February 8, 2024

SOC 2 vs. SOC 3: What is the Difference?

In the world of data security and compliance, SOC 2 and SOC 3 are two terms you’re likely to come across. But what do they mean, and how do they differ? In this article, we’ll explore the key distinctions between SOC 2 and SOC 3, understand their scopes and purposes, delve into the criteria for compliance, discuss the benefits and limitations of SOC 3 reporting, and take a closer look at the audit process and requirements for both. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of these two compliance reports and be able to make an informed decision for your business. 

Key Differences Between SOC 2 and SOC 3

Before we dive into the details, let’s establish the main differences between SOC 2 and SOC 3. SOC 2 is an audit framework designed for service organizations that handle customer data in the cloud or handle sensitive information on behalf of their clients. It focuses on the controls and processes that ensure the security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of this data. 

SOC 3, however, is a simplified version of SOC 2; it is the executive summary of a SOC 2 Type II. It doesn’t provide the same level of detail as SOC 2 but offers a more accessible certification that service organizations can share with their clients and stakeholders. It’s often used as a marketing tool to demonstrate a company’s commitment to security. 

One key aspect to consider is the level of detail provided in the reports. SOC 2 reports are intended for internal management, regulators, and clients who need in-depth information about the controls in place to protect data. These reports are typically kept confidential and are not meant for public distribution. On the other hand, SOC 3 reports are designed for public consumption. They provide a high-level overview of the organization’s controls and can be freely distributed to anyone, including potential clients and the public. 

Another important distinction between SOC 2 and SOC 3 is that a SOC 3 can only be completed alongside a SOC 2 Type II. An organization can choose to distribute only the SOC 3, but a SOC 2 Type II must be completed with the organization’s service auditor to receive a SOC 3.  

Understanding SOC 2: Scope and Purpose

SOC 2 is an intensive audit process that evaluates the controls and procedures implemented by service organizations. These controls are established to protect customer data stored in the cloud or processed by the service provider. SOC 2 is to assure clients and stakeholders that their data is handled securely and in compliance with relevant customer commitments and regulations. 

The scope of SOC 2 audits can vary depending on the type of service provided by the organization. For example, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company will have different control objectives compared to an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider. The criteria for SOC 2 compliance are defined in the Trust Services Criteria (TSC) established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). 

When undergoing a SOC 2 audit, service organizations must engage an independent service auditor firm to assess their controls and issue a report. An organization should select a service auditor with expertise in both information security and auditing. This report is crucial for demonstrating the organization’s commitment to data security and compliance. It provides valuable insights to clients about the effectiveness of the controls in place and any potential areas for improvement. 

Furthermore, SOC 2 reports come in two types: Type I and Type II. A Type I report evaluates the suitability of the design of controls at a specific point in time, while a Type II report goes a step further to assess the operational effectiveness of these controls over a specified period, usually a minimum of six months. The Type II is required in order for an organization to receive a SOC 3 report. 

Criteria for SOC 2 Compliance

Meeting the criteria for SOC 2 compliance involves implementing controls that address the five trust services categories: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. These controls encompass a wide range of measures, including physical security, logical access controls, system monitoring, data backup, vulnerability management, and employee training. 

Organizations seeking SOC 2 compliance should establish comprehensive policies and procedures that align with the TSC. This involves conducting regular risk assessments, implementing appropriate safeguards, monitoring control effectiveness, and continuously improving security practices. 

Another important aspect of SOC 2 compliance is data backup and recovery. Organizations must have robust data backup procedures in place to ensure the availability and integrity of data in case of system failures or disasters. Regular testing of backup systems is essential to verify their effectiveness and reliability. Moreover, organizations should have documented procedures for data restoration to minimize downtime and ensure business continuity in the event of data loss. 

Exploring SOC 3: Benefits and Limitations


OC 3 reports are intended to be publicly available documents that provide assurance regarding the controls implemented by service organizations. Unlike SOC 2 reports, which are frequently restricted to the organization’s clients and business partners, SOC 3 reports can be shared with anyone. 

The main benefit of SOC 3 is its ease of use and accessibility. It serves as a seal of approval, demonstrating that the organization has undergone a thorough examination of its security controls and meets industry standards, without providing the full detail and insight of controls noted within a SOC 2 report. This can build trust and confidence among existing and potential customers. 

However, SOC 3 reports lack the level of detail found in SOC 2 reports. They do not provide insights into specific controls and processes but rather provide a summary of the auditor’s opinion. Also, SOC 3 reports do not describe tests performed or their results. This may mean that a SOC 3 will not satisfy customer security questionnaire requirements or other similar requirements. 

SOC 3 Reporting: What You Need to Know

f your organization only needs to demonstrate its commitment to security without sharing the nitty-gritty details of its controls, SOC 3 may be the right choice to share with external parties. SOC 3 reports are issued in a standardized format that can be easily understood by non-experts. They contain an independent auditor’s opinion regarding the service organization’s controls. 

It’s important to note that SOC 3 reports are not a substitute for SOC 2 reports. If your clients or business partners require a detailed examination of your controls, SOC 2 is the appropriate report to share. SOC 3 reports are often used as a complementary marketing tool to showcase an organization’s commitment to security and provide high-level assurance to a broader audience. 

Choosing Between SOC 2 and SOC 3 for Your Business

Deciding whether to pursue a SOC 3 report in addition to a SOC 2 report depends on your organization’s specific needs, client requirements, and business goals. If your clients demand detailed reports that cover specific controls and processes, SOC 2 is the way to go. It demonstrates a higher level of rigor and provides the necessary assurances to clients and stakeholders. 

However, if your organization primarily needs to build broader trust and demonstrate its commitment to security in a more accessible manner, SOC 3 is a suitable choice to be shared. SOC 3 reports can be instrumental in marketing efforts, reassuring potential customers and highlighting your dedication to data protection. 

As technology continues to evolve, SOC 2 and SOC 3 reports will also adapt to new challenges and emerging risks. With the increasing emphasis on cloud computing, data privacy, and cybersecurity, the SOC compliance frameworks will likely incorporate additional controls and criteria to address evolving threats. 

Furthermore, the demand for transparency and assurance regarding data handling practices is expected to grow. This will likely drive organizations to seek SOC 2 or SOC 3 compliance to address client expectations and demonstrate their commitment to protecting sensitive information. 

It’s important for organizations to stay informed about the latest updates and changes to SOC 2 and SOC 3 requirements to ensure ongoing compliance and maintain trust with clients and stakeholders. 

In conclusion, while SOC 2 and SOC 3 share the same objectives of ensuring data security and compliance and scope, they differ in terms of level of detail and target audience. SOC 2 provides a comprehensive examination of controls and is suitable for organizations with more specific compliance needs, while SOC 3 offers a broader assurance that can be shared with a wider audience. By understanding the differences and evaluating your organization’s specific requirements, you can make an informed choice between SOC 2 only, or SOC 2 and SOC 3 to meet your compliance goals and build trust with your clients.