Security Audit

A Comprehensive Guide to SOC 2 Penetration Testing

Updated on: July 10, 2024

A Comprehensive Guide to SOC 2 Penetration Testing

A SOC 2 Penetration Testing (Pentest) is often highly recommended by the auditors to demonstrate the effectiveness of the controls implemented during the SOC 2 audit. 

Developed by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), SOC 2 establishes a comprehensive framework based on 5 key pillars for managing data and strengthening relationships with all stakeholders. However, strong security policies alone aren’t enough to achieve or maintain compliance, often challenging those policies just like a hacker would be required. 

That’s where SOC2 pentesting comes into play. But before we delve deeper into why a pentest plays a vital role in SOC 2, let’s learn a bit more about its compliance requirements.

What are SOC 2 Compliance Requirements?

SOC 2 Penetration Testing Requirements

In line with AICPA policies, the SOC 2 framework outlines comprehensive criteria for how organizations should handle customer data based on five Trust Service Criteria (TSC):

1. Security:  

This is the most crucial principle of SOC 2. It focuses on preventing unauthorized access to data and company assets throughout their lifecycle. It mandates controls to safeguard against malicious attacks, data deletion, misuse, or unauthorized disclosure, among other things.

Some key controls include access controls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), anti-virus, and firewalls.

2. Availability: 

This criterion aims to ensure authorized users can access systems and data reliably as needed. As such, SOC 2 compliance requires organizations to maintain uptime and minimize downtime through redundancy and disaster recovery plans.

Some common focus areas include network performance monitoring, security incident response procedures, backup and data recovery as well as disaster recovery procedures.

3. Processing Integrity: 

This principle emphasizes the accuracy, reliability, and completeness of data during timely processing. Controls such as quality assurance procedures and monitoring tools to prevent unauthorized data modification, errors, or omissions fall under this category.

4. Confidentiality: 

As the name suggests, it emphasizes the confidentiality of customer data. To comply, organizations must limit data collection to what’s necessary, obtain user consent, and practice proper access restrictions, user activity monitoring, and appropriate disposal procedures.

Pro Tip: Data classification and NDAs also help ensure contractual obligations are met and compliance with external factors.

5. Privacy: 

Unlike Confidentiality, which applies to a broader range of sensitive information, Privacy focuses on protecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from unauthorized access and breaches. SOC 2 mandates clear communication of data privacy practices to anyone whose information is stored. 

Some key controls include clear privacy policies, rigorous access controls, encryption, and 2FA.

See Astra’s continuous Pentest platform in action.

What is SOC 2 Penetration Testing?

SOC 2 penetration testing is a simulated cyberattack conducted within the framework of SOC 2 compliance. It is designed to identify vulnerabilities in your IT systems and assess their potential impact on securing customer data. 

It leverages the Trust Service Criteria (TSC) to guide the testing process. This targeted approach exposes vulnerabilities and provides actionable remediation measures to strengthen your overall cybersecurity posture and demonstrate your commitment to data protection.

It can be further divided into Type and Type 2, as explained below.

FeatureSOC 2 Type 1SOC 2 Type 2
FocusDesign of controlsOperating effectiveness of controls
Report TypeDescription of documented policies and proceduresDescription of controls AND testing results over a period
TimeframeSpecific point in time (usually date of report)Typically 3-12 months
AssessmentEvaluates the suitability of the design of controls to meet the TSCEvaluates the suitability of the design of controls AND their operating effectiveness over time
Testing ProceduresNot required (may include interviews)Testing of controls to validate their effectiveness
Level of AssuranceLowerHigher

What are SOC 2 Penetration Testing Requirements per Compliance?

While SOC 2 itself doesn’t explicitly require pen testing, it indirectly encourages it through its Trust Service Criteria (TSC). Auditors often recommend penetration testing as a way to effectively address specific TSC controls and principles, as explained below:

1. Validating Security Controls (Security Principle): 

Simply put, a SOC 2 pentest goes beyond static reviews of policies and procedures to actively attempt to exploit vulnerabilities. This provides a more realistic overview of how well your security controls (firewalls, access controls, etc.) would fare in the real world while addressing the Security principle.

2. Identifying Unknown Weaknesses (Availability Principle): 

Penetration testers employ various techniques to uncover and address weaknesses that traditional vulnerability scans might miss. Such vulnerabilities could disrupt system availability if exploited by a real attacker. Addressing these weaknesses strengthens your compliance with the Availability principle of SOC 2.

3. Assessing Data Breach Risk (Confidentiality Principle): 

A pentest for SOC 2 compliance can simulate how an attacker might gain access to sensitive data. This allows your company and auditors to assess the risk and impact of a successful attack with respect to sensitive customer data covered under the Confidentiality principle.

Why Astra is the best in SOC 2 Pentesting?

  • We’re the only company that combines automated & manual pentest to create a one-of-a-kind PTaaS platform with SOC 2 vulnerability tags.
  • Vetted scans ensure zero false positives to avoid delays
  • Our intelligent vulnerability scanner emulates hacker behavior with 9300+ tests to help achieve continuous compliance
  • Astra’s scanner helps you simplify remediation by integrating with your CI/CD
  • Our platform helps you uncover, manage & fix vulnerabilities in one place
  • We offer 2 rescans to help you verify ptaches and generate a clean report
  • Trusted by the brands you trust like Agora, Spicejet, Muthoot, Dream11, etc.

Does SOC 2 Compliance Mandate Vulnerability Scanning?

The criteria CC7.1 of SOC 2 listed below suggests (if not mandates) regular vulnerability scanning.

In addition to complimenting pentesting, vulnerability scanners help achieve a more comprehensive assessment of the above.

