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Understanding your auditor’s SOC 2 report opinion

Learn the four types of SOC 2 report opinions and what they mean to your business and customers. 

September 12, 2022

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One of the main benefits of undergoing a SOC 2 audit is the ability to meet the requirements of a prospect or customer. Data compliance is a growing concern for many companies, particularly those in highly regulated industries, and a SOC 2 report provides an added layer of trust between you and your customers. 

In this article, we cover the key component of a SOC 2 report and how to understand your auditor’s opinion.


Getting the right SOC 2 report opinion

When a prospect or customer receives your SOC 2 report, the section they’re most likely to jump to is the auditor’s report.

Typically one of the earlier sections, the auditor’s report includes the opinion of your independent auditor as to whether your organization was SOC 2 compliant for the observed period. In other words, whether you passed or failed the assessment. 

Note that auditors can only form an opinion on what they were able to observe. For example, your organization might have a control that requires you to log, track, and communicate security incidents to affected parties. But if there weren’t any incidents during the observed period, then the control may not be included in the audit.

In this case, your auditor will simply note and explain why the control wasn’t tested. They may also note the absence of any incidents by confirming with your engineering team. Finally, an auditor will look at your organization’s incident response plan to verify whether the correct documentation is in place.

The following sections explain the different opinions your auditor might provide in a SOC 2 report and what they mean for your organization.


Unqualified SOC 2 report opinion

An unqualified opinion means your organization passed its audit. More specifically, it means the controls your auditor tested were designed and operating exactly as they should be.

However, it’s possible for an organization to have controls that fail and still get an unqualified opinion. This is referred to as an unqualified report with issues.

While an unqualified report with issues is still considered a passed assessment, those who read your report will pay close attention to the highlighted issues and check for assurances and steps taken to solve the issue.

It’s important to outline the mitigating controls and resolutions for these issues, as well as any potential impact on your customers or third parties.


Qualified SOC 2 report opinion

A qualified opinion means your organization failed its audit. During the audit period, either one or more controls included in the assessment were not adequately designed or implemented.

Despite receiving a qualified opinion, the controls specified as ineffective might not be a concern or impact all customers. The report can also help guide your organization in the necessary areas to focus on for the next audit. 

Ultimately, a SOC 2 report gives an overview of all other security measures and provides an extra layer of assurance.


Disclaimer SOC 2 report opinion

A disclaimer opinion indicates your organization didn’t provide the auditor with enough information, and they were unable to form an opinion on whether you were SOC 2 compliant.


Adverse SOC 2 report opinion

An adverse opinion signals that an organization failed one or more of the compliance standards. Considered the lowest opinion in a SOC 2 report, adverse opinions tell customers they shouldn’t place trust in an organization’s systems. 

Adverse opinions are quite rare, as most auditors will work with you to get the best possible outcome. It’s important to design and implement secure controls and provide your auditor with all the documentation they need to thoroughly audit your security measures.


Final thoughts

All organizations aim for an unqualified SOC 2 report opinion. However, if your report ends up with a qualified report or disclaimer, make sure you’re prepared to answer any questions your customers might have. 

Explain exactly how the control will impact them and provide reassurance that you’ll be resolving any outstanding issues and working on your succeeding SOC 2 audit.

Learn more about gaining compliance by downloading this eBook about the ISO 27001 journey. To request a demo for OneTrust’s Certification Automation tool, go here.     

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