Archive for the 'Card Brands' Category


Pre-Authorization And Post-Authorization (Part 2)

I discussed the concept of pre-authorization in a prior post.  Now it is time to cover post-authorization (aka “post-auth”) and the PCI requirements it drives.  Post-authorization is where the PCI DSS got started even though pre-authorization was always present.  That is because it was in post-authorization where merchants were losing cardholder data (CHD).  While this post is mostly about post-authorization, it still contains some important references and points about pre-authorization.


First, let us define what we mean by “post-authorization”.  Post-authorization starts immediately once a transaction has been processed and the payment has either been authorized or declined.  It is at this point that only the cardholder name, PAN (encrypted or tokenized) and expiration date are allowed to be stored in any post-authorization systems.

On page 8 of the PCI DSS, the PCI SSC provides an excellent chart on what can be retained and what must not be retained in post-authorization.

Post Auth PCI DSS Chart

However, this chart also creates confusion regarding pre-authorization and post-authorization because it is not labeled as such and that the discussion on this topic occurs after the chart, not before it.  The following is from the second paragraph following the chart and is usually missed.

“Sensitive authentication data must not be stored after authorization, even if encrypted. This applies even where there is no PAN in the environment. Organizations should contact their acquirer or the individual payment brands directly to understand whether SAD is permitted to be stored prior to authorization, for how long, and any related usage and protection requirements.”

The first sentence makes it very clear that SAD must never be stored post-authorization.  The second sentence is to ensure that those entities that tokenize/encrypt the PAN do not think they can store SAD because they technically no longer have the PAN (believe it or not, people do think this is true and then claim it as such).  The last sentence was added to tell merchants to discuss with their acquiring bank whether or not they can store SAD as pre-authorization data.  While technically the merchant should have explicit approval from their acquirer for storing pre-authorization data, I can tell you from experience that very, very few merchants have such evidence.  Not so much because they did not ask (most do not), but even more so because acquiring banks do not recognize their responsibility for providing such approval and therefore are reluctant to provide it.

From a post-authorization perspective, any merchant that is storing SAD in a point of sale (POS) solution as pre-authorization data needs to have a secure delete or destruction process in place to remove the pre-authorization data once the card transaction completes (approval or decline).  But a very important point is that pre-authorization data stored for customer convenience in pre-authorization applications is not affected by this change in status.

For the fuel station example in the pre-authorization discussion, the POS system that is storing the encrypted SAD/CHD while you pump the fuel needs to securely delete that information when you complete pumping and the payment is processed.  In some cases, when you swiped your card at the pump, the system not only did the pre-authorization of your payment, but it also may have tokenized your PAN and now is holding that token, not the SAD/CHD.

To continue on with our hotel example.  The hospitality management system is going to pre-authorize payment and then either encrypt the PAN on that initial swipe/dip at check in or it may tokenize it for storage.  At check out, the PAN is either decrypted or the token is submitted for payment.

Most phone orders have the CHD directly entered into systems no different from any consumer buying something over the internet.  In fact, for a lot of call centers, the order is actually entered into the same Web-site that consumers use.  After all, why reinvent the wheel?

However, with telephone orders, there are going to be rare instances where systems are not available.  In those cases, merchants can take a couple of approaches.  During such an outage, I have clients that do not accept orders.  They tell their customers to call back later when systems are operational.  I have other clients that will take the order on a paper form in the name of customer service.  The forms are securely collected and stored until systems are back online.  The forms are then entered into the system(s) and then the people follow secure destruction procedures of the forms.  The important lesson is that either approach can be used depending on your organization’s customer service desires.  The only issue is ensuring security of the information if you choose the manual form approach.

For facsimile and mail order examples we definitely have the issue of the SAD/CHD existing on paper.  So you need to do something to secure that SAD/CHD once the form has been processed.  For facsimiles, the PCI DSS requires a secure facsimile solution be used.  The simplest way is to have a dedicated facsimile machine that is only used for receipt of orders.  This facsimile machine needs to be placed in a locked room or a locked cabinet so that only authorized personnel can access the facsimiles that come to that machine.

