Key Takeaways

1. NIST offers a well-rounded Cybersecurity Framework for federal organizations handling confidential data, whereas SOC 2 ensures security, availability, and data integrity for service organizations.

2. While NIST involves a comprehensive, ongoing compliance process with numerous controls, SOC 2 offers a more focused approach to data security with fewer controls, which is beneficial for demonstrating robust data protection to clients.

3. I.S. Partners offers tailored solutions and expertise to streamline both your NIST and SOC 2 compliance processes.

Which Security Framework Do You Need? SOC 2 vs NIST CSF

NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology at the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides a Cybersecurity Framework to help businesses of all sizes understand, manage, and reduce cybersecurity risks while protecting their networks and data. 

Federal companies should adhere to NIST standards when handling confidential federal data. These standards are internationally recognized, so any company following NIST guidelines is trusted to use best practices in its technology.

SOC 2 is a voluntary compliance standard developed by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) for service organizations. It outlines how organizations should manage customer data and is built around five Trust Services Criteria: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.

SOC 2 requires companies to follow specific, stringent guidelines for documentation and implementation. In contrast, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) is more flexible but requires a thorough understanding of your firm, service providers, and risk level.

The two frameworks are not mutually exclusive. This means that an organization can pursue both at the same time. Some companies aim to implement both depending on their internal and external strategies.

When asked for effective strategies to balance the ongoing requirements of NIST CSF with the periodic audit requirements of SOC 2, Jena Andrews, I.S. Partner’s Senior Security Consultant, shared,

 “Implement an internal audit program and strategy that tracks compliance initiatives and requirements to ensure continuous control monitoring.”

Through this strategy, service organizations can pursue both compliance frameworks and maintain them effectively for a stronger security posture.

SOC 2 vs NIST

NIST vs. SOC 2: Key Differences And Contrasts

The NIST CSF is a risk-based approach that assists organizations in managing and reducing cybersecurity risks. SOC 2, on the other hand, is an auditing standard that focuses on the security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of customer data.

Below, we further dissect the difference between NIST vs SOC 2 programs based on different parameters. 

  1. Scope
  2. Application of Standard
  3. Process of Compliance
  4. Security of Data
  5. Impact on Service Organizations
  6. Number of Controls
  7. Implementation Timeline

Scope

NIST 

NIST helps businesses understand, manage, and reduce cybersecurity risks to protect their networks and data. The framework is voluntary for private organizations and mandatory for all federal agencies. It provides guidance rather than focusing on compliance. 

The main goal is to encourage companies to prioritize cybersecurity risks, similar to how they address financial, safety, and operational risks. The strategy is based on the five NIST core functions: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover.

The framework also aims to foster communication among internal and external stakeholders about cybersecurity risk management. It provides a common language and systematic methodology for managing cybersecurity risks related to critical infrastructure.

SOC 2

The scope of SOC 2 involves defining the parameters for assessing the internal control environment during an audit. This process clarifies which service provider controls and management systems need evaluation to ensure customer data protection.

The starting point for defining the scope is deciding which Trust Service Criteria (security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy) to include in the SOC 2 audit. These criteria then serve as the basis for evaluation.

This data security standard applies primarily to technology service providers, such as cloud computing, SaaS, and IT-managed services companies, that store, process, or transmit customer data. The program aims to enhance transparency and build trust between service organizations and their clients.

Our SOC 2 audit services are designed to streamline your compliance journey, letting you focus on growing your business. Reach out to I.S. Partners today to get started.

Application of Standard

NIST

Any company that does business with the United States government should comply with NIST. This includes government agencies, businesses, and individuals hired by the government for various projects.

Institutions that may benefit from the NIST CSF include the following:

  • Critical infrastructure sectors like energy, healthcare, financial services, transportation, etc.
  • Government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels
  • Private sector companies across all industries
  • Academia and educational institutions
  • Non-profit organizations

SOC 2

SOC 2 is especially relevant for service organizations that must demonstrate to enterprise customers that they have organization controls to protect sensitive data. Obtaining a SOC 2 report has become a common requirement for technology vendors when doing business with larger clients.

SOC 2 is designed for organizations that handle sensitive customer data, including:

  • Technology service providers
  • SaaS companies
  • Blockchain companies
  • Third-party vendors
  • Data hosting centers
  • Healthcare institutions
  • Companies outsourcing services with customer data access

Process of Compliance

NIST

The NIST compliance framework is a lengthy process that helps companies demonstrate their infrastructure is secure. 

