SOC 2 compliance requires a lot of documentation. You need a management assertion, system description, control matrix, vendor risk management policy, code of conduct policy, incident response policy, disaster recovery plan, and business continuity plan — and this is just naming a few.
With such extensive requirements, creating all of these documents can be challenging and time-consuming. Having access to a simple explanation of what’s needed along with a template can speed the process up significantly and provide peace of mind for your SOC 2 audit.
Below, get straightforward answers to what a business continuity plan is, why it’s important for SOC 2 compliance, and how to write one. You’ll also find a business continuity template to simplify the process.
What is a business continuity plan?
A business continuity plan is a document containing a predetermined set of procedures that describe how an organization will sustain its business operations during and after a significant disruption.
This disruption may be caused by a broad range of threats, including natural disasters, technical failures, and cyberattacks.
What is business continuity management?
A business continuity plan is one part of business continuity management (BCM). BCM includes risk assessment, response planning, recovery, and long-term maintenance of the policies and procedures developed, tested, and used when a crisis occurs.
Who is responsible for business continuity planning?
Business continuity planning must be a top-down effort. Meaning, it must have the support and willing participation of a director or senior manager at the company. While they will act as the executive sponsor, another individual should be appointed as the BCP coordinator. Depending on the size of the organization, a planning team representing all major areas of operations may also need to be appointed to assist the BCP coordinator.
This coordinator and/or team should be appropriately announced and empowered to execute on a range of responsibilities, including uncovering your business’s weaknesses and making plans to mitigate them, testing those plans to make sure they’re effective for different types of crises, and updating them as new threats emerge.
What is the primary goal of business continuity planning?
The primary goal of business continuity planning is to identify preparations and recovery actions that can assist an organization in resuming operations and services as quickly as possible after a crisis.
For example, most business operations depend heavily on technology and automated systems, and the disruption of these systems for even a few hours may cause severe problems. Consider a Zoom outage. This may impact meetings with colleagues, customers, and prospects and important projects and deals as a result. A company with a business continuity plan that has identified a substitute tool for video meetings will be able to recover faster than a company without one.
To ensure your business runs as smoothly as possible even when faced with system failures, cyber attacks, natural disasters, and other major disruptions, there must be an awareness of potential crises that could impact critical systems, tools, and skills of your organization and a plan to deal with them.
Business continuity planning is also important for getting and staying compliant with some privacy and security standards, including SOC 2. Let’s take a look at this other reason for creating a BCP and keeping it up to date.
SOC 2 Compliance: Requirements, Audit Process, and Benefits for Business GrowthRead article
Why is a business continuity plan important for SOC 2 compliance?
A business continuity plan is part of the documentation that a SOC 2 auditor will likely review, along with your systems and security controls, to determine your level of compliance with the Trust Services Criteria (TSC) you’ve selected. This plan is especially important if you include Availability as a TSC in your SOC 2 audit.
The Availability controls in SOC 2 focus on minimizing downtime. Risk assessment is therefore essential.
A SOC 2 auditor will most likely review whether your company has identified and thought of ways to mitigate environmental threats that could impact system availability, like hurricanes, tornados, and wildfires. The same process should be applied to “man made” threats, like theft and cyber attacks.
A SOC 2 auditor will also likely review whether your business continuity plan can be applied to unforeseen events that could impact your system availability and capacity, like a global pandemic.
An auditor will also likely review if you’ve tested your BCP within the last year (at least).
The Ultimate Guide to SOC 2
SOC 2 is a set of compliance criteria concerning how companies handle customer data and information. Here’s everything you need to know about becoming compliant fast.Download ebook
What’s the difference between business continuity, disaster recovery, and incident response plans?
There are several contingency and continuity plans that may be required for SOC 2 compliance. Let’s take a look at the three most common plans and how they differ from each other below.
Business continuity plan vs disaster recovery plan
The key difference between a business continuity and disaster recovery plan is that a BCP provides procedures for sustaining business operations while recovering from a significant disruption, whereas a DRP provides procedures for recovering information systems operations after a significant system disruption like a major software failure by relocating them to an alternate location.
Many organizations choose to combine their business continuity and disaster recovery plans into a single document. However, some choose to create them as standalone documents.
