Archive for the 'Requirement 3 – Protect stored cardholder data' Category


PCI DSS v3.2 Draft Released

On Friday, April 15, 2016 while a lot of you were probably getting your US income taxes done, the PCI SSC decided to release the draft of v3.2 of the PCI DSS.  I know the announcement message to me from the Council ended up in my company’s spam filter, so you may want to check there if you did not receive a message.  I was lucky enough for a colleague to forward his copy along to me.  However to get the draft, you need access to the PCI Portal to obtain the draft PCI DSS v3.2 and the requisite change log.

These are some of the more notable changes in the new PCI DSS version.

  • The draft provides an official sunset date for v3.1 of the PCI DSS. Regardless of the date in April that v3.2 is released, v3.1 will be withdrawn on October 31, 2016.  So any assessments done after that date will need to comply with and use v3.2.
  • Two new sections to Appendix A have been added. In addition to the Appendix for shared hosting providers (now marked A.1), we get Appendices A.2 and A.3.  2 covers SSL and early TLS for those of you that will miss the June 30, 2016 date.  For those of you that thought 2018 was the deadline and missed discussions on the Webinar about the SSL/early TLS deadline, while the deadline was extended to June 30, 2018, any organizations missing the June 30, 2016 date must fill out Appendix A.2.  A.3 is where the Council added the designated entities supplemental validation (DESV) requirements.
  • There are a number of new requirements for service providers that are best practices until February 1, 2018. Those new requirements include: (1) maintain a documented description of the cryptographic architecture, (2) detect and report on failures of critical security control systems, (3) perform penetration testing on segmentation controls at least every six months, (4) executive management to establish responsibilities for the protection of cardholder data and a PCI DSS compliance program, and (5) perform reviews at least quarterly, to confirm personnel are following security policies and operational procedures.  I would bet that numbers three and five will likely create a lot of contention with service providers.  But you have until February 1, 2018 to get those in place.  However, if experience teaches us anything, service providers had better start now getting these new requirements in place and operating.
  • All organizations picked up the following new requirements that are best practices until February 1, 2018: (1) change control processes to include verification of PCI DSS requirements impacted by a change, and (2) multi-factor authentication for all personnel with non-console administrative access to the CDE. As with the aforementioned new requirements for service providers, these will also require a lot of organizations to get started now to ensure these new requirements are in place and operating.
  • The Council clarified requirement 8.1.5 to show that it is intended for all third parties with remote access, rather than only vendors. While most organizations understood the intent of this requirement, there were a few that played “legal eagle” and refused to require compliance for non-vendors.
  • Requirement 6.5 has been clarified that developers must go through secure coding training at least annually. This change will likely create some consternation for some organizations that are developing their own software that is in-scope for PCI compliance.
  • Clarified 11.5.a by removing “within the cardholder data environment” from the testing procedure for consistency with requirement, as the requirement may apply to critical systems located outside the designated CDE. This will likely expand the number of systems that require critical file monitoring.
  • Clarified 12.8 1 by saying that the list of service providers now must include a description of the service(s) provided.
  • Clarified 12.8.2 by adding guidance that service provider responsibility will depend on the particular service(s) being provided and the agreement between the two parties.
  • One of my pet peeves has finally been addressed. I have always had an issue with requirement 1.1.6 and the use of the terminology “insecure protocols”.  The reason is that in one way or another, all protocols have their insecurities whether they are known or not.  In v3.2, the Council has finally removed the “insecure” designation as, in their words, “these may change in accordance with industry standards.”  It is those small battles at times that make your day.

There are other clarifications and edits that have been made to the new version.

For all of us QSAs, we await the Reporting Template which will detail out the actual testing to be performed which will allow us to assess the real impact to the effort required to conduct an assessment.  As a result, there could still be some surprises with this new version of the PCI DSS.  So stay tuned.


Living In PCI Denial

This was one of those weeks where you see something and all you can do is shake your head and wonder what some organizations think when it comes to PCI.  What added insult to injury in this case was that the organization arguing over PCI compliance is the manufacturer of card terminals, also known as point of interaction (POI).  It shocked me that such an organization was so clueless about PCI as a whole when you would think it is their business to know. But to add insult to injury, my client’s transaction processor and acquiring bank are also apparently clueless.