Here are some steps you can take to comply with NIST:

  • Prepare: Begin by creating an inventory of systems, identifying the information your organization handles, and gathering existing security policies and procedures.
  • Categorize: Define security roles and categorize the information that needs protection
  • Assess: Identify threats and vulnerabilities, avoid data breaches, analyze risks, and conduct risk assessments to refine baseline controls.
  • Select: Choose the appropriate controls, like two-factor authentication, privileged access, and secure data transfer.
  • Implement: Document these controls in a written cloud security plan and deploy them across your information systems.
  • Monitor: Continuously monitor the security controls and assess their effectiveness.
  • Authorize: Evaluate agency-level risk and authorize the information system for processing.

Read more from our detailed article on NIST Risk Assessment.

SOC 2

To achieve SOC 2 compliance, you first must choose the right trust principles and implement controls based on that. SOC 2 compliance can be streamlined through the help of an independent CPA firm.

However, there are more you need to get compliant, and below are the key steps:

  • Choose the TSC: Select the TSC relevant to your organization.
  • Conduct a Gap Assessment: Understand SOC 2 requirements and data privacy laws. Ensure your team knows what is required to avoid unnecessary steps and familiarize yourself with SOC 2 criteria.
  • Establish and Document Security Policies: Create and document security policies and standard operating procedures (SOPs). These should include system access, risk assessment, incident response plans, and defined security roles. 
  • Implement Security Controls: Apply security controls based on identified vulnerabilities. The SOC 2 audit will assess whether these controls are implemented.
  • Train Employees: Provide proper training for all employees handling data. Regular training programs should cover the latest security controls and emerging cybersecurity threats, assuring customers that their data is managed by professionals.
  • Choose a Reputable Auditor: Select an auditor experienced in your industry. Ensure consistent engagement and communication with the auditor to facilitate an efficient auditing process.
  • Address Findings Promptly: Be prepared to address any issues or findings during the audit process quickly. Resolving these findings quickly will help you achieve compliance faster.

Read more from the SOC 2 Compliance Checklist.

Security of Data

NIST

NIST emphasizes safeguarding data at every stage: at rest, in transit, and in use. These guidelines extend to any aspect of an information system that handles federal information during storage, processing, and transmission components.

The framework provides guidelines for organizations to identify, protect, detect, respond to, and recover from cybersecurity threats, thereby ensuring data security. Key functions include identifying critical assets and risks, implementing security controls, monitoring for anomalies, establishing incident response plans, and ensuring timely incident recovery. 

This structured approach allows for continuous improvement in data protection, enhancing organizational resilience against data breaches.

SOC 2 

SOC 2 zeroes in on data security, whether at rest or in transit. The key here is encryption. When data is moving across public networks like the Internet, it must be encrypted. 

SOC 2 requires organizations to implement logical and physical access controls to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data and systems. This includes measures like role-based access, multi-factor authentication, and secure disposal of data.

By implementing this combination of preventative, detective, and corrective security controls and having them regularly audited by an independent CPA firm, SOC 2 provides a strong framework for an organization to secure the data entrusted to them by customers. 

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Impact on Service Organizations

NIST

The NIST CSF changes the game for service organizations. Instead of ticking boxes during periodic audits and cyber risk assessments, NIST pushes for continuous compliance. This means you’re always on top of cybersecurity risks, not just once a year. It’s a dynamic approach that strengthens your ability to respond and recover from incidents.

Some of the benefits of NIST CSF are:

  • Comprehensive assessment of your current cybersecurity posture
  • A long-term planning tool for tracking cybersecurity improvements
  • A systematic approach for communicating cost-effective improvement activities among stakeholders
  • As more companies adopt NIST CSF and given its government endorsement, it has become a popular choice for many new enterprises.

SOC 2 

Completing a SOC 2 report isn’t just a checkbox; it’s much more powerful than that. It strengthens your security posture, builds stakeholder trust, and fuels business growth. 

Yes, it takes time and resources, but the payoff is huge. It shows your stakeholders that you’re serious about protecting their data and that you’re a vendor they can trust. This commitment to security can set you apart and open new doors for your business.

