SSAE 16 is an enhancement to the current standard for Reporting on Controls at a Service Organization, the SAS70. The changes made to the standard will bring your company, and the rest of the companies in the US, up to date with new international service organization reporting standards, the ISAE 3402. The adjustments made from SAS 70 to SSAE 16 will help you and your counterparts in the US compete on an international level; allowing companies around the world to give you their business with complete confidence.
SSAE16 is now effective as of June 15, 2011, and if you have not made the necessary adjustments required, now is the time to find a quality provider to discuss the proper steps. All organizations are now required to issue their Service Auditor Reports under the SSAE 16 standards in an SOC 1 Report.
The soon to be effective, SSAE-18, is expected to follow a similar reporting structure to the SSAE-16 within a SOC 1 report.
Who Needs an SSAE 16 (SOC 1) Audit?
If your Company (the ‘Service Organization’) performs outsourced services that affect the financial statements of another Company (the ‘User Organization’), you will more than likely be asked to provide an SSAE16 Type II Report, especially if the User Organization is publicly traded.
Some example industries include:
- Payroll Processing
- Loan Servicing
- Data Center/Co-Location/Network Monitoring Services
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
- Medical Claims Processors
What you Need to Know:
Before starting the SSAE 16 process, there are a number of considerations one must take into account that can save considerable time, effort, and money in the long run. Use the following items as a mini checklist for yourself:
- Does my Company need an SSAE16, or, are we doing it just because someone asked?
- Reports on the low end can run at least $15,000 a year, will the business lost be less of a burden than the cost of the report itself?
- Does your company have defined Business Process and IT controls in place, or, will you need assistance developing and implementing them (readiness assessment)?
- Have you determined the controls in place which affect the outsourced services being provided?
- Have key stakeholders been defined and included in discussions?
There are many other issues to consider before engaging a CPA firm to help with your SSAE 16, for a more detailed ‘checklist’ – please see The SSAE 16 Checklist
You may have heard SSAE-18 is on the horizon for reports issued as of May 1, 2017. There are some important updates discussed in here: SSAE-18 – An Update to SSAE-16.
As the standard is formalized and the date approaches we will continue to provide more information to help you prepare for these changes.
Another series we will have periodic posts about will be related to potential controls that would be expected to be in place, almost regardless of the entity in question.
This will be a real basic one to help get everyone up to speed, we will delve into other areas that may be a little more advanced in the future.
Example: Firewalls are in place at all externally facing access points.
The point of this control is to ensure that firewalls are being used at the organization to help prevent hacking attempts, thus, the theft of data. Companies outsourcing their workloads want to have comfort that the company performing the work has adequate security measures in place to lower the chance of their data being stolen.
Firewalls are some of the most basic devices that need to be in place at a business to protect data and if your business does not currently employ firewalls on their network, it is a must do and should be looked into immediately.
Criteria, as defined by the SSAE 16 guidance are:
The standards or benchmarks used to measure and present the subject matter and against which the service auditor evaluates the subject matter.
Criteria are the overarching goals that the control objectives and activities that are in place are designed to meet and that the final report is to give assurance on, for example, “The system is protected against unauthorized access (both physical and logical).” To meet this criteria, a company may decide to include controls such as “Firewalls are installed at all external entry points” or “A User Access Review of Access Badges is performed on a Monthly Basis”. Criteria are used as a benchmark to assess the design and operating effectiveness of internal controls at an organization, however, Management is responsible for making sure that the controls in place support the defined criteria sufficiently.
There are best practice criteria available for most industries that reflect prevailing internal controls best practices and requirements from around the world, some of these can be found on the AICPA website if you would like some additional examples.
This definition and information is consistent in SSAE-18.