As background, I am working on a client’s Report On Compliance (ROC).  This client has almost completed with their roll out of an end-to-end encryption (E2EE) solution at all of their 4,000+ retail locations.  This E2EE solution will take all but the POI at those retail locations out of scope for PCI compliance.  That is the good news.

But if there is good news, you know there must be bad news.  In reviewing their documentation of this E2EE solution, I discovered that the POI vendor is providing management and updates to the POI through a terminal management system (TMS).  Since this TMS solution/service connects directly to my client’s cardholder data environment (CDE), I naturally asked the client for a copy of the vendor’s Attestation Of Compliance (AOC) for the TMS solution/service.

I thought those worthless PCI Certificates of Compliance took the cake.  Then, BAM!  I got the following message forwarded to me by my client from the POI vendor.  I have redacted all of the potential information that could identify the relevant parties and the TMS solution/service.

“Please see the follow up note below that you can send to your QSA for review and feedback:

  1. TMS systems in our industry do not require any type of PCI certification since PCI is concerned about card holder information that would be at risk. Since [vendor solution] does not have any card holder data at all, it falls outside of PCI requirements.  [Vendor solution] is merchant configuration and estate management tool only and as such, no payment card information passes through it, or directed to it.  In addition, no secure keys are stored on [vendor solution] so transaction data cannot be decrypted with anything on [vendor solution] or POS.
  2. [Vendor] Hardware and [vendor solution] Software are all PCI PTS compliant and certified and listed on the PCI website. Transactions are encrypted in hardware using the [encryption solution] keys which again [vendor solution] has no knowledge.  Transaction information can only be decrypted by [processor] the processor.  [Vendor solution] has no knowledge of this encrypted information being sent directly from the [vendor] to the processor.
  3. The beauty and simplicity of [vendor solution] semi-integrated terminal application is that is has all transaction data go directly to the Processor ([processor]) and no customer data is directed to the POS or [vendor solution] which makes the POS out of PCI Scope by the very nature of no card holder data in their environment.
  4. [Client] has a merchant certification with [processor] for the [encryption solution] with our [vendor solution] terminal application. Any questions regarding the certification should be directed to [acquiring bank] or a [processor] representative.

Let us know if your QSA has any further questions and we can also schedule a concall with all parties to address any concerns on [vendor solution] TMS and PCI.”

The first thing that wound me up is that this vendor is a business partner of my client’s transaction processor.  The processor is also a business partner of my client’s acquiring bank.  Those two organizations put forth this vendor to my client as being able to provide POI compatible to the processor’s E2EE and tokenization solution.  Obviously from this vendor’s response, these two well-known institutions did nothing in the way of due diligence to ensure that this vendor and its services were PCI compliant.

The second thing that totally irritated me is that there is no excuse for this vendor’s uneducated response.  Granted, this vendor is new to the US market, but they have been supplying POI to other merchants all over other parts of the world.  Which then starts to make you wonder just how lame are the banks, processors, card brands and other QSAs that they have not been called on the carpet about this before.  But that is a topic for another post and a good reason why the FTC is investigating the PCI compliance industry.

So let me take apart this vendor’s response.

“TMS systems in our industry do not require any type of PCI certification since PCI is concerned about card holder information that would be at risk.”

Wrong!  On page 10 of the PCI DSS the first paragraph under ‘Scope of PCI DSS Requirements’ clearly defines what is in scope for PCI compliance.

“The PCI DSS security requirements apply to all system components included in or connected to the cardholder data environment. The cardholder data environment (CDE) is comprised of people, processes and technologies that store, process, or transmit cardholder data or sensitive authentication data. “System components” include network devices, servers, computing devices, and applications.”

The operative phrase the TMS solution/service falls under is “connected to”.  The TMS solution/service directly connects to my client’s CDE.  That solution/service may not process, store or transmit cardholder data (CHD) or sensitive authentication data (SAD), but it is directly connected to my client’s CDE.  As a result, according to the above definition, the TMS solution/service is definitely in scope for PCI compliance.

“[Vendor] Hardware and [vendor solution] Software are all PCI PTS compliant and certified and listed on the PCI website.”