Some benefits of SOC 2 compliance include:

  • Holding a SOC 2 certification gives your business a competitive edge
  • A SOC 2-compliant MSP has a well-defined organizational structure with trained personnel to develop and implement effective IT policies and procedures
  • SOC 2 requirements are similar to ISO 27001, so achieving SOC 2 certification simplifies the process of obtaining ISO 27001 certification

Number of Controls

NIST

The number of controls in NIST varies depending on the version of NIST Special Publication 800-53 (SP 800-53):

  • NIST 800-53: The current version has over 900 unique security controls organized into 18 control families.
  • NIST SP 800-53 Rev. 4: Excluding privacy controls, this version includes 444 controls and 284 enhancements, totaling 570 controls across 18 families.
  • NIST SP 800-53: This version ramps up to 1,189 individual controls spread across 20 control families.

SOC 2 

The number of controls required for a SOC 2 audit varies based on the TSC included and the complexity of your company:

If the audit covers additional TSCs such as privacy, availability, processing integrity, or confidentiality, each will bring its own set of requirements and controls.

Implementation Timeline

NIST

Implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework involves several phases, from preparation to assessment. Here is the detailed breakdown of the timeline:

  • Preparation: Typically takes 1 to 2 months
  • Define security roles and categorize information: 1 month
  • Assessment: Spans 2 to 3 months
  • Selection: Takes 1 month
  • Implementation: Takes 2 to 4 months
  • Monitoring: Ongoing process
  • Authorization: Generally takes 1 month

SOC 2 

When it comes to getting ready for regulatory compliance, many steps are involved, from readiness review to remediation. Here’s the timeline to get SOC 2:

  • Readiness Review: Takes about 1 month
  • Remediation: Address control gaps identified, which can take 3 to 6 months
  • Type 2 Report Period: Choose a period between 3 to 12 months for your Type 2 report
  • Audit and Reporting: The audit and reporting phase lasts 1 to 2 months after the compliance date (Type 1) or period end (Type 2)

Overview of Differences Between NIST and SOC 2

ParametersNISTSOC 2
ScopeNIST assists in managing and reducing cybersecurity risks, providing voluntary guidance for private organizations and mandatory guidelines for federal agencies.SOC 2 focuses on assessing internal controls to protect customer data, and it is relevant primarily for technology service providers like cloud computing and SaaS companies.
Application of Standard
Applies to any company doing business with the U.S. government, including government agencies, critical infrastructure sectors, private sector companies, and non-profits.This is relevant for service organizations needing to demonstrate robust data protection controls, such as technology providers, SaaS companies, and third-party vendors.
Process of Compliance
Involves preparation, categorization, risk assessment, control selection, implementation, monitoring, and authorization.It involves selecting trust principles, conducting gap assessments, establishing security policies, training employees, selecting auditors, and addressing findings.
Security of Data
Emphasizes safeguarding data at rest, in transit, and use across any federal information system.Focuses on data security through encryption, especially for data in transit across public networks.
Impact on Service Organizations
Promotes continuous compliance, strengthening the ability to respond and recover from incidents. Enhances security posture, builds stakeholder trust, and supports business growth, demonstrating a serious commitment to data protection.
Number of Controls
It varies by version; NIST SP 800-53 has over 900 controls, with specific versions ranging from 570 to 1,189.Varies based on trust principles and company complexity, typically involving around 60-100 controls for a Type 2 audit.
Implementation Timeline
Involves phases like preparation (1-2 months), categorization (1 month), assessment (2-3 months), selection (1 month), implementation (2-4 months), and continuous monitoring.Includes readiness review (1 month), remediation (3-6 months), Type 2 report period (3-12 months), and audit/reporting phase (1-2 months).

How Can I.S. Partners Help with NIST and SOC 2 Compliance?

Now that you’ve got a solid grasp of the key differences between NIST and SOC 2 compliance, you’re well on your way to ensuring your organization’s security and readiness for certification. 

While the journey may vary for each organization, the ultimate objective remains constant: strengthening your organization’s security posture and preparing for certification.

The most critical key to achieving effortless compliance with both frameworks is to employ the guidance of an expert CPA firm – enter I.S. Partners. Selecting the right auditing firm is paramount to the success of your SOC 2 and NIST audit endeavors. We even help you with getting a SOC 2 bridge letter. With over 20 years of experience conducting compliance audits, I.S. Partners is the premier solution for your audit needs.

Our company features a one-stop-shop for all of your audit needs and more. We provide comprehensive risk assessments and create detailed strategies for all companies.

Our team at I.S. Partners, LLC collaborates with both user and service organizations, facilitating top-tier compliance to foster robust and secure business relationships that benefit all parties involved. 

Reach out to us today to kickstart the process.

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