The SOC 3 Report , just like SOC 2, is based upon the Trust Service Principles and performed under AT101, the difference being that a SOC 3 Report can be freely distributed (general use) and only reports on if the entity has achieved the Trust Services criteria or not (no description of tests and results or opinion on description of the system). The lack of a detailed report requires that a SOC 3 be performed as a Type II, unlike SOC 1 and SOC 2 where there is a Type I option. SOC 3 reports can be issued on one or multiple Trust Services principles (security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality and privacy) and allow the organization to place a seal on their website upon successful completion.
The Trust Service Principles were designed with a focus on e-commerce systems due to the amount of private/confidential/financial information that flows across the internet daily. When a customer processes a transaction (online retailer), builds a business on your service (SaaS providers), or submits private information, they want to know best practices are being followed by the company to guard against security leaks, lost sales, and damaged data. The most common reports based upon the trust principles are referred to as WebTrust and SysTrust.
The SysTrust review encompasses a combination of the following principles:
- Security: The system is protected against unauthorized access (both physical and logical).
- Availability: The system is available for operation and use as committed or agreed.
- Processing Integrity: System processing is complete, accurate, timely, and authorized.
- Confidentiality: Information designated as confidential is protected as committed or agreed.
The WebTrust certification can fall into the following four categories:
- WebTrust. The scope of the engagement includes any combination of the trust principles and criteria .
- WebTrust Online Privacy. The scope of the engagement is based upon the online privacy principle and criteria.
- WebTrust Consumer Protection. The scope of the engagement is based upon the processing integrity and relevant online privacy principles and criteria.
- WebTrust for Certification Authorities. The scope of the engagement is based upon specific principles and related criteria unique to certification authorities.
The Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 Report will be performed in accordance with AT 101 and based upon the Trust Services Principles, with the ability to test and report on the design (Type I) and operating (Type II) effectiveness of a service organization’s controls (just like SOC 1 / SSAE 16). The SOC 2 report focuses on a business’s non-financial reporting controls as they relate to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of a system, as opposed to SOC 1/SSAE 16 which is focused on the financial reporting controls.
The Trust Service Principles which SOC 2 is based upon are modeled around four broad areas: Policies, Communications, Procedures, and Monitoring. Each of the principles have defined criteria (controls) which must be met to demonstrate adherence to the principles and produce an unqualified opinion (no significant exceptions found during your audit). The great thing about the trust principles is that the criteria businesses must meet are predefined, making it easier for business owners to know what compliance needs are required and for users of the report to read and assess the adequacy.
Many entities outsource tasks or entire functions to service organizations that operate, collect, process, transmit, store, organize, maintain and dispose of information for user entities. SOC 2 was put in place to address demands in the marketplace for assurance over non-financial controls to prevent SOC 1 from being misused just like SAS 70 was.
Did you know? A business isn’t required to address all the principles, the reviews can be limited only to the principles that are relevant to the outsourced service being performed. Some example industries that might have a need for a SOC 2 include: SaaS Providers, Data Center/ Colocations, Document Production, and Data Analytics providers.
The first difference between the SSAE 16 and ISAE 3402 Standards is that SSAE 16 requires the service auditor to assess the risk associated with potential “Intentional Acts by Service Organization Personnel”.
Under SSAE 16, If the service auditor, while performing their review, notices deviations that could have been a result of an intentional act by an employee of the service organization, the auditor is required to dig into it. The reasoning for this is to determine whether or not the description of the service organization’s system is not fairly presented and that the controls are not suitably designed or operating effectively.
So, it seems that in this case, the SSAE 16 standard is a bit stricter. If the auditor is not required to dig into an intentional act committed by an employee of the service organization, how would the Auditing Firm and User Organizations feel comfortable with the report? In my opinion, they shouldn’t. Without any consequences for the service organization (failed report), there is an incentive for the service organization to try and operate outside the control structure as defined as it is unlikely that they would be held responsible for their actions. This might be a question you would want to dig into if you are going to use a company that has only been issued an ISAE 3402 report.
Be on the lookout for the next post related to the difference between SSAE 16 and ISAE 3402, Anomalies.