PTS certification is a card brand requirement, not a PCI DSS requirement.  Nowhere in the PCI DSS does it require that a PTS certified POI be used so I really do not care about this statement as it has nothing to do with my PCI DSS assessment activities.  If PTS were a PCI DSS requirement, then all of those people using Square and the like would be non-compliant.

“In addition, no secure keys are stored on [vendor solution] so transaction data cannot be decrypted with anything on [vendor solution] or POS.”

“Transaction information can only be decrypted by [processor] the processor.”

True, your TMS solution/service does not have the encryption keys.  But the firmware delivered by the TMS solution/service does have access.  (Unless you are the first POI vendor I have ever encountered that spent the huge amount of money required to truly create a hardware-only encryption solution.)  Given the low retail price and discounting of your POI you gave my client, I very seriously doubt that is the case.  So the firmware that your TMS solution/service delivers is what is doing the encryption and therefore has access to the encryption keys.  So while the TMS solution/service does not have the keys, it could be used to deliver rogue firmware that could obtain them.

Then there is the firmware delivery itself by your TMS solution.  If someone hacks your TMS environment, how easy would it be for them to have it deliver a rogue version of your firmware?  Since my client has no AOC, I have no idea if your security measures surrounding your TMS solution are adequate to prevent such an attack.

“[Client] has a merchant certification with [processor] for the [encryption solution] with our [vendor solution] terminal application.”

Such a statement ranks up there with those previously mentioned worthless PCI Certificates of Compliance.  Any QSA is required to obtain an AOC for the TMS solution/service to ensure that it is PCI compliant or the solution/service must be assessed as part of the merchant’s PCI assessment.

PCI DSS requirements under 12.8 are very clear as to everything a merchant needs to be able to provide to their QSA regarding third party PCI compliance.  Primarily of which is that AOC for your TMS solution/service among other items of evidence.

So I have a conference call with my client’s bank to discuss this situation.  I pushed back very hard when they told me that my client needs to do a compensating control for their business partner’s incompetence.  I even got an “atta boy” from the bank for identifying to them that they have a PCI compliance and potential security issue.  But I could not make the bank budge on the compensating control so I am off to get that written.

The lesson to be learned from this post is that nothing can be taken for granted when doing a PCI assessment even when you transaction processor and bank are involved.  A lot of people and QSAs would assume that a POI vendor would know better and that their bank and transaction processor had vetted the POI vendor.  Therefore, why do I have to worry about this vendor?  However as I have pointed out, you can never take anything for granted even when it involves organizations that you would think would know better.

This is just one way of many that could result in an organization being breached.  The TMS solution/service is a gateway directly to the merchant’s CDE.  Yet there has been no PCI assessment of that solution/service to ensure that it is PCI compliant and the risk it could be subverted has been minimized.

Thank goodness it is the weekend.  Oh, wait.  This weekend’s project is my income taxes.  Looks like I will be cranky all weekend as well.


Small And Mid-Sized Businesses

At this year’s PCI Community Meeting, the push was to address the security issues faced by small and mid-sized businesses, otherwise referred to as SMB. However, in my opinion, the approaches being suggested are still too complex. Great security results from simplicity, not complexity. As a result, I propose the following approach for SMBs because SMB executives typically have little time to fully educate themselves in information security, let alone, PCI. And while I am of the opinion that executives should have such knowledge, it is just not happening.

There Are No “Silver Bullet” Solutions

First and foremost. There are no “silver bullet” solutions that will entirely remove your organization from PCI scope. Any vendor telling you that their solution removes your organization from PCI scope is lying to you. If you hear such a statement from a vendor, the vendor does not know what they are talking about and their statements regarding PCI should no longer be trusted. The bottom line is that, if your organization accepts credit/debit cards for payment for goods/services, the organization will always have some PCI scope. The least amount of scope an organization can achieve is complying with the requirements listed in the SAQ A. There is nothing less. Anyone telling you otherwise does not know what they are talking about.


This is probably the biggest single thing an SMB can do. In this day and age, there is no reason that any organization needs to retain CHD. Period. The most common business justification is that the organization does recurring transactions and that is the reason to retain CHD. Processors have a solution for that situation and many others. So I say it again. There is no valid business reason for any organization to retain CHD. None. Nada. Zip.