1. Continuous Monitoring: 

Unlike SOC 2 pentesting, which is typically conducted periodically, vulnerability scanning can be automated for continuous monitoring. This ongoing assessment helps ensure your security posture remains strong and vulnerabilities are addressed promptly.

2. Early Detection: 

Vulnerability scans proactively identify weaknesses in systems and applications, allowing your organization to minimize the risk of security incidents that could impact SOC 2 criteria like Security, Availability, or Confidentiality.

3. Control Effectiveness: 

Vulnerability scanning helps assess the effectiveness of existing security controls, which can be particularly helpful in demonstrating compliance with the Security and Processing Integrity criteria. Auditors often look for evidence of ongoing vulnerability management processes.

Astra Pentest is built by the team of experts that has helped secure Microsoft, Adobe, Facebook, and Buffer

What Are The Various Types of Pentests for SOC 2 Compliance?

Black Box Pentest

A Black Box Pentest, in the context of SOC 2 penetration testing requirements, simulates an external attacker with absolutely no prior knowledge of your system, network, or applications. This testing methodology aims to identify vulnerabilities and assess the effectiveness of your security controls.

While the external approach has multiple benefits, the lack of assessment of internal controls, such as IAMs, can hamper efficiency.

White Box Pentest

A White Box Pentest approach to SOC 2 testing provides analysts with complete knowledge of your system’s architecture, configuration details, and potentially even source code. This in-depth access allows for a highly targeted and efficient evaluation of your security posture.

While advantageous, it is crucial to remember, in this case, that the effectiveness of the SOC 2 pentest hinges on the accuracy and completeness of the information provided about the system.

Grey Box Pentest

A Grey Box Pentest provides testers with limited knowledge about your system and environment. This middle ground offers a more efficient and targeted approach than a purely external or internal perspective, making it ideal for SOC 2 compliance.

Simply put, by skipping the time-consuming discovery phase of a black box pentest and yet providing a more targeted control assessment than a white box, a grey box allows for efficient evaluation of security posture against SOC 2 criteria.

How Can Astra Security Help?

“Astra Pentest gave us the ability to provide the evidence necessary to satisfy the pentest and vulnerability scanning requirements for our SOC2 certification, which gives our clients confidence that they can trust Validatar with their data as Validatar helps them gain trust in their data.”

Darrell Zook,
Director of Development & Technology, Validatar

Astra SOC 2 Pentest Dashboard

Astra’s unique PTaaS platform combines automated and manual SOC 2 penetration testing to help you stay compliant throughout the year. Our state-of-the-art vulnerability scanner mimics real-world hacker tactics to run 9,300+ security tests on your applications. 

Meanwhile, with zero false positives and unique AI test cases, our engineers conduct in-depth pentests to deliver exhaustive SOC 2 reports with remediation steps customized to provide actionable insights at every level, from engineers to executives. 

SOC 2 Compliance Scans

Once vulnerabilities are patched, we conduct a comprehensive rescan to verify effectiveness and provide a clean report for your auditors. Lastly, our seamless tech stack integrations, easy scheduling, regression test capabilities, and real-time expert support help make all pentests simple, effective, and hassle-free. 

Infographic - Why Astra is best in SOC 2 pentest?

Final Thoughts

In today’s data-driven world, earning and maintaining SOC 2 compliance is necessary. While not mandatory, VAPT plays a crucial role in achieving continuous compliance with the five SOC 2 Trust Service Criteria. 

By pinpointing vulnerabilities and validating the effectiveness of your security controls, SOC 2 pentests help ensure proactive security, demonstrate your commitment to data protection, and build trust with customers.

Lastly, while any manual pentest can meet SOC 2 requirements, continuous pentesting and scams with a platform like Astra help address vulnerabilities throughout the SDLC, thus saving time, energy, and worry that comes with the traditional pentest and remediation cycle.

It is one small security loophole v/s your entire website or web application

Get your web app audited with Astra’s Continuous Pentest Solution

FAQs

1. What is the timeline for SOC 2 penetration testing?

SOC 2 pentesting timeline depends on the report type. A SOC 2 Type 1 needs one pentest, taking 10-12 working days. A SOC 2 Type 2 requires multiple tests spread over the reporting period (3-12 months).

2. How much does SOC 2 penetration testing cost?

A SOC 2 penetration test typically costs between $2,000 and $25,000 depending on the size and complexity of your organization’s systems and controls, as well as the depth of analysis.

3. Does SOC 2 require penetration testing?

No, SOC 2 audits don’t explicitly require penetration testing. However, it is highly recommended that auditors assess your security posture and demonstrate control effectiveness to help meet Trust Service Criteria for monitoring activities.

4. Is SOC 2 compliance mandatory?

No, SOC 2 compliance isn’t legally mandated. But it’s a gold standard for security, showing customers you take data protection seriously. This builds trust and can be a deal-breaker for businesses seeking reliable vendors.

5. What is the difference between a SOC 2 pentest and penetration testing?

SOC 2 pentests are a specific type of penetration test designed to assess security controls relevant to the SOC 2 audit. Regular penetration testing might target broader areas, while SOC 2 pentests focus on areas like data security and access controls.

Ananda Krishna

Ananda Krishna is the co-founder & CTO of Astra Security, a SaaS suite that secures businesses from cyber threats. He has been acknowledged by the Indian Navy, Microsoft, United Airlines, etc. for finding critical security vulnerabilities in their systems. Winner of the Best Security Product at Global Conference on Cyberspace 2017 (awarded by Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India) & French Tech Ticket, Paris (awarded by François Hollande, former President of France). At Astra he's building an intelligent security ecosystem - web application firewall (WAF), malware detection & analysis, large scale SaaS applications, APIs & more. He's actively involved in the cybersecurity community and shared his knowledge at various forums & invited talks.
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