On the more automated side, I have seen simple solutions that utilize an outsourced facsimile solution through a secure gateway.  Customer service personnel can only view and print out the facsimiles to process them.  I have other clients that have sophisticated solutions that start out similar to the secure gateway, but the gateway delivers the facsimiles to secure printing solutions that allow the customer service person to use any printer on the network because they can only print after physically going to a printer and tapping their facility access card against a reader connected to the printer thus securing the output until the user is ready to print it.

In the case of mail orders, those require securing the mail upon receipt in the mail room from the post office.  The orders should be secured until they are picked up by customer service personnel or whomever in the organization is responsible for processing mail orders.  Only a limited number of customer service personnel should be allowed to pick up the mail at the mail room to take to the area for processing.  When picking up the mail, the person picking up should sign a log indicating that the mail was picked up, when it was picked up and by whom.  Once taken back to the processing area, the mail needs to be secured there until it is processed.

The easiest approach is what I call “Sharpie redaction”.  That involves using a black ink permanent marker (i.e., a Sharpie marker) and redacting the PAN to the last four digits, blacking out the three- or four-digit card verification code (if provided), copying the redacted form so that the redacted information cannot be read, filing away the copied form and destroying the original by shredding it.

To avoid the “Sharpie” approach, merchants are modifying their mail order and facsimile forms so that the portion containing the SAD/CHD are either at the top or bottom of the form and can therefore be torn off and securely shredded leaving the rest of the form able to be retained without the SAD/CHD.

These are all just examples.  There are many more ways that can also work.  But I prefer simple methods as that is always the easiest to implement and follow.

The bottom line is that, regardless of pre-auth or post-auth, the data needs to be kept secure and the processes used to secure it need to work in your organization consistently and effectively.


Pre-Authorization And Post-Authorization (Part 1)

Welcome to a new year.  I have had a number of interactions with a variety of people over the previous year and it has become obvious that the concepts of pre-authorization and post-authorization data is not clear to a lot of people.  These two concepts are a key part of understanding PCI compliance.  I will start with pre-authorization in this post and have a separate post for a discussion of post-authorization.


Where pre-authorization (aka “pre-auth”) typically comes up is when someone asks, “How does [pick your online merchant] store a customer’s payment data and still be PCI compliant?”

Before we get to that question, we need to define what we mean by “pre-authorization”.  Pre-authorization is that time when a merchant has a customer’s sensitive authentication data (SAD) or cardholder data (CHD) but has not yet processed it for payment.

For most merchants, that time between collecting the SAD/CHD and processing it is measured in seconds.  For card present (CP) transactions, the SAD can be in the form of chip or magnetic stripe data.  For card not present (CNP) transactions, it typically includes the cardholder name, primary account number (PAN), expiration data and CVV/CVC/CID.  Regardless of transaction type, the data is sent off to either be approved or declined in seconds.

However, there are situations where that does not always happen that quickly.  Mail order telephone order (MOTO) and facsimile orders are the most obvious examples that can extend the amount of time between receipt of the CHD and processing by minutes, hours or even days and weeks.

But there are some not necessarily obvious situations where processing delays occur.

My first example of delay is when you go to fill your car with fuel.  When you swipe your card to pump the fuel, the system that manages the payment process will pre-authorize the purchase and then temporarily store the SAD until you finish pumping and hang up the hose to complete the transaction.  When you complete the transaction at the pump, the system sends through the actual charge and securely deletes your SAD from the system.  Depending on the size of your vehicle’s fuel tank and how close to empty you were, the system could have your SAD for quite a few minutes.

Another example is for the hospitality industry.  In the hospitality industry, a reservation typically does not cause a charge until a customer checks out even though they are required to have a card on file to hold the reservation.  When a customer checks into the property, the hotel’s billing system records the SAD and may also pre-authorize charges, but the actual card transaction is not processed until the customer checks out.  As a result, hotels can have SAD on file for the length of a traveler’s stay.  In fact, I have encountered SAD in hospitality systems that have been stored for more than a year due to reservations for special occasions such as graduations, birthdays, family reunions and anniversaries.

