Archive for the 'PCI PED' Category

09
Apr
16

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.

13
Feb
16

Crystal Ball Time

I was recently reminded that we are in year three of the current PCI DSS version. According to the PCI SSC’s standard lifecycle, that means the Council is starting to work on version 4 of the PCI DSS and PA-DSS.

So what is coming in version 4 of the PCI DSS? The Guru and his fellow PCI Wizards have some thoughts.

Business As Usual

I have written about this before. Everyone is betting that business as usual (BAU) will make its official appearance in the next version of the PCI DSS. If the past is any indication, BAU will most likely be a “best practice” until June 30, 2018 and then required thereafter.

For those that have forgotten, BAU was introduced as a concept with v3 of the PCI DSS. Pages 13 and 14 of the PCI DSS discuss the concept of BAU. The idea being to get organizations to integrate certain requirements of the PCI DSS into their organizational procedures to better ensure the security of cardholder data (CHD).

When BAU was first discussed back in 2013, I was able to identify at least 213 requirements that could be considered as BAU requirements (277 if you include Appendix A). Samples of BAU requirements include:

  • 1.2.a Examine diagram(s) and observe network configurations to verify that a current network diagram exists and that it documents all connections to the cardholder data environment, including any wireless networks,
  • 2.2.b Identify any enabled insecure services, daemons, or protocols and interview personnel to verify they are justified per documented configuration standards,
  • 1.a Examine the data-retention and disposal policies, procedures and processes,
  • 1 For a sample of system components including all operating system types commonly affected by malicious software, verify that anti-virus software is deployed if applicable anti-virus technology exists,
  • 6.3.b Observe processes and interview personnel to verify that follow-up to exceptions and anomalies is performed,
  • 2.1.a Review the scan reports and verify that four quarterly internal scans occurred in the most recent 12-month period, and
  • 8.1 Verify that a list of service providers is maintained.

Essentially, all the prospective BAU requirements are those that have some sort of timing involved for evaluating them.

Not only will adding in BAU be at issue, but I am guessing that the Council will probably reduce their use of the words “periodic” and “periodically” in the next version of the DSS. That is because with BAU they will likely begin to recommend actual minimum time frames for conducting these procedures. Known timings in v3 include annually, quarterly, daily, whenever changes occur and my personal favorite, whenever “significant” changes occur. Which means it will be all the more important for organizations to define what a “significant” change means in their environment.

But the introduction of BAU will likely not totally wipe out the use of “periodic” in the DSS. As a result, organizations will still have to define for those requirements that use “periodic” or “periodically” what the period is based on their risk assessment.

The bottom line is that if you have not been thinking ahead you need to get thinking ahead as to how BAU is going to impact your organization.

Requirement 9.9

New with v3 was the addition of requirement 9.9 which focuses on managing the risks to the card terminal or point of interaction (POI). Originally dismissed by most organizations as an annoyance, recent events with Safeway, other merchants and ATMs, security of the POI has come into laser-like focus. And with more and more merchants implementing point-to-point encryption (P2PE) or end-to-end encryption (E2EE), the security of the POI becomes all the more important as it is the only device that remains in-scope for the merchant. It is believed that with all of the issues with POI that have occurred, the Council will focus on beefing up 9.9 to address these higher risks by defining review schedules.

The first requirement that merchants need to deal with much better than they have is 9.9.1 which addresses maintaining an accurate inventory of POI. If a merchant has not implemented P2PE/E2EE, then the risk that a POI is swapped out for one that has been tampered with is extremely high. Tampering of POI is typically done such that the POI does not appear to have been tampered with such as installing a USB drive to collect data or installing revised software in the POI.

The quickest and easiest way to identify swapped out POI is to periodically review your POI inventory and make sure that all the serial numbers of those POI in use are the same as the numbers on your inventory. If they are not, then you should take that POI out of service and get a trustworthy one from your transaction processor.