The first question out of an SMB executive’s mouth to a payment solution vendor should be, “Does your solution store cardholder or sensitive authentication data?” If the answer is anything other than an immediate and definitive “NO”, the meeting or telephone call is over, done, complete. There is nothing more to discuss. SMBs must stop being an easy target for attacks. The easiest way to do that is not having the CHD in the first place.

The second question that a payment vendor should be asked is, “How does your solution minimize my organization’s PCI scope?” If the vendor cannot provide you with a whitepaper on this subject, run away. If the documentation provided by the vendor leaves you with more questions than answers for PCI compliance, you also need to run away. In all likelihood, if this is what you encounter, the vendor’s PCI compliance is questionable, complex or requires too much effort on your part to be PCI compliant. This question should result in a one to three page whitepaper on PCI and how the vendor’s solution minimizes your organization’s scope.

So what solutions reduce scope to the minimum?

If you are a traditional brick and mortar retailer, end-to-end encryption (E2EE) from the card terminal, also known as the point of interaction (POI), to the transaction processor. PCI has a validation program called point-to-point encryption (P2PE). P2PE solutions are independently validated to ensure that they are secure. Solutions such as Shift4’s Dollars on the Net, First Data’s TransArmor and Verifone’s VeriShield are E2EE solutions that could meet the P2PE standard, but for various reasons the providers chose not to validate them to the P2PE standard. The key capability for any such solution is that the solution encrypts the CHD/SAD immediately when it is read from the card and none of your organization’s technology can decrypt the information and therefore read it.

If your organization does eCommerce, then you want to use a redirect or iFrame to process transactions in order to reduce PCI scope. The best example of a redirect is when a merchant uses PayPal for processing payments. The merchant’s Web site has a PayPal button that sends the customer to PayPal who then processes the customer’s payment transaction. At no time does the sensitive authentication data (SAD) encounter the merchant’s Web site. One of the concerns from merchants about redirects is the myth that customers vacate their shopping carts because they are redirected to a different site for payment. While this was true in the early days of eCommerce, with the increased use of PayPal and similar payment services, customers seem to have gotten over that practice and vacated shopping carts are no longer an issue. But if this is still a concern, use this as a teaching moment and educate your customer base that you do the redirect to ensure the security of their SAD.

An iFrame is essentially a Web page within a Web page. But the key thing from a PCI compliance perspective is that the iFrame is produced and managed by a third party, not the merchant. An iFrame can be a Web page, but more often than not it is a series of fields that gather the SAD for conducting a payment transaction. As with the redirect, the SAD never comes into contact with the merchant’s Web site.

Both of these solutions take your organization’s Web site out of scope so you do not need external and internal vulnerability scans and penetration tests. However, just because your Web site does not have to go through the rigors of PCI compliance, you still need to ensure its security. See my post on SAQ A and SAQ A-EP for a more detailed discussion on this topic.


Tokenization is the act of encrypting or tokenizing the primary account number (PAN) so that when it is returned to the merchant for storage it has no value to anyone if it is disclosed. Tokenization can occur at the time a card is swiped or dipped at the terminal or it can be done by the transaction processor at the back end of the transaction. Regardless of where the tokenization occurs, paired with E2EE or P2PE, tokenization further minimizes PCI scope.

If your organization needs to perform recurring transactions such as with subscriptions or automatic reorders, tokens can be generated by the processor so that they can be used just like a PAN. While a token is not a PAN, in situations where they can be reused for future transactions, it is incumbent upon the merchant to protect access to the token so that it cannot be sent to the processor for fraudulent charges.

And that is it. Not storing CHD, E2EE/P2PE and tokenization will reduce an organization’s PCI compliance footprint to the absolute minimum. It really is that simple. However, finding the solutions that bring all of that to the table is where the work comes in. However, any SMB that asks the right questions of its vendors can put together a solution that minimizes their scope and provides protection for CHD/SAD as good as with the big boys.


Whole Disk Encryption Explained

There are a lot of security professionals and lay people that seem to believe that encryption is encryption and that is simply not the case. Worse yet, vendors play into this misconception and obfuscate the issue with lots of words and phrases discussing seemingly complicated encryption key management procedures and the like that are actually meaningless when it comes to protecting data on running systems. As a result, it is time to clarify all of this misunderstanding.