But getting back to the original question, the example that usually draws the most questions is in regards to when you, as a customer, store your card information with a merchant for future purchases.  These entities store your payment information (pre-authorization) in their applications so that you or they can quickly pay for your purchases without constantly re-entering your payment information.  These applications are not always part of a payment application, so they may or may not be PA-DSS validated.  However, when encountering them, I use the PA-DSS standard to ensure they process, store and transmit the SAD/CHD securely.  In addition, as a customer, you should have explicitly approved of the merchant storing your payment data and know how they will use that data.

Last, but not least, another great example of pre-authorization data are eWallet applications such as Google Pay and Apple Pay.  eWallets are just an electronic version of a consumer’s physical wallet.  eWallets are not regulated by the PCI standards or the card brands nor are they required to be PA-DSS validated.  Not that these eWallet applications are not secure, it is just that there is no one independently validating that they are secure.  That said, I always instruct developers of eWallet applications (or any pre-authorization applications) to follow the PA-DSS for developing a secure eWallet application.

The most confusion I encounter over pre-authorization data typically occurs regarding SAD/CHD that an organization receives via email or instant messaging.  A lot of QSAs get their undies in a bunch over when this happens and point to requirement 4.2 as the reason why this is unacceptable.  As a refresher, requirement 4.2 states:

“Never send unprotected PANs by end-user messaging technologies (for example, e-mail, instant messaging, chat, etc.).”

The operative word in 4.2 is “send”.  Requirement 4.2 says nothing about receiving PANs by these methods.  That does not mean that the Council recommends receiving PANs via email, IM or similar methods.  It is only recognition of what goes on in the real world.  There will always be a small percentage of people that will send their cardholder data insecurely and there is little an organization can do to stop it.

Yes, you can put a data loss prevention (DLP) solution in the middle of all of these messaging technologies and catch the bulk of the offenders.  But then what?

I have some clients who have taken this approach and the DLP securely deletes the message and triggers a message back to the sender stating that they do not accept payment card information via this communication channel and then explains all of the appropriate and approved ways a customer can communicate SAD/CHD.

I have other clients that use the DLP but do not delete the message.  They explain that in this one instance, they will process the transaction because they are all about the customer experience.  They have a process that they follow to handle the message and then securely delete it.

To keep your email, IM and other messaging systems out of scope, the Council has told QSAs that organizations must have a policy in place that says they never encourage customers to use these messaging channels for communicating SAD/CHD and to make sure that organizations have a process to remove the SAD/CHD as soon as possible from those systems.  That typically involves the printing of the message, deleting the message from the system(s) and then securely destroying the printed message once the transaction is processed.  This is all considered “incidental contact” in the eyes of the Council and the QSA can then consider the system out of scope as long as they can satisfy themselves that the manual process is reliable.

The bottom line is that all of these situations involve pre-authorization data and pre-authorization data can include everything recorded on a card’s track or chip.  If a merchant does store the pre-authorization data for the convenience of their customers, they are obligated under the PCI DSS to store it separately, away from post-authorization data and to protect it with the same rigor as post-authorization data, i.e., encrypted, extremely limited access, logging, monitoring, etc. 

That is a key point that is often missed.  Pre-authorization data must be stored separately and away from any storage of post-authorization data.  That means that separate instances of databases need to be used on separate servers.  The rationale for this is no different than keeping key encrypting keys (KEK) away from data encrypting keys (DEK).  It is to ensure that in the event of a breach of post-authorization data, it does not readily lead to a breach of pre-authorization data.  It also allows for more rigorous controls over the pre-authorization data.

One final point regarding pre-authorization data that I made earlier, but it needs to be reiterated.  If a merchant intends to store pre-authorization data, I highly recommend that you have a legal agreement in place between your organization and your customers that explains why your organization is retaining this information and the business purpose(s) for which the information will be used.  That can be similar to a license agreement that the user either signs or clicks “Okay” online to acknowledge their approval.