Another control that you should use is tamper proof tape over the seams of the POI. If someone opens the POI, the tape will be torn and it should be obvious that the POI has been tampered with.

Earlier I distinguished merchant that have implemented P2PE/E2EE from those that have not implemented it. So what, if anything, should merchants with P2PE/E2EE implemented be doing? P2PE/E2EE solutions require the injection of an initial key into the terminal as well as recording a device number. If any of that information changes, the POI will not work. So if the terminal is swapped out, it will not work without the processor properly configuring the POI. This does not mean that the merchant does not have to manage their POI inventory, it just means that reviewing that inventory does not need to occur as often.

So how often should POI be reviewed against inventory? For merchants that have not implemented P2PE/E2EE, I would recommend no less than weekly. However, I do have clients that review their POI at every manager shift change. These are clients that have had POI swapped out and/or tampered with. Merchants that have implemented P2PE/E2EE should review their POI inventory at least semi-annually if not quarterly.

The next area that will likely be enhanced is requirement 9.9.2 which addresses the inspection of devices. I would anticipate that merchants will now be required to develop detailed procedures for the examination of POI by their retail management and cashiers.

But unlike with 9.9.1, this will not be broken down by those merchants that have and have not implemented P2PE/E2EE. Why? Because of terminal overlays that can be placed on top of certain POI and go unnoticed. These overlays can collect CHD regardless of whether P2PE/E2EE is implemented. As a result, examination of POI will likely be required to be done daily if not more often based on the assessed risk.

For merchants that have implemented E2EE, they may need to have to do an additional check depending on where E2EE is implemented. If the E2EE solution does not encrypt at the POI, then these merchants will also have to examine their point of sale (POS) in addition to their POI in order to comply with 9.9.2. One of the big reasons for this is because of Target style breaches where a memory scraper was used to obtain CHD because encryption was done at the POS, not the POI, and the connection between POI and POS was in clear text.

For merchants that use integrated keyboard card readers or USB card readers, there are other schemes such as keyboard loggers, USB adapters and other attacks that focus on the POS for obtaining CHD. For those merchants, they will also need to be doing daily inspections of their POS systems to ensure that equipment that does not belong is quickly identified.

The final requirement that will likely see changes is with 9.9.3 which is all about training retail personnel in the procedures of protecting the POI. With all of the changes to 9.9.1 and 9.9.2, you had to know that training would also have to change.

The biggest change will be the mandatory training. Yes, it was mandatory before, but with the focus on tampering with POI, training of retail staff will be very important. Why? Because they are the people on the front line and would be the ones most likely to notice something not right with their work area.

In order for these people to notice things out of order, they need to be trained, trained often and trained repeatedly. This is why security awareness training is so frustrating for security professionals is that it takes more than just one session every year to be effective. That and the fact that not everyone catches on at the same time with the same amount of training and there will be some people that never catch on.

The bottom line here is that your retail personnel will need to be drilled regularly on POI and POS security. How you choose to accomplish that training effort is up to your organization. But doing little or no training will not be an option.

SSL/Early TLS

The obvious change here will be the integration of the new deadlines for SSL and early TLS.

That said, the Council may actually provide some additional changes in section 4 regarding secure communication over TLS. In addition, by the time v4 of the PCI DSS is released, TLS v1.3 will likely be an official standard so changes in that regard may also be included.

Miscellaneous

Finally, I am sure there will be the usual wording and clarification changes that have come with every prior release.

Depending on any breaches that occur in the next few months, there may be some additional surprises in v4 to address the vulnerabilities identified by those breaches.

So there you have it. Start getting ready for the new PCI DSS v4 that will show up around November 2016.

22
Dec
10

The Harsh Reality Of Security

Chris Skinner has a blog entry that asks the question, “Why does the card securities council not care about card security?”  What concerns me is the title of the article as it again implies that the PCI standards do nothing to secure cardholder data.  As a result, I thought I would take a shot at answering this question.

