Pen testing in SOC 2 compliance

How Can Penetration Testing Help In SOC 2 Compliance?

Beni Benditkis

Penetration Testing Manager


A pene-what now? When it comes to your SOC-2 compliance, something new seems to pop out of nowhere just when you think you’ve got it all figured out. This time, it’s called a penetration test (or a ‘pen test’ for the tech-savvy), and in the battle against cyber threats and data security, this is something you want on your side. 

What is a Pen Test and How Does it Fit into the Bigger Picture? 

Protecting your company against cyber threats often feels like you’re constantly playing the defense. Pen tests, however, put the ball back in your court and allow you to take back control over your security posture. 

For consistent SOC 2 compliance, the main priority is to ensure that you’ve successfully implemented the required controls to meet AICPA’s Trust Service Principles. These five principles of SOC 2 compliance are security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. Although SOC 2 allows organizations to choose which TSPs best apply to their business, the security principle is non-optional. 

So, regardless of your specific SOC 2 framework, when it’s time for them to take action, you need to know that they’ll get the job done and protect you from cyber threats. But how could you possibly know whether or not your line of defense is battleworthy if they’ve never had experience in the field? Penetration tests do just that – they provide the ultimate security drill to gauge whether your controls have got what it takes. 

To get more technical, pen testing is a cybersecurity practice often referred to as ‘ethical hacking.’ It is your organization’s way of highlighting your own weaknesses before a cybercriminal can use them against you. In other words, a penetration test will help you understand which vulnerabilities a cybercriminal can exploit and how they would do so. It does this by executing a simulated attack using the same tools, tactics, and procedures that a cybercriminal would use. 

The result will highlight vulnerabilities and their impact on your systems, network, or even your entire organization if (or rather, when) compromised.

Although penetration testing is one of the more complex methods for cyber defense, a few high-level concepts are relatively easy and essential to understand. The first is that there are two primary pen testing methods that you can leverage for SOC 2 purposes. 

Internal Penetration Testing

Internal pen testing describes the procedure of letting the pen testing into your own network. This can be carried out in different forms (You can use a segmented subnet that is pretty sandboxed or you can provide access to your main work network which has all the company assets within it). The only thing required is access to the internal network for it to be an internal pen test.

Hats in the Hacking Industry

When you’re talking about “hats” in the hacking industry, you’re talking about the morals of the hacker. If I am a white hat hacker, it means that I only hack legally (under contract or under bug bounty programs). A gray hat usually hacks legally but may do some illegal hacking. Black hat is a full on malicious entity

Boxes in Pen Testing 

Boxes in the pen testing industry describe the amount of resources the company will share with the pen tester. 

White box: Everything is shared including source code.
Gray box: Source code isn’t shared but a lot of details are given (such as privileged users, ip addresses and so on).
Black box: Nothing is given except a URL/Network access. Black box is the least advised procedure since all pen testing projects are based on time, and you can’t really simulate a hacker since he has all the time in the world to understand the system.

Monitoring availability is also tested during internal pen testing, but usually hackers with enough time can surpass the IDS/IPS systems in place and just move slowly.

External Network Penetration Testing

This is more of a niche test and usually doesn’t take that much time, as the recommended pen test for most SOC 2 procedures is a gray box application test. This is where the scope of work is the application itself and the company which needs the pen test cooperates and gives out helpful information, such as privileged users and explanation of system logic.

What are the Main Goals of Penetration Testing?

Depending on your organization’s security posture, there are many potential objectives and goals of a penetration test. However, the most common goals include the following; 

  • To confirm a robust organizational security posture
  • To validate the strength of an organization’s security controls
  • To identify any vulnerabilities that could lead to unauthorized access to gain access to or compromise sensitive company or client data. 
  • To identify any areas where intruders can gain control of company operations.
  • To determine an organization’s ability to detect and respond to security breaches and external threats. 

Performing regular pen tests and meeting the above objectives enables companies to monitor and adjust their security controls and posture to mitigate risks and maintain consistent SOC 2 compliance. 

The Role of Pen Tests in SOC 2 Audit Preparation

One of the most common challenges with SOC 2 compliance is that due to its flexibility, it’s not always entirely clear whether or not a particular practice is required or not. For instance, is penetration testing required to achieve SOC 2 compliance?

Strictly speaking, you’re off the hook regarding pen testing and SOC 2, as it’s not mandatory for SOC 2 compliance. However, 90% of the time, auditors won’t accept not having a pen test completed and so, with that being said, it is mandatory. Although it’s not a required security control, it’s one of the most potent ways your company can analyze and optimize your cyber defenses, hence why it’s almost a given that pen tests are always part of your SOC 2 audit. By utilizing penetration tests, you can identify the real-world impact of vulnerabilities within your infosec systems and software. Depending on your SOC 2 scope, you can further tailor your pen tests to help you overcome common issues without going through a trial-and-error audit. 

Ultimately, a thorough pen test is critical in assessing your systems and products to determine adherence to your SOC 2 requirements. In addition, penetration testing can uncover parts of your security program that aren’t being implemented effectively. 

Streamline (Consistent) Compliance with Scytale

Although pen tests are needed to ensure the strength of your security and compliance, they can be quite the task. Rather, automate your compliance and streamline your pen test with Scytale and not only rest assured that you’re 100% protected and audit-ready 24/7, but also reap the benefits of simplified pen testing.

Share this article

A CTO’s Roadmap to Security Compliance: Your Go-To Handbook for Attaining SOC 2 and ISO 27001

Security Compliance for CTOs