Staying SOC 2 Compliant with Remote Workers

Written by Brenna Lee on July 21, 2021

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With many of today’s companies taking advantage of hybrid or fully remote work environments, IT departments have to take extra steps to ensure they’re staying SOC 2 compliant as employees transition between in-office and remote work. While traditional identity management solutions struggle to host remote work due to on-prem infrastructure and the inflexibility that follows, cloud-based infrastructure allows organizations to quickly adapt to a changing work environment and provides much-needed system control that directly affects compliance. 

This new work model that allows employees to work from anywhere presents unique challenges for organizations. New processes have to be implemented to retain control over remote users and systems, and existing processes need to be revamped to remain useful in this modern, tech-centric era. A few examples of these processes are: 

  • Controlling the flow of data and information across remote systems
  • Provisioning and deprovisioning user access to IT resources
  • Managing devices holistically
  • Confirming identities before providing users access to any company resources 

On top of all of that, it’s essential to be able to access data and evidence at any point in time to prove that users and processes are meeting the SOC 2 commitments that your organization put in place.

Below, we’ll cover the common standards and controls that administrators implement to meet various SOC 2 requirements and pass an audit with remote employees in mind, as well as how cloud-based directory services simplify compliance and reporting. Note that every organization is different — your specific requirements will vary and ultimately be determined in conjunction with the firm that reviews your evidence.

What is SOC 2 Compliance?

System and Organization Controls (SOC) 2 was developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and is based on five Trust Service Categories. Under each category, SOC 2 defines practices organizations should follow for managing customer or end-user data. Management gets to choose which categories are included in the SOC 2 report — security is required, but the other four categories are optional with some being more commonly used than others.

Admins and management should choose which categories to include in a SOC 2 report, implement controls within the organization to meet each chosen compliance standard and the criteria under each, and ensure that there is proper evidence of each control that proves compliance. The five categories are:

  • Security
  • Availability 
  • Processing integrity
  • Confidentiality
  • Privacy

In order to properly prepare for a SOC 2 audit, you need to fully understand what SOC 2 is and how it’s assessed, and then you need to cross-reference those standards with your user and device management system to make sure that they match up. This is especially important if you’ve transitioned to a non-traditional work environment — if your devices and users are dispersed throughout the city, country, or world, this poses a lot more risk for your organization and its customers compared to traditional in-office work. Not only do security measures need to be honed in, but all organizational processes need to be tightened to ensure compliance, and your device and user management system plays a huge role in this.

How Remote Workers Affect SOC 2 Compliance

Remote work has given many employees the flexibility they have craved for a long time, but this same flexibility can be incredibly dangerous for organizations if not implemented properly. Allowing employees to work from home (or anywhere else) increases opportunities for bad actors to access company data and resources by commandeering unlocked devices or taking advantage of employees using unsecured networks.

By adopting better security practices across your IT environment, no matter how it looks, you not only improve SOC 2 compliance, but you decrease overall risk for your organization. Here’s how remote workers can affect the SOC 2 trust categories with a few steps you can take to mitigate risk:

Security

A remote workforce leaves your organization vulnerable to increased threats due to things like employees working on unsecured networks, devices being compromised, user identity information being stolen, and more.

To ensure your hybrid or remote organization meets SOC 2 security requirements, admins must manage access controls across remote devices and user profiles to help prevent potential system abuse. This includes managing and preventing the unauthorized removal of data, misuse of software, and improper alteration or sharing of information. Managing access controls includes, but is not limited to, enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible, applying policies that reject the insertion of external storage devices, and monitoring system activity to detect unauthorized access on remote endpoints. 

Availability

This requirement refers to the accessibility of the systems, products, or services as stipulated by an organization’s contract or service level agreement (SLA). Ensuring your infrastructure is always available includes enacting a disaster recovery plan, monitoring system and user performance, and having a plan for handling security incidents. With remote devices in your environment, implementing a centralized system that provides high visibility into user and device performance is a good place to start.

Processing Integrity

Processing integrity means that admins must ensure a system achieves its purpose and that it delivers the right data to the right place at the right time. This data processing must be complete, valid, accurate, and timely. Essentially, this covers quality assurance and monitoring of system performance.

With data being transmitted across remote devices, it’s important to have security measures in place on each device, especially ones specifically designed to protect the movement of data. Some real-world applications of this include implementing controls that limit data input to acceptable value ranges, only accepting data once mandatory fields have been filled out, or coding inputs with identification numbers, time stamps, or other data that allows tracing of the input and output.

Confidentiality

Data access and disclosure must be restricted to a specific group or organization. Confidentiality is assured by using encryption tools and enacting network or application firewalls to maintain organizational security. Data intended for company personnel, business plans, intellectual property, internal price lists, or other types of sensitive financial information fall under this category.

With remote users in play here, enacting security measures that ensure that only the proper employees are provisioned access to sensitive customer data is a must. The pseudonymization of data is also a great way to protect sensitive information. Having a holistic identity management system that allows for provisioning and deprovisioning of user access to different applications and information is a great solution to put in place.

Privacy

The final Trust Service Category principle of privacy addresses the collection, use, retention, and disclosure of private individual data. Access to personally identifiable information, such as name, social security number, or address, must be limited and protected. Some privacy control examples are providing customers with a privacy notice, requiring customers to provide consent, collecting only the information that is in line with your organization’s privacy commitments and system requirements, and limiting access to the data collected to verified parties.

Limiting remote user access to customer data and restricting them from editing or viewing certain data is one way to protect privacy with a remote workforce. Another way to protect privacy is to implement conditional access policies that don’t allow users on unsecured networks or devices to access customer data.

Preparing for SOC 2 with Remote Workers

When employees work remotely, organizations with inextensible identity and access management (IAM) resources, like on-prem identity directories, can’t effectively control remote users and their systems. These organizations need in-depth VPN infrastructure for effective resource management.

On top of that, legacy directory services are often limited in the types of resources they can manage, working best with those that are on-prem and Windows®-based. Beyond that, many organizations require add-on tools to extend their on-prem identities to those additional resources. This includes disparate operating systems, web-based applications, cloud file servers, and more.

To avoid dealing with this, organizations can mitigate the risk that comes with remote work by centralizing identity management under one, cloud-based console that manages user access to nearly all the resources they need to make remote work happen in a secure and compliant manner.

SOC 2 requires that any service provider with customer data stored in the cloud has:

  • Comprehensive security policies protecting data and customer confidentiality
  • Documented procedures for audits
  • Event logging capabilities

JumpCloud provides a cloud-based solution that includes all of these capabilities and more which can be used as a conduit for passing a SOC 2 audit.

Staying SOC 2 Compliant with JumpCloud

JumpCloud’s Directory Platform is a comprehensive cloud directory service with SOC 2 Type 2 certification. The platform allows IT teams to manage, secure, and support their remote or hybrid environment from one interface. The platform allows you to manage your environment through cross-OS policies, Directory Insights, and managed resource access via RADIUS, LDAP, SAML 2.0, and JIT/SCIM provisioning. All of these work together to protect your endpoints and meet SOC compliance standards while giving you a comprehensive look into your entire system.

The flexibility inherent in remote work doesn’t have to make meeting compliance standards more difficult. Try JumpCloud Free for up to ten users and ten devices to see for yourself how it can help you ensure compliance in an efficient and seamless manner.

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