Mr. Skinner points to a number of technologies that he feels the PCI SSC is ignoring as potential solutions to securing cardholder data.  These solutions include tokenization, end-to-end encryption (E2EE) and Chip & PIN (EMV).  I recently posted a blog entry on all of these technologies, so I will not go into all of these here.  The bottom line on all of these is that, individually, they do not solve the security problems we face.  However, used in conjunction, they will create a much more formidable barrier to breaches.  I can tell you that the Council is not ignoring these technologies; they are only doing proper research to ensure that whatever guidance they issue is not flawed resulting in a recall or wholesale rewriting of a standard.  Want to lose credibility?  Issue a standard that you have to later heavily modify or replace.  Do I have to remind everyone about Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP)?

Then we have the dynamics of the card brands.  Just because Visa writes a whitepaper on some technology does not mean that the other four card brands have bought into Visa’s analysis.  Visa may be the 800 pound gorilla of the card brands, but as anyone in business knows, the 800 pound gorilla does not always get its way regardless of how boisterous or how much chest pounding it may do.  A prime example of this was in the late 1970s when IBM (then the 800 pound technology gorilla) tried to force System Network Architecture (SNA) down the International Organization for Standardization’s throat as the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) model.  What happened was that the rest of the technology companies in the world banded together and created the OSI seven-layer model that we have today.  While it has a lot in common with SNA, it also has numerous differences.  The bottom line is that there are certain dynamics between the card brands that will preclude the Council from always following Visa’s lead, regardless of whether Visa’s analysis is right.

How about the cost of any change?  Merchants do not live on thick margins.  Most are lucky to retain 1% to 4% of total sales as their profit margin.  If you are Wal-Mart or Target, margins can be huge numerically, but still not enough to fund the kind of wholesale changes Mr. Skinner is suggesting.  Unfortunately, most merchants are nowhere near the size of Wal-Mart, so they need to be even more judicial with their expenditures.  As a result, any change that requires a significant investment is going to be tough for any merchant to swallow and will take time to get rolled out.  After all, we are in the midst of a recession, so there is even higher sensitivity to expenditures that do not enhance the bottom line.

But for a number of merchants, the cost is not so much theirs to bear as much as it is their merchant bank’s cost.  That is because a lot of merchant banks provide the entire cardholder processing environment to their merchants.  As a result, the bank will have to absorb the cost and possibly increase fees should new terminals or software be necessary.  Banks are not necessarily doing well either, so they too are avoiding any expenditures that are not going to positively influence the bottom line.  Since security is an intangible, banks are going to be very reluctant to spend on cardholder infrastructure that does not drive up revenue.  After all, in the United States and United Kingdom, the banks were bailed out by the government and are now being watched very closely by the various regulators and the regulators are holding the purse strings.  Unless the regulators come on board, there will be no expenditure on what they will consider a frivolous expense on new terminals or software.

All of these parties are intimately involved in the PCI Security Standards Council as stakeholders.  All of the card brands and a number of larger financial institutions are on the Council’s board and various work groups.  Given the economic environment and the predisposition of these parties, is it any wonder why the Council appears to not be moving forward?

Not to mention that the changes Mr. Skinner is suggesting do not eliminate the problem of security breaches, they just shift the risks.  Granted the risks get reduced, but by how much is anyone’s guess.  But in the end, there are still going to be risks.  As I always like to remind people, security is not perfect.  Yet that seems to be what the card brands and Council seem to want people to believe.  That if everyone followed the PCI standards, breaches would not occur and that is simply not true.  Breaches would still occur, they just would not necessarily occur every week releasing thousands or millions of accounts.  It would be more like a release every month of tens or hundreds of accounts.