First things first, we need to discuss how whole disk encryption works. As its name implies, whole disk encryption encrypts an entire disk drive. When a file on the whole disk encrypted drive is accessed, the encryption solution decrypts the file necessary using the decryption key provided at system startup and the rest of the drive remains encrypted. That way if a system failure occurs or the system is shutdown deliberately, the drive is always protected.

That is the key concept of whole disk encryption. The drive is technically only encrypted when the system is shutdown. If the system is running, the encryption is technically not in place because the operating system has the decryption key to access the disk at will. This is why whole disk encryption is great for devices like notebooks and the like that are shutdown at some point.

This is also why whole disk encryption is meaningless when applied to a server. When is a server shut down? Never. When using whole disk encryption on a running server, the only control that protects data is access controls, not encryption.

So using this definition, let us examine requirement 3.4.1 in the PCI DSS. That requirement states:

“If disk encryption is used (rather than file- or column-level database encryption), logical access must be managed separately and independently of native operating system authentication and access control mechanisms (for example, by not using local user account databases or general network login credentials). Decryption keys must not be associated with user accounts.”

The first statement that throws people is “logical access must be managed separately and independently of native operating system authentication and access control mechanisms”. In short, whole disk encryption cannot rely only on the operating system’s authentication process.

The best example of this is Microsoft BitLocker. BitLocker has a number of modes under which it can operate. It can integrate with Active Directory (AD), it can rely on a trusted platform module (TPM) chip in the computer or it can operate stand-alone.

In stand-alone mode, BitLocker requires the user to provide the BitLocker key by either manually keying it in or providing it on a USB device that stores the BitLocker key in order to boot the system. If that key is not provided, the system will not even offer the user to logon. This form of BitLocker meets the requirements set forth in requirement 3.4.1.

But then the requirement goes on and say, “Decryption keys must not be associated with user accounts”.

In stand-alone mode, the BitLocker key is not associated with the user’s credentials so it also meets this part of 3.4.1.

However, in the AD or TPM modes, BitLocker operates behind the scenes and the end user never knows that their disk is encrypted and the user still logs onto the system as always using their Windows credentials. These modes do not meet the independence requirement in 3.4.1 because all that is protecting the data is the user’s Windows credentials. And in the case of AD mode, BitLocker also does not meet the user credential disassociation requirement because the BitLocker decryption key is tied to the user’s Windows credentials.

But if people would fully read the Guidance column for requirement 3.4.1 they would read the following at the end of the guidance for 3.4.1 where the Council states:

“Full disk encryption helps to protect data in the event of physical loss of a disk and therefore may be appropriate for portable devices that store cardholder data.”


Whole disk encryption helps protect data in the event of physical loss of a disk. Period.

So with a server that never shuts down, if a drive in a SAN or NAS fails, the failed disk with whole disk encryption will be encrypted when it is pulled from the array. But if things are running just fine, whole disk encryption does nothing to protect the data.

So do not be baffled by the statements from those vendors trying to convince you that whole disk encryption on your server is going to protect your data while the server is running. That is not true.

Now you know.


Adventures In Finding Cardholder Data

On page 10 of the PCI DSS v3 under the heading of ‘Scope of PCI DSS Requirements’, second paragraph, is the following sentence.

 “At least annually and prior to the annual assessment, the assessed entity should confirm the accuracy of their PCI DSS scope by identifying all locations and flows of cardholder data and ensuring they are included in the PCI DSS scope.”

Under the first bullet after that paragraph is the following.

 “The assessed entity identifies and documents the existence of all cardholder data in their environment, to verify that no cardholder data exists outside of the currently defined CDE.”

In the past, organizations would rely on their database and file schemas along with their data flow diagrams and the project was done.  However, the Council has come back and clarified that the search for cardholder data (CHD), primarily the primary account number (PAN).  The Council has stated that this search needs to be more extensive to prove that PANs have not ended up on systems where it is not expected.

Data Loss Prevention

To deal with requirement 4.2, a lot of organizations invested in data loss prevention (DLP) solutions.  As a result, organizations with DLP have turned those DLP solutions loose on their servers to find PANs and to confirm that PANs do not exist outside of their cardholder data environment (CDE).