In a future post I will discuss the world of post-authorization where the PCI standards were originally focused.


What Are You Really Interested In?

As a QSA, we hear this comment all of the time.

“PCI is all about compliance, not security.”

The implication being that the person talking is interested in actually securing their environment not just being PCI compliant.

Yet as the conversation goes on, we get into esoteric discussions regarding scope and how scope can be minimized.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but as these discussions continue, an underlying theme becomes apparent.

This conversation eventually leads to the QSA asking, “What are your drivers that are making you so concerned about minimizing scope?”

The inevitable answer is, “Because, we want to minimize the cost of and/or difficulty in implementing (in no particular order) information security, increasing information security personnel, how many devices we vulnerability scan and penetration test, critical file management tools, anti-virus licenses, devices needing log aggregation and analysis, [insert your security tool/product/device/appliance/widget here].”

It is at that point it becomes painfully obvious that the organization is not at all interested in security.  In fact, they do not give a damn about security.  Their only interest is in checking off the PCI compliance box and moving on to the next annoying compliance checkbox on their list.

I am sure a lot of you are questioning, “How can you be saying this?”

Because, if the organization were truly interested in security, all of the things they mention in their minimization discussion would already be installed in their production environment, if not QA and test environments.  That is right.  They would already be installed and not just on the PCI in-scope stuff.  It would already be installed everywhere in those environments.


Because all of these security tools and methods are part and parcel of a basic information security program that follows information security “best practices”.  They are not special to PCI, they are required for any successful information security program such as HIPAA, FFIEC, FISMA, HITRUST, etc.

People seem to think that the PCI SSC and the card brands came up with the PCI DSS requirements by arbitrarily pulling the requirements out of thin air.  In fact, I have had people insinuate that the PCI standards are just there for the banks to be mean to merchants and extract more money from them.

But in actuality, the PCI standards come from a lot of recognized sources including the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) security standards and guidance, US Department of Defense (DoD) security standards and guidance, as well as “lessons learned” from the card brands’ cardholder data breach forensic examinations and working with information security professionals sharing their knowledge of what are the minimum, basic “best practices” required to secure data.

But the key words here are ‘minimum’ and ‘basic’.

Because guess what?  If you want true security (remember that thing you supposedly wanted when we started), then you have to go beyond the PCI DSS requirements.  Hear that people?  If you want true security, your organization must go BEYOND the PCI DSS requirements.  Organizations are complaining about doing the basics.  Imagine what their complaints would be like if they had to do true security?  They would be throwing a tantrum that would be easily heard around the world.

Want actual proof that organizations are not doing the basics?

Read the Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report (DBIR) or any of the dozens of data breach reports issued annually by forensic analysis firms.  They all read the same; year after year after nauseating year.  Organizations cannot consistently execute even the basic security requirements specified in any security standard.  Even more disheartening is the fact that it is the same vulnerabilities and mistakes that are the root cause of the vast majority of breaches.

QSAs still get complaints from organizations about the PCI DSS being too difficult and costly to implement and maintain.  Yet these same organizations have the gall to say that PCI is NOT about security.

So, before you go and tell your QSA that PCI is all about compliance, think long and hard about that remark and why you are saying it.  Odds are you are saying it to look good, make a good impression with your QSA, show them that you are a true security professional and that your organization wants to be secure.

Think again.  The truth will eventually come out.  One way or another.


The Party Is Off

Here is the official announcement from the PCI SSC that this year’s North American Community Meeting in Orlando has been cancelled due to Hurricane Irma.

See you all next year.


PCI Compliance And Financial Institutions

I remember being at one of the early PCI Community Meetings and someone from the PCI SSC promised that the PCI DSS would be periodically updated to reflect changing business conditions as well as changing threats.  Here we are more than a decade later, and we have version 3.2 of the DSS, but it has been changed more for changes in threats and very little for business.