I too would like to live in a perfect world.  But the real world is always far from perfect.  Decisions get made only when the wheel is so squeaky that it needs to be replaced.  We can rant and rave all we want, but we will only get action when we can either show (i) a measurable business benefit, such as an increase in profit or improved efficiency, or (ii) someone else is doing it and they now have a competitive advantage.  Unfortunately, I see neither of these conditions satisfied at this time nor any time in the near future.  As long as the status quo remains, no one is going to move.

In the end, the PCI SSC does care about security.  It is the politics that slow things down and those politics are not going to go away any time soon.  That is the harsh reality of business and security.

UPDATE: Forrester Research has published a great white paper titled ‘How To Market Security To Gain Influence And Secure Budget’ that explains how to avoid the common mistakes that most security people commit and, as a result, why security professionals do not get the resources that they need to get the job done.

26
Jul
10

Advice To Merchants

Barring the card brands developing a truly secure card processing process, the PCI DSS and related standards are likely to be with us for quite a while.  That said, what is the future of complying with the PCI DSS?

For merchants, if you are not seeking out point-of-sale (POS) solutions that do not store cardholder information, you should be as soon as you possibly can.  That includes finding card processors that do not require you to store cardholder information and can provide you access to cardholder information when you need it for resolving disputes and chargebacks.  According to Robert McMullen, CEO of TrustWave, the majority of breaches TrustWave investigated occurred with POS systems.  So the rational approach to resolving this problem is to get rid of the cardholder data stored on these systems.

The problem with this is that most merchants, large or small, think that they need to store this information for some reason.  If you are a merchant in the United Kingdom, France, Italy and other select European countries, then you do need to have the PAN unencrypted, however it only is required on an original printed receipt, it is not required to be stored anywhere else.  So, all merchants need to put POS solutions in place that do not store cardholder data.  You do not need it and it puts you at risk if you do store it.

The next thing merchants need to do is to find a card processor that does not require the merchant to store cardholder data.  This can be a processor that uses tokenization or whatever, but the bottom line is that the processor does not return cardholder data to the merchant’s systems.  These processors typically provide secure Web-based systems that allow the merchant to view all of their transactions processed and, if necessary, provide a method to decrypt the PAN for dispute research and chargebacks.  Merchants need to restrict access to the processor’s applications to only those people that absolutely need access to perform their job.  These people should be reviewed at least quarterly to ensure that they continue to require access.

For those of you that just cannot get rid of cardholder data, there is the option of hashing.  Hashing allows applications such as fraud discovery, member tracking, rewards programs and similar functions to continue, they just do not have access to the actual PAN.  A hashed PAN results in the same hashed value, so research and analysis of PANs can still occur.  It is just that if you need to see the real PAN, you will have to go to the processor’s system to obtain the real PAN.

The travel industry, in particular hoteliers, are really behind the eight ball on PCI because of their need to keep the PAN for sometimes years because of the way reservations work.  However, this is where tokenization can earn its keep.  If a hotel takes a reservation and gets back a token when the credit card is authenticated, then the hotel can use the token however many times in the future for check in and check out.  Again, there is no reason for the hotel to need to retain the actual PAN.

The bottom line to all of this is that there are ways to minimize your organization’s PCI compliance efforts just by getting rid of the data in the first place.  So, stop putting forth efforts to comply and get with the movement to get rid of the cardholder data in the first place.  I have had a few clients go down this road and PCI compliance is now a piece of cake.  Their networks are still in scope for transmission, their applications in some cases do process cardholder data, but there is not storage which makes them much, much less of a target.

18
Jul
10

An Open Letter To Acquiring Banks

Get with the program people!

The PCI standards have been around for almost four years now and you would think with all of the press that has been given the PCI standards that the key participants in the standards would be intimately knowledgeable with these standards.  However, the more and more I talk to acquiring banks, the more I am amazed that most acquiring banks still are not with the program.  It is time for all acquiring banks to get a clue about the PCI standards and their responsibilities regarding the PCI standards.