Organizations that do this quickly find out three things; (1) the scope of their search is too small, (2) their DLP solution is not capable of looking into databases, and (3) their DLP tools are not as good at finding PANs at rest as they are when it’s moving such as with an email message.

On the scope side of the equation, it’s not just servers that are in scope for this PAN search, it’s every system on the network including infrastructure.  However, for most infrastructure systems such as firewalls, routers and switches it is a simple task to rule them out for storing PANs.  Where things can go awry is with load balancers, proxies and Web application firewalls (WAF) which can end up with PANs inadvertently stored in memory and/or disk due to how they operate.

Then there is the scanning of every server and PC on the network.  For large organizations, the thought of scanning every server and PC for PANs can seem daunting.  However, the Council does not specify that the identification of CHD needs to be done all at once, so such scanning can be spread out.  The only time constraint is that this scanning must be completed before the organization’s PCI assessment starts.

The second issue that organizations encounter with DLP is that their DLP has no ability to look into their databases.  Most DLP solutions are fine when it comes to flat files such as text, Word, PDF and Excel files, but the majority of DLP solutions have no ability to look into databases and their associated tables.

Some DLP solutions have add-on modules for database scanning but that typically required a license for each database instance to be scanned and thus can quickly become cost prohibitive for some organizations.  DLPs that scan databases typically scan the more common databases such as Oracle, SQL Server and MySQL.  But legacy enterprise databases such as DB/2, Informix, Sybase and even Oracle in a mainframe environment are only supported by a limited number of DLP solutions.

Another area where DLP solutions can have issues is with images.  Most DLP solutions have no optical character recognition (OCR) capability to seek out PANs in images such as images of documents from scanners and facsimile machines.  For those DLP solutions that can perform OCR, the OCR process slows the scanning process down considerably and the false positive rate can be huge particularly when it comes to facsimile documents or images of poor quality.

Finally there is the overall issue of identifying PANs at rest.  It has been my experience that using DLP solutions for identifying PANs at rest is haphazard at best.  I believe the reason for that is that most DLP solutions are relying on the open source Regular Expressions (RegEx) to find the PANs.  As a result, they all suffer from the same shortcomings of RegEx and therefore their false positive rates end up being very similar.

The biggest reason for the false positive rate is the fact that most of these solutions using RegEx do not conduct a Luhn check to confirm that the number found is likely to be a PAN.  That said, I have added a Luhn check to some of the open source solutions and it has amazed me how many 15 and 16 digit combinations can pass the Luhn check and yet not be a PAN based on further investigation.  As a result, having a Luhn check to confirm a number as a potential PAN reduces false positives, but not as significantly as one might expect.

The next biggest reason RegEx has a high false positive rate is that RegEx looks at data both at a binary level and character level.  As a result, I have seen PDFs flagged as containing PANs.  I have also seen images that supposedly contained PANs when I knew that the tool being used had no OCR capability.

I have tried numerous approaches to reduce the level of false positive results, but have not seen significant reductions from varying the RegEx expressions.  That said, I have found that the best results are obtained using separate expressions for each card brand’s account range versus a single, all-encompassing expression.

Simple Solutions

I wrote a post a while back regarding this scoping issue when it was introduced in v2.  It documents all of the open source solutions available such as ccsrch, Find SSNs, SENF and Spider.  All of these solutions run best when run locally on the system in question.  For small environments, this is not an issue.  However, for large organizations, having to have each user run the solution and report the results is not an option.

In addition, the false positive rates from these solutions can also be high.  Then there is the issue of finding PANs in local databases such as SQL Lite, Access or MySQL.  None of these simple solutions are equipped to find PANs in a database.  As a result, PANs could be on these systems and you will not know it using these tools.

The bottom line is that while these techniques are better than doing nothing, they are not that much better.  PANs could be on systems and may not be identified depending on the tool or tools used.  And that is the reason for this post, so that everyone understands the limitations of these tools and the fact that they are not going to give definitive results.

Specialized Tools

There are a number of vendors that have developed tools that have been developed to specifically find PANs.  While these tools are typically cheaper than a full DLP solution and some of these tools provide for the scanning of databases, it has been my experience that these tools are no better or worse than OpenDLP, the open source DLP solution.