Their rationale was that they wanted to minimize the number of compensating control worksheets (CCW) that would be needed for the majority of organizations.  This was in response to v1 of the PCI DSS that required that data encryption keys change annually.  Most large merchants who were participating organizations (PO) complained that it was taking six months to a year or more to encrypt their transaction databases and files.  Requiring annual key changes would leave those databases and files at risk because they would always be in a state of perpetual decryption/encryption.  As a result, almost everyone had a CCW for that requirement.  So, the Council changed the requirement to require the changing of encryption keys when they were believed to be compromised or if one or more persons who know the keys leave the company or change roles.

The reason I bring this up is that I have been dealing with financial institutions and their PCI compliance issues for the last few years.  If there is anything more frustrating, it is trying to apply a standard written for merchants to organizations that are not merchants.  It seems like every time I turn around; a requirement needs a CCW, particularly when concerning requirement 3.4.

I am sure the Council will point to requirement 3.2 as their token change that took into account issuers.  But that does nothing for the other requirements that financial institutions struggle.  The biggest reason a lot of the PCI requirements are a struggle is that financial institutions are in the business of; surprise, surprise; processing, storing and transmitting cardholder data.  That IS their business.  3.2 was a great change for issuers, but a lot of the rest of the PCI DSS is a huge pain for a financial institution without a lot of CCWs and the blessings of the requisite card brand(s).

Let us look at a few requirements where CCWs are needed when assessing an FI.

3.4 Render PAN unreadable anywhere it is stored (including on portable digital media, backup media, and in logs) – this can be very problematic for financial institutions.  The reason is that while they can encrypt or tokenize the data, they also need to decrypt/detokenize it as well.  In a lot of cases, they need to do those operations quickly and very often.  It is not that the FIs do not want to protect the information, it is just that they have some unique issues in meeting PCI requirements.

The best example of this situation is debit cards.  Debit cards must be tied to a demand deposit account (DDA) such as a checking or savings account.  That means somewhere there must be a mapping of the debit card into the core application system.  But to process transactions from the card networks when customers use their cards, the PAN must be decrypted/de-tokenized so that the payment can be approved or declined.  This decryption/de-tokenization process needs to meet a timing standard, so adding to the processing time is usually not an option.  As a result, it is not unusual to find that the PAN to DDA mapping file is not encrypted or tokenized.

6.4.3 Production data (live PANs) are not used for testing or development – when part of your business is all about processing, storing and transmitting sensitive authentication data (SAD) and/or cardholder data (CHD), using a few card brand test accounts like a merchant would use for testing is not going to work.  Particularly when you are testing with one of the card brands to certify your application.  In those instances, the FI and brands are going to demand the use of a large and varied set of PANs to ensure that systems are functioning properly.  The only way to do that is with live data from production.

3.2.1 Do not store the full contents of any track (from the magnetic stripe located on the back of a card, equivalent data contained on a chip, or elsewhere) after authorization

3.2.2 Do not store the card verification code or value (three-digit or four-digit number printed on the front or back of a payment card used to verify card-not-present transactions) after authorization

3.2.3 Do not store the personal identification number (PIN) or the encrypted PIN block after authorization.  – requirement 3.2 addresses that issuers that have a business reason to retain sensitive authentication data (SAD) can retain it.  However, 3.2.1, 3.2.2 and 3.2.3 say that all of this data cannot be stored right after authorization. These requirements then go on to say the QSA must inspect incoming transaction data, log data, databases, etc.  Well, guess what?  The incoming transaction data always has SAD in it of some form because the FI has to authorize the transaction.  As I said earlier, databases can have it because of the speed required to authorize.  This is the FIs’ business, yet the standard does not recognize this fact.

The bottom line is that the PCI DSS does not reflect the realities of financial institutions.  As a result, FIs require numerous CCWs to meet the PCI DSS requirements.  As I stated at the beginning, the Council promised that they would address such issues to make CCWs the exception not the rule.  Well, here we are, and in the FI world CCWs are commonplace.  And as we move forward, it will be FIs that will be the focus of the standard, not merchants.  Merchants will very soon be out of the payment card data business altogether with the exception of their POI.  So, it only makes sense to adapt the PCI DSS to securing FIs.

