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Understanding SSAE 18 Compliance: What You Need to Know

Understanding SSAE 18 Compliance: What You Need to Know


SSAE 18 is a standard for auditing and reporting on controls at service organizations. Compliance with SSAE 18 requires service organizations to develop and implement controls and procedures to ensure the security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of their clients’ data. The standard also requires an independent audit and reporting process to demonstrate compliance to stakeholders.

SSAE 18 compliance vs SSAE 16 compliance

The key differences between SSAE 18 compliance and compliance with its predecessor, SSAE 16, include the following.

Expansion of the standard: SSAE 18 includes additional guidance on the subject matter of reports, risk assessment procedures, and the use of internal auditors.

Introduction of Complementary Subservice Organization Controls (CSOCs): SSAE 18 introduced the concept of CSOCs, which are controls provided by another organization that are essential to the service organization’s internal control.

Emphasis on risk assessment: SSAE 18 places greater emphasis on risk assessment, including the identification and assessment of risks that could affect the achievement of the service organization’s objectives.

Introduction of the “description of the system” requirement: SSAE 18 requires service organizations to provide a detailed description of the system being audited, including the nature of the services provided and the methods used to process data.

Changes to the auditor’s report: SSAE 18 includes changes to the auditor’s report, including a requirement to provide an opinion on the description of the system and the suitability of the design and operating effectiveness of the controls.

Benefits of SSAE 18 compliance

SSAE 18 compliance offers a range of benefits for service organizations. By demonstrating that they have implemented and tested effective internal controls and procedures, organizations can build trust and confidence with their stakeholders. This can include customers, vendors, investors, regulators, and other interested parties who rely on the organization’s services and data.

In addition, SSAE 18 compliance can improve internal processes and controls, leading to increased efficiency and productivity, as well as reduced risks and costs associated with data breaches or other security incidents.

Compliance with SSAE 18 can also provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Organizations that can demonstrate their commitment to security and data protection are more likely to attract and retain customers who are increasingly concerned about data privacy and security.

Moreover, compliance with SSAE 18 can help to differentiate an organization from its competitors, who may not have undergone a similar audit process. Finally, SSAE 18 compliance can enhance relationships with customers, vendors, and other stakeholders, by providing assurance that the organization is committed to maintaining the highest standards of data security and protection.

SSAE 18 compliance requirements

To achieve compliance with SSAE 18, service organizations must meet a set of requirements that are designed to ensure the security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of their clients’ data. The standard is divided into five main sections: General Principles, Criteria, Internal Control, Risk Assessment, and Reporting.

The General Principles section establishes the fundamental concepts and principles that underpin SSAE 18, including the need for a suitable control environment, risk assessment procedures, and the use of internal auditors.

The Criteria section outlines the criteria that must be met for the service organization’s controls to be considered effective. The Internal Control section requires the service organization to develop and implement effective internal controls that are designed to meet the Trust Services Criteria.

The Risk Assessment section requires the service organization to identify, assess, and respond to risks that could affect the achievement of its objectives. The Reporting section requires the service organization to prepare and issue a SOC 1 report, which provides an independent assessment of the effectiveness of its controls.

Steps to Achieving SSAE 18 Compliance

The steps to achieving SSAE 18 compliance involve a series of activities that help service organizations establish and maintain effective controls and procedures to protect their clients’ data.

Conducting a readiness assessment

The first step is conducting a readiness assessment, which involves evaluating the organization’s current controls and procedures against the Trust Services Criteria. This assessment identifies any gaps or deficiencies that need to be addressed to meet SSAE 18 requirements.

Developing and implementing controls and procedures

Once the gaps are identified, the organization should develop and implement a comprehensive set of controls and procedures that address the identified deficiencies. These controls should be tailored to the organization’s specific risks and needs and designed to meet the Trust Services Criteria.

Testing and evaluating controls

After implementing the controls and procedures, they should be tested and evaluated to ensure they are operating effectively and efficiently. This includes testing and evaluating the design and operating effectiveness of the controls and procedures to ensure they are achieving their objectives.

Preparing and issuing the SOC 1 report

Once the controls and procedures have been tested and evaluated, the organization should engage a qualified independent auditor to prepare and issue a SOC 1 report. This report provides an independent assessment of the effectiveness of the controls and procedures and is issued to stakeholders who rely on the service organization’s controls.

Maintaining SSAE 18 compliance

Finally, the organization must maintain compliance by continually monitoring and evaluating its controls and procedures to ensure they remain effective and compliant with SSAE 18 requirements. This includes conducting regular risk assessments, reviews of internal processes, and testing of controls and procedures.

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