Then there are the very specialized tools that were developed to convert data from flat files and older databases to new databases or other formats.  Many of these vendors have added modules to these tools in the form of proprietary methods to identify all sorts of sensitive data such as PANs.  While this proprietary approach significantly reduces false positives, it unfortunately makes these tools very expensive, starting at $500K and going ever higher, based on the size and environment they will run.  As a result, organizations looking at these tools will need more than just use their need for PAN search capability to justify their cost.

The bottom line is that searching for PANs is not as easy as the solution vendors portray.  And even with extensive tuning of such solutions, the false positive rate is likely going to make the investigation into your search results very time consuming.  If you want to significantly reduce your false positive rate, then you should expect to spend a significant amount of money to achieve that goal.

Happy hunting.


Why SAQ A-EP Makes Sense

A colleague of mine attended the PCI SSC QSA Update session at the ETA convention a couple of weeks back.  One of the big discussion items was how the Council is being pilloried over SAQ A-EP.  This SAQ was developed to address the recommendations that were documented in the information supplement titled ‘PCI DSS E-commerce Guidelines’ that was published in January 2013.  Specifically, SAQ A-EP addresses the ecommerce sites that do redirects to a processor’s site that does the actual payment processing.

Based on the comments I have seen online and made in personal conversations, you would think that SAQ A-EP was heresy or a bad joke.  All of these derogatory comments are being driven by merchants that were sold a bill of goods by slick, non-PCI informed, sales people pushing redirected ecommerce solutions by claiming that it put the merchant entirely out of scope.  This was not the case and never was the case, particularly after the issuance of the information supplement.  However, we still encounter outsourcing vendors that continue to claim a redirect approach puts the merchant entirely out of scope.

To understand the rationale of SAQ A-EP we need to understand the risk surrounding these redirect solutions.  The risk is that an attacker modifies the redirect on the merchant’s server to now point to their own payment page, collects the customer’s cardholder data (CHD) on the attacker’s page and then, optionally, passes the customer on to the original payment page at the processor so the customer and merchant are none the wiser.

Under the PCI DSS and card brands’ security programs, redirect systems are still in-scope for PCI compliance because they are a key control in the payment process even though the merchant’s server issuing the redirect does not come into direct contact with CHD.

With all of that said, SAQ A-EP is not a full SAQ D, but it is not as short and simple as SAQ A either.  There are a lot of requirements to be met with SAQ A-EP which is why merchants are up in arms.  However, if you understand the aforementioned risk, you should understand why the requirements that have to be complied with in SAQ A-EP are there.

The requirement 1 requirements are all there to ensure that there is a firewall protecting the server that does the redirect.  This is Security 101 and I would doubt that any merchant would not have a firewall protecting all of their Internet facing servers.  Routers have always been optional and if the merchant does not have control of those devices, then they would not be included here.

Requirement 2 is all about making sure that all devices in the cardholder data environment (CDE) are properly configured and security hardened.  Again, this is Security 101 stuff.  If a merchant is not doing this for Internet facing devices, they are just begging to be attacked and compromised.

The requirements called out in SAQ A-EP for requirement 3 are there to confirm that the merchant is not storing cardholder data (CHD) or sensitive authentication data (SAD).  A merchant using a redirect should be marking these as Not Applicable (NA) and documenting that they do not store CHD in their system(s) because they use a redirect that processes and transmits CHD directly between their processor and their customer.  Any merchant that answers these requirements any other way should not be using SAQ A-EP.  All of that said, merchants need to have proof that they examined logs, trace files, history files, databases, etc. and did not find any CHD or SAD in those files.

Requirement 4 is provided to ensure that secure communications are used.  I would recommend documenting the SSL/TLS certificate information for your processor for the requirements in 4.1.  But do not pass over requirement 4.2.  A lot of ecommerce only merchants have call centers or take telephone calls and do order entry into the same Web site used by their customers.  As a result, merchants need to make sure that email, instant messaging, etc. are never used for communicating CHD/SAD.

Requirement 10 is important for any forensic research should the redirect be manipulated so that it can be determined when that event occurred so that the scope of any compromise can be determined.