Acquiring banks have many responsibilities under the PCI standards.  The first of which is to understand and support the PCI standards.  However, it is painfully obvious from trying to work with acquiring banks that most are clueless about the PCI standards, let alone do they understand their responsibilities.  Card brands and the PCI SSC have focused on educating QSAs, merchants and service providers in the PCI standards to the detriment of educating acquiring banks.  I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with acquiring banks where they have no idea of what their responsibilities are regarding the PCI standards let alone regarding knowledge of the PCI standards themselves.  What I dearly love are those acquiring banks that tell me that they have no responsibilities in regards to the PCI standards, that it is a merchant program.

This is not just a problem in the United States, this problem is worldwide.  This is a very big issue in Asia where acquiring banks seem to be totally clueless about the PCI standards.  It is a bit better in Europe, but because European acquiring banks have been brainwashed to believe that Chip and PIN gives them a security edge, the acquiring banks there are not aggressively promoting PCI compliance.  But at least the European acquiring banks seem to have a basic understanding of the PCI standards and some of their responsibilities.

Another responsibility of acquiring banks is to be the final arbiter between merchants or service providers and their QSAs.  According to the card brands, if a merchant or service provider is at loggerheads with their QSA over whether a PCI requirement has been met, the acquiring bank is supposed to be the final arbiter of that dispute.  Yet in the handful of instances where I have been involved in such disputes, the acquiring bank has provided limited or no assistance with the dispute.

An even bigger problem is with small merchants that are trying to decide which Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) to file.  Again, the card brands have stated that the decision regarding which SAQ to file is the responsibility of the acquiring bank and no one else.  Yet time and again, our small merchant clients contact my Firm because the acquiring bank has told them it is up to a QSA to determine the SAQ to file.

Then there is the acquiring banks’ responsibility to follow the PCI standards.  Yet time and again, I run into instances where the acquiring bank is transmitting cardholder data insecurely to or from the merchant or service provider.  The number of acquiring banks that use FTP or electronic mail for the transmittal of cardholder data is just staggering and after four years of the PCI standards existence is unacceptable.  Yet, when you bring this issue up, a lot of the acquiring banks will tell you that PCI standards are for merchants, not for them.  The other excuse I hear is that the acquiring bank is working on securing their transfer of cardholder data.  Again, after four years of the PCI standards, you are just now getting around to securing the transmission of cardholder data?  Unbelievable.

This year we started receiving calls from banks and credit unions that drive their own ATM networks that had been requested by their ATM network interconnection provider such as NYCE and Pulse to obtain a PCI Report On Compliance.  What a wakeup call.  In a number of cases, the institution was shocked that the PCI standards applied to them and questioned us extensively to confirm that they really had to go through the process.

As a QSA out in the field, these attitudes are just no longer acceptable.  The PCI program flounders in part because one of the key constituents is not on board.  It is time for the PCI SSC and the card brands to educate the acquiring banks and get them engaged.

03
Jul
10

Why The PCI Standards Exist

After another spate of articles and speeches about the PCI DSS and why it is worthless, I thought it might be a good idea to explain why the PCI standards came to exist.

In 1999, Visa USA began to work on what became the Customer Information Security Program or CISP.  The first official version of the CISP was issued in the summer of 2003 with Visa asking select merchants to comply with the CISP as soon as they could.  The original impetus for the CISP was a response to increasing chargebacks that were the result of the fraudulent use of credit card accounts.  An analysis of these chargebacks had started to paint a picture of merchant employees that were increasingly using their access to point of sale (POS) and accounting systems to obtain credit card numbers and then using those numbers to commit fraud.

As development on the CISP progressed, Visa USA also started to see increasing instances where an e-Commerce site had been compromised and the credit card information stored on the site had been taken by an attacker and then was fraudulently used.  The reason these compromises had resulted in cardholder data being exposed was that application developers had used the same software design models for e-Commerce as those that were used by traditional POS.  This resulted in cardholder data being stored in databases that faced the Internet.

