SOC 2 is based on the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) standards to provide an audit opinion on the security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and/ or privacy of a service organization’s controls.
What is a SOC 2 audit opinion?
An audit opinion is the audit result or the audit outcome of a SOC 2 audit. Controls are tested using the auditor’s performing procedures, which requires the service organization to provide the auditor with evidence to show that the control is designed, implemented, and operating effectively for the relevant period. The auditor will then conclude on each control and the collective conclusions of the controls, and the criteria will then determine the auditor’s opinion. The auditor’s opinion can be found in Section 2 of the SOC 2 report.
There are four opinion options or outcomes that the auditor can conclude on:
- Unqualified opinion
- Qualified opinion
- Disclaimer of opinion
- Adverse opinion
An unqualified SOC 2 report opinion
This is when the auditors have determined that the controls are well designed and operating effectively. This is the most desired outcome and means that each criterion was concluded effectively. This does not necessarily mean that no deviations or exceptions were found, but that these deviations or exceptions did not impact the criteria to fail.
A qualified audit report
This opinion is when the auditing team cannot determine if the controls designed are operating effectively. If the auditor determines that the controls in place are not enough to achieve the criteria because they are failing on the operating effectiveness level, a qualified opinion may be concluded. In some cases, it can be one key control that fails, and this too can result in a qualified opinion outcome.
A disclaimer of opinion
This is when the auditing team could not obtain sufficient evidence that the controls were in place and operating effectively. The service organization could not provide enough evidence or information for the auditor to provide an opinion on the relevant Trust Service Criteria. For example, if the service organization decided on the Security principle and no evidence could be provided for controls addressing the ‘change management criteria’, a disclaimer of opinion will be concluded. Therefore, the service organization needs to ensure that all criteria are addressed per the relevant principle, especially Security.
An adverse opinion
This means that the auditing team has found multiple controls that have not been designed properly and are failing. This is the worst possible outcome of a SOC 2 audit. The two most common control testing outcomes that can cause the conclusion of this opinion:
- The system description does not accurately represent the control environment, or the controls stated under each criterion.
- Multiple controls have failed on a design and implementation level i.e. control design was weak and full of flaws for multiple controls or the control was designed and not implemented for multiple criteria.
This opinion does not happen often and can be easily avoided by performing a SOC 2 readiness assessment or having a SOC 2 consultant assist in preparing the service organization for a SOC 2 audit.