Business continuity plan vs incident response
The key difference between a business continuity plan and incident response plan is that a BCP provides procedures for sustaining business operations while recovering from a significant disruption, whereas an IRP provides procedures for mitigating and correcting a system after a security incident, like a virus or Trojan horse.
An IRP plan should detail a recovery process for when security incidents do happen.
This is another crucial document that a SOC 2 auditor will likely review to determine your level of compliance with the TSC you’ve selected.
How to write a business continuity plan
Now it’s time to start formulating and building out your business continuity plan. To guide you through the process, we’ve broken the process down into six key steps. We’ve also provided a template below to help get you started.
1. Identify and assess your risks.
The first major task of writing a BCP is identifying the risks or threats in your environment and determining how they might impact your operations. For example, some environmental threats may be likely to cause physical damage to your building. Other types of threats may have an impact on your staff and their families.
The risks that are most threatening to your operations should be prioritized.
2. Identify critical elements of your organization.
The next major task is identifying the tools, systems, and skills that are essential to your operations and how critical they are to recover. You can kick off brainstorming by posing the question, how do we achieve our goals?
For example, let’s say one of your mission critical services is fundraising. In that case, a critical asset might be pledge cards. The vendor that prints your pledge cards would also be considered critical.
When identifying these systems, tools, and skills, you’ll also want to determine what resources would be required to restore them and therefore resume the mission critical services and processes they are part of. Examples of resource requirements are facilities, personnel, equipment, software, data files, system components, and vital records.
This will help determine priority levels for sequencing recovery activities. In other words, what needs to be restored first in order to get back to work as quickly as possible during and after a crisis?
3. Identify ways to mitigate risks.
Now that you understand your organization’s unique risks and critical elements, you’re ready to create a plan of action.
Start by identifying strategies that will eliminate the risks you identified in step 1 entirely. If that’s not possible, identify strategies that will lessen their impact. For example, it’s impossible to eliminate the threat of environmental threats like snowstorms entirely. Instead, you can create a procedure to have your employees and contractors work remotely if a snowstorm makes it impossible or difficult to get to the office. This will require that all employees and contractors have the appropriate supplies and equipment and receive the same communications.
These mitigation strategies are designed to eliminate or lessen the impact of a threat before a crisis and should therefore be implemented as quickly as possible.
4. Identify ways to prepare for and recover from the loss of any critical elements.
Since it is impossible to eliminate all threats facing your organization, your next step is to identify as many strategies as possible for dealing with the loss of each critical element identified in step 2.
For example, installing protective systems like a security system, fire alarm system, and antivirus software can all be considered strategies to prepare for and recover from the loss of critical elements caused by theft, vandalism, environmental hazards, cyber attacks, and other threats.
The goal is to come up with as many preparedness strategies as possible in order to best prepare and recover from the loss of mission critical assets during and after a crisis.
During the review or testing stage, you can remove any strategies that are too time-consuming or expensive.
5. Prepare for how you will respond after a crisis.
Now that plans and strategies are in place, you can take steps to improve the efficiency and quality of your organization’s response to a crisis to help you get back to work as quickly as possible.
Consider creating a recovery team that can assess your losses and initiate recovery actions after a crisis. The roles and responsibilities of this team can be documented in your BCP.
6. Keep your business continuity plan up to date.
Your business continuity plan is a living document. It should be updated to reflect the evolving risks and needs of your business. Whether you’re integrating new software that suddenly crashes or bringing on a new management team member, your BCP should reflect these changes.
Keeping this and other documentation up to date is an important part of continuous compliance.
What Is Continuous Compliance + How To Achieve ItRead article
Business Continuity Plan Template
Use this template to begin identifying the risks, critical elements, mitigation actions, and preparedness strategies that will make up the basic components of your business continuity plan.
Streamline SOC 2 compliance with Secureframe
As you get ready for your SOC 2 audit, you’ll likely have hundreds of documents to collect, organize with the right controls, and keep up-to-date aside from your business continuity plan.
Secureframe can simplify and streamline the entire process of preparing for and maintaining SOC 2 compliance. We’ll provide auditor-approved templates for all these required documents, monitor your tech stack for vulnerabilities, and help you manage risks. Schedule a demo today to learn more.