We have separate PCI DSS and AOC documents for service providers.  Maybe we need separate such documents in addition to revised requirements for financial institutions?

Seems like a good discussion topic to bring up at the upcoming Community Meeting.


NESA – Guidance In Search Of A Problem

On Thursday, June 29, the PCI SSC held their quarterly Assessor update webinar.  One of the more interesting discussions was on the topic of the non-listed encryption solution assessment or NESA.

For those unfamiliar with NESA, it is an attempt by the Council to have all end-to-end encryption (E2EE) solutions such as First Data’s TransArmor and Verifone’s Verishield assessed against the relevant PCI P2PE standards to ensure they are secure.  The problem is that the card brands and the banks have not gotten behind the NESA approach so it has effectively stalled out much like the P2PE program has stalled out.  But on the Thursday webinar we found out that it has really stalled out and the Council seems to be getting desperate to salvage it.

The goals of NESA are:

  • The Council reiterated that the NESA requires that a P2PE-QSA is required to conduct the assessment using the PCI P2PE assessment programs as guidance. Essentially, the NESA is a P2PE validation without the Council’s certification and listing of the solution on the Council’s Web site.
  • NESA provides a consistent approach to evaluating non-listed encryption solutions against “best practices”.
  • It provides other PCI assessors, acquiring banks and merchants with information about the risk and PCI DSS responsibilities when using a non-listed encryption solution.
  • It provides input to a merchant’s QSA to consider when conducting the merchant’s PCI assessment.

All of these are admirable goals of the NESA.  But the question still remains, do we need the NESA?

According to the Council a lot of people in the “payments community” have been clamoring for NESA.  I am not sure exactly who the Council is referring to as the “payments community” but it certainly has not been the banks or the brands.  Those two constituencies are already partnered up with E2EE and P2PE solutions and have not been clamoring for anything other than to use those solutions.

The Council did bring up the organizations behind the solutions already listed as P2PE validated.  That would make sense as they have a vested interest in forcing non-listed encryption solutions through the process.  But as to banks, the brands and QSAs pushing this agenda?  I would seriously doubt it.

Then there is the issue that the Council says that QSAs are stumped when they encounter an E2EE solution.  The process of assessing E2EE solutions has been known by QSAs since E2EE solutions were rolled out years ago by the various vendors.  But with the introduction of P2PE, I would bet that the Council’s QSA/ISA training does not cover how to handle E2EE solutions.  And I am sure since the invention of the NESA process, they have even more reasons not to instruct QSAs on how to assess an E2EE solution.  Yet I am sure that they still discuss how to assess an application that is not PA-DSS validated.  That is a “shame on them” for ignoring the realities of the real world.

But the process is not that involved.  When encountering an E2EE solution, the QSA needs to ensure that the E2EE solution is implemented according to its implementation guide (IG).  A transaction processor/gateway or an acquiring bank may also require packet captures to ensure that the data stream is encrypted.  All of that assessment and testing documentation is submitted to the acquiring bank and the bank explicitly grants the merchant scope reduction.  Then the QSA can follow the requirements in SAQ P2PE for an assessment.  All of which adds probably two hours to a merchant’s PCI assessment versus the costs of a full on P2PE assessment.  When looking at the costs of a P2PE assessment plus the listing fees to have the solution placed on the Council’s Web site, is there any wonder a lot of E2EE solution providers have eschewed the P2PE program.

First Data and Verifone have been adamant since P2PE was introduced that they will never go through P2PE because it is not needed.  Given they are partnered with most of the large processors and banks, their lack of support for P2PE means a lot and also means that until they get on board with either NESA or P2PE, both of these standards are in trouble.

But the most troubling comments occurred at the end of the Council’s brief discussion of NESA.

  • NESA is NOT a program. It is only “guidance”.
  • NESA may not result in scope reduction.
  • There is no formal NESA documentation or template.

When the Council says that something is “guidance”, there is no mandate for anyone to do anything.  This is how QSAs are to treat those Information Supplements published periodically by the Council.  In this case, NESA is only a suggestion.  So, until the brands and banks get behind the NESA process, there is no reason to have a NESA performed.

