Though SOC 2 and ISO 27001 certifications have their differences, they’re more similar than one might think. For example, both are significant for data safety—a concern that’s increasingly becoming a top priority for B2B organizations.

As a result of the fear from cybersecurity threats, businesses are taking heed by demanding vendors prove themselves trustworthy. That’s where a Service Organization Control 2, or SOC 2, report or an ISO report can come into play. 

In this guide, A.J. Soria, Head of Information Security Compliance and IT at Vendr, explains all things SOC 2 and ISO certification. Additionally, A.J. discusses what certification businesses should focus on, and how they can best approach the certification journey from end to end. 

Here's what we'll cover:

What is SOC 2?

A SOC 2 certification is given by a third-party auditor. The certification is based on a series of reports on anything from cybersecurity, confidentiality, risk management, and privacy. A SOC 2 audit report determines how well an organization conforms to a set of criteria known as Trust Service Criteria, or TSC, and established by the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants). 

“SOC 2 is a way of attesting to the controls you have from a security, privacy, and compliance perspective. Especially if you’re an organization that sells applications or services” Soria said. 

Getting SOC 2 certified through an external audit gives organizations the peace of mind they need when doing business with you from a security perspective. Organizations want assurance that as a service provider, you’re at least meeting minimum regulatory requirements.

SOC 2 audits are divided into two types:

  • Audit type 1 - Carried out over a day
  • Audit type 2 - Carried out over a period of time with a minimum of six months

The end results of a SOC 2 certification determine whether an organization is compliant with TSC rules according to the trust service categories that were selected. 

How businesses can navigate SOC 2

Without a strong initial objective, businesses can easily mismanage the process and end up with a bigger headache than necessary. It’s the reason why the initial planning phase of either certification shouldn’t be overlooked. 

“As long as you, from a security and compliance perspective, build your programs in a way that you’re keeping security at the forefront, you’re not going to have a huge gap analysis to deal with because you’re already building toward that,” Soria said. 

Taking into account where your business operates from and where your client base is is one of the biggest factors into what certification you should pursue first. Soria said, 

“If you’re predominantly bringing in North American customers and you interact with North American entities, it’s best to start with SOC 2 because there’s more modularity. You can add confidentiality or other add-ons.”

What is ISO 27001?

ISO 27001 compliance certification is the international standard when it comes to data security measures. Set by the International Organization for Standardization, it’s designed to test for and assess information security. The certification is issued by an accredited certification body. 

What’s so important about an ISO 27001 certification? It’s one of the best ways for organizations to ensure customer data is being handled safely. ISO helps protect three main areas: accessibility, confidentiality, and processing integrity. 

Part of managing ISO 27001 certification is ensuring the company has a security program known as ISMS, or Information Security Management System. Once in place, its set of security controls can help keep your sensitive data from being compromised. 

ISO is increasingly relevant for businesses in the European Union that need to comply with HiPAA and GDPR measures because both privacy laws specifically apply to the area. 

How businesses can navigate ISO 27001

The process of getting your ISO certification is different. But not by much.

“When you expand to other markets like the EU then pursue your ISO certification. Soria said. “The reverse is true if you’re operating out of North America. That’s the natural evolution of this process.”

Part of navigating the ISO certification process is to set and keep realistic goals. It’s important to understand the scope of the process and the resources it will take to finalize it. In other words, start with a well thought out plan.   

“If you go in saying ‘we’re going to do SOC 2 or ISO’ and you don’t have your ducks in a row, you don’t understand exactly what you’re trying to accomplish, it can create more work and rework than is required,” Soria said. 

Part of being prepared is getting in the habit of using best practices when it comes to security and compliance. This way, it’s easier to provide the necessary evidence and information necessary to pass an ISO certification without doing much additional heavy lifting. 

SOC 2 vs ISO 27001 similarities and differences

“ISO and SOC 2 the overlap between controls is at 96%. They do the same thing,” Soria said. “The big key differentiator between ISO and SOC 2 is that SOC 2 is more North American based. It comes down to the region where you do business and also how internal controls are being addressed across the board.”

Beyond geography, here are a few specific similarities and key differences between both certifications worth noting: 

Similarities between SOC 2 and ISO

  • Security: They both ensure organizations are securely handling sensitive data through a series of risk assessments.
  • Compliance: Both certifications ensure organizations are meeting a strict set of security compliance standards 
  • Automation: They’re both significantly easier processes with the help of automation and workflows informed by IT needs. 

Largest Difference between SOC 2 and ISO

  • Geography: SOC 2 applies more to North American businesses while ISO 27001 certification applies to organizations doing businesses in the European Union. Still, both certifications are good for businesses to have. 

The importance of automation

Tracking controls via the old fashion way with spreadsheets or pen and paper prove futile in the face of certification. This is where automation comes into play as a critical piece of the puzzle. 

“Businesses are moving at the speed of sound and it’s essential to have some way to get the controls accounted for and evidence generated in an automated fashion,” Soria said.

“That alone will streamline your entire certification process and help push forward what you need to get accomplished.”

Soria has had experience getting certified both with and without certification—and the difference between the two is like night and day. Automating tasks like control attestation or collecting evidence suddenly takes a third of the time than when done manually. 

“The automation process takes all that heavy lift out, making sure everything’s accurate and pushing it forward,” Soria said. “Automate the process as much as humanly possible.” 

Manage compliance efforts with Vendr

SOC 2 and ISO 27001 are security and compliance tests that ensure you’re handling sensitive data the right way. With compliance in mind from the beginning, you’re able to ease the process of certification. 

Yet without an automated workflow system to manage it all, pursuing compliance certification can get messy. As a methodical process, it’s necessary to have the controls in place that’ll help unlock the organization necessary to successfully run tests, share attestation reports, and streamline communication between stakeholders.

Vendr offers SaaS IT leaders the features necessary to establish an end-to-end compliance process that increases your operating effectiveness. Get an inside look into the platform where you can manage your software stack with our free guide to the Vendr SaaS buying platform.

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