its data is fundamental. Auditors closely evaluate the startup’s grasp of sensitive data – its types, locations, and lifecycles. This scrutiny ensures the startup’s capacity to protect and manage data aligns with SOC 2 compliance standards.
Auditors will look for
- An inventory of all sensitive data.
- Maps detailing where data resides and how it flows through systems.
- Documented processes for categorizing and labeling data based on sensitivity.
- Mechanisms to ensure that data at rest and in transit is encrypted.
Given that startups often collaborate with vendors, clients, or third parties, data sharing becomes inevitable. Auditors meticulously review how the startup shares sensitive data externally. The evaluation emphasizes the implementation of stringent controls to protect shared data, fostering trust and accountability in external partnerships while safeguarding the startup’s data-driven operations.
Auditors will assess
- Policies governing data sharing.
- Contracts and agreements that mandate external parties to maintain data confidentiality.
- Mechanisms to monitor and log external data access.
- Protocols for securely transmitting data to external entities, including encryption and tightly controlling who has access.
- Deleting data when it’s no longer needed is also critical.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security, ensuring that even if passwords are compromised, unauthorized access can be prevented.
Auditors will be interested in
- Implementation of MFA across all systems, especially for privileged access.
- Central management of MFA to ensure consistency and oversight, perhaps using tools like Duo, Okta, or Entra ID.
- Regular review and updates of MFA settings.
Properly managing permissions ensures that users have the least amount of access required to perform their tasks, reducing potential damage in the event of a breach. Points of interest include:
- A centralized system for managing user permissions.
- Role-based access controls.
- Regular audits of permissions to spot and rectify excessive or redundant access.
- Procedures for swiftly revoking access for departing employees or changing roles.
For data-driven startups, SOC 2 isn’t just a badge of honor—it’s a testament to their commitment to security and data integrity. As startups scale and handle increasing amounts of sensitive data, ensuring these controls are in place not only prepares them for successful audits but also builds trust with all stakeholders. The journey to SOC 2 compliance may seem daunting but with a clear understanding of what’s expected and why, startups can navigate this path efficiently, ensuring they stand out in the competitive data landscape.