A year or so after the start of Visa USA’s efforts, MasterCard International began development of the Site Data Protection (SDP) standard.  Unlike the CISP, the SDP focused specifically on the security of e-Commerce sites.  MasterCard had monitored the rising fraud rate related to the compromising of e-Commerce sites.  Like Visa USA’s analysis, MasterCard’s analysis of the problem pointed to the fact that most e-Commerce sites were storing cardholder data in databases that faced the Internet and were not very well protected from compromise.  As a result, MasterCard approached the problem with the SDP which specified a basic level of information and network security for e-Commerce Web sites.

As work progressed on the CISP and further statistics on security issues were gathered, Visa USA began to recognize that the on-line payment applications themselves were the biggest problem related to the compromising of cardholder data.  As a result, Visa USA developed the Payment Application Best Practices (PABP) standard.  The PABP was published in late 2004 with Visa USA encouraging software vendors to use it as a benchmark for securing their software.

It has been suggested that the PCI standards were only developed to minimize the losses to the card brands and banks and do nothing for merchants.  However, the PCI standards were meant to protect everyone in the transaction process.  When a breach occurs, the first thing people remember is the name of the card brand(s) involved, the second name is likely the merchant or service provider and the third name is the franchisee if that is the case.  The card brands, service providers and franchisers discovered that their reputations were highly at risk, even though it was typically the franchisee merchant that actually created the problem.  Regardless of who caused the breach, the card brands further discovered that what people really remembered from breaches were the card brands’ names and everything else was forgotten.  As a result, the card brands became determined to protect their brand names and reputations.

There was another recent suggestion that the PCI DSS was not needed because market forces would resolve the security issues inherent in the conducting of credit card transactions.  The first problem with that idea is that most merchants and service providers are unconvinced that they are responsible for securing cardholder data, even after they might have suffered a breach.  They believe that it is the card brands’ problem to secure cardholder data because the card brands are the ones that generate the cards.  Unfortunately, the security of cardholder data is mostly outside of the control of the card brands, therefore the merchants and service providers need to be responsible for securing cardholder data as well.  The second problem with that idea is that for every security “expert”, there are a corresponding number of security baselines.  No one agrees on security, because everyone’s view is from their own perspective and the threats that they see or perceive.  As a result, some organizations have very strong and strict security (e.g., banks for example), while others have only marginal security.  The problem with this approach is that security is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.  So those organizations that have weak security practices become targets against the entire process chain.  As a result, in our interconnected world, that puts those organizations with strong security at risk if they are partners to those organizations that have weak security.  As a result, the card brands recognized that a single standard baseline was needed just to provide a basis for a consistent foundation on which to build additional security.

So, that is how we got where we are today.  Hopefully with this perspective you can now understand why the standards exist and their use in providing basic, essential security for cardholder data.

11
Jun
10

PCI Feels Like Something Is Being Done To Me

The title of this post is from a quote from a research paper published by Forrester titled ‘PCI Unleashed’.  Some of the thoughts discussed by Forrester are so true; I thought I would share a few of them.  If you have an opportunity, this is a paper well worth its cost.

One of the key points of the Forrester paper is that PCI was the result of a failure in corporate governance.  Forrester correctly points out that had organizations focused on keeping cardholder data properly secured in the first place, the PCI DSS probably never would have existed.

I can confirm that corporate governance is a root cause from my own experiences.  We talk a lot to organizations that think PCI is someone else’s problem and that their organization is being singled out.  In a lot of these organizations, security has been given the short shrift and has been perpetually on the back burner.  In these organizations, senior management sees security, and IT as a whole, as a money pit that does nothing for the organization.  This is because senior management is ignorant to what IT and security brings to the table because they have hired security and IT leaders that are mice that are occasionally seen, but certainly never heard.

The card brands have never been shy about why they generated the PCI standards; it was to protect their brands.  After all, when a breach occurs, it is almost always reported by the media as, “X number of Visa/MasterCard/American