While one would think that the vulnerability scanning and penetration testing requirements in requirement 11 would be thought of Security 101 and self-explanatory, you would be surprised at how many merchants argue about that fact.  Again, the driver of these redirect solutions was cost reduction and vulnerability scanning and penetration testing incur costs, sometimes significant costs depending on the number of servers, firewalls, load balancers, switches, etc. involved.  If you do not do vulnerability scanning and penetration testing as required, how do you know that the redirect system(s) are properly secured and patched?

However, the key requirement that cannot be missed is requirement 11.5 regarding critical file monitoring.  That is because the whole security of the redirect environment is pinned on detecting any modification of the redirect URL.  All of the other requirements in SAQ A-EP are there to minimize the risk of compromising the redirect.  11.5 is there to ensure that, if the other controls fail, at least the merchant would be alerted to the fact that the redirect had been changed.  If a modification to the redirect cannot be reliably detected by the critical file monitoring solution, then the security of the redirect cannot be assured.

The remaining requirements for 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 12 are all Security 101 items.  If you are not following these requirements as part of best practices for security and IT operations in general, then you need to consider what exactly you are doing.

Hopefully everyone now understands SAQ A-EP and why it is not as simple as that slick sales person implied.


The Economics Of EMV

There are a lot of people out there that have apparently taken big swigs of the EMV Kool Aid and think that merchants and banks in the United States are all idiots for not believing in EMV.  Well folks, here is EMV by the numbers.  Unfortunately, the best set of complete numbers I could get are from 2009, but I know that the fraud percentages have not radically changed since 2009.

As this example will illustrate, EMV in the US is a non-starter, not because we do not like EMV, but because it makes no financial sense. While I am using Target as the example, these numbers are pretty much what most retailers (large or small) are looking at as they evaluate going to EMV.

  • Target had around $65B USD in revenue for 2009 as reported in their Annual Report.
  • For 2009, card fraud amounted to 0.11% according to a report from the US Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City report on EMV adoption. For comparison, card fraud in the UK (the best in Europe and the best for EMV countries) is 0.08%, a 0.03% improvement over the US.
  • We know that not all of Target’s revenue is in card transactions but I will estimate that 70% of revenue was card transactions (around $45.5B USD). Then Target has around $50M in losses related to card fraud for the year at 0.11%.  Therefore, assuming a 0.03% improvement in fraud due to implementing EMV, Target is saving around $13.5M USD a year.
  • Estimating between $50M to $100M USD to replace the POS (possibly), terminals and software to support true EMV (for comparison, Target is already spending an estimated $25M to $30M just on new terminals), Target gets a payback on that $13.5M USD savings due to EMV in around four to seven years.

I can tell you from experience that, if a merchant cannot get a three year or less payback, they will not even consider the investment. A two year or less payback is actually preferred and the only sure way for any project to get management’s consideration and approval.

But while the financials for EMV do not add up, there are also other factors that are causing retailers to question a conversion to EMV.

One of the largest is the fact that EMV does nothing to stem the fraud losses from card not present (CNP) transactions. Since most retailers are viewing eCommerce as their next new retail opportunity, the exponentially increasing losses due to CNP fraud does not improve the likelihood of converting to EMV. And with that larger focus on eCommerce and maintaining brick and mortar margins, there is also the concern regarding investing significantly in any changes to those brick and mortar operations that also hold back retailers from transitioning to EMV.

Another consideration is that a lot of retailers just upgraded their terminals a few years back to comply with the PCI PTS requirement. Most retailers like to get at least seven to ten years out of their technology investments. Had Visa and MasterCard played their cards right and coordinated their EMV push with the PTS changes, the US likely would have converted to EMV.

Finally, there are concerns about EMV even surviving given the advent of new payment technologies such as eWallets as well as Bitcoin and other new forms of payments. As a result, a lot of retailers are sitting on the sidelines while technology and payment methods sort themselves out before considering making any investments in new payment process capabilities.

That my friends are the cold, hard facts of why EMV is currently dead on arrival in the US.


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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.

I do allow vendors to post potential solutions in response to issues that I bring up in posts. However, the PCI Guru does not endorse any specific products, so "Caveat Emptor" - let the buyer beware. Also, if I feel that the response is too "sales-ee", I reserve the right to edit or not even authorize the response.


October 2017
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