The next two comments go together.  If there is no formal deliverable for QSAs to review, how does a QSA evaluate that any NESA process was conducted adequately?  And if that is the case, of course the granting of scope reduction is not likely.  After all, if a QSA is not sure about the NESA, how is the bank supposed to evaluate it let alone pay for it.  And if scope reduction is not achieved, then what in the world is the point of NESA in the first place?  The only purpose I can see is to give P2PE QSACs an ability to push their services on the E2EE solution vendors to make their services worth the cost incurred with the Council.

The only other benefit that I can see is an opportunity for certain P2PE-QSACs to flood us all with NESA Certificates since their PCI Compliance certificates are worthless.

But in the end, you really start to wonder what the Council was thinking when they put this process together.  Time will tell, but I am guessing and hoping that NESA, like P2PE, will die a quick and quiet death.


We Need A Change To 2.3.b

I just wanted to give everyone a “heads up” about some guidance we recently received from the PCI SSC regarding jump boxes or out-of-band (OOB) system management solutions and the use of insecure protocols such as SNMPv1/2 and Telnet.

But did everyone know that this solution also requires a compensating control worksheet (CCW)?

For years (at least since the Phoenix Community Meeting years ago), the Council has been recommending the use of firewalls and jump boxes as a way to secure instances where organizations need to use insecure protocols.  These enclaves are firewalled, VLAN’d and configured so that only the jump box can be used to remotely connect to the devices over Telnet and allowing other insecure protocols to be kept away from other networks.  However, I do not recall any of those discussions ever explicitly calling out the need for a CCW.  I suppose the Council just figured we would all be bright enough to write one up.

What led me to this revelation you ask?

When I was going through my QSA Requalification this spring, they had a scenario with a jump box solution.  One of the questions related to the scenario involved how you would create a CCW for the insecure protocols used in the administrative VLAN that the jump box provided access.  While I answered the questions correctly, it triggered a new question regarding why a CCW was needed in the first place.

Then when the question was posed back to the Council, we got a reply indicating that a CCW would be required because of requirement 2.3.b which states:

“Review services and parameter files on systems to determine that Telnet and other insecure remote-login commands are not available for non-console access.”

The problem with the requirement is that it treats all Telnet with equal distain regardless of risk.  Yes, Telnet is always a clear text protocol, but when it is buried two or three layers away from any general network or the internet and requires administrator credentials and MFA, it is hardly as “at risk” as it would be when PCI started over 15 years ago and networks were as flat as a piece of paper.

As a result, I would like to recommend that the Council work to change 2.3.b to take into account the use of network segmentation, firewalls, VLANs, ACLs, MFA and jump boxes to allow the use of Telnet and insecure protocols when in a properly isolated and secure environment.  It seems silly to me that someone goes through all of the right steps to secure their environment only to be told that they still need a compensating controls to meet a requirement that does not reflect the real risk.

The other reason I feel this needs to be addressed is that a lot of banks and processors seem to see CCWs as a huge red flag.  Something to be avoided at all costs because it implies to them non-compliance.  And non-compliance is a “bad” thing.  I cannot tell you the collective hand wringing some banks go through for really simple CCWs all because they do not want to have any PCI assessments with CCWs.

Ultimately I think this all comes down to the fact that those banks and processors have no clue as to the amount of risk any CCW presents.  This is because most banks and processors staff their PCI compliance areas with auditors and compliance professionals, not technicians.  Given that the PCI DSS is predominately all about security technology and its implementation, these auditors and compliance people are not equipped to make the decisions that typically need to be made regarding CCWs.  As a result, they are all high risk in their eyes and treated accordingly.

Hopefully the Council can address this situation and we can avoid needless documentation for a preferred “best practice”.


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If your organization has a PCI opportunity, is in need of assistance with a PCI issue or if you would like the PCI Guru to speak at your meeting, you can contact the PCI Guru at pciguru AT gmail DOT com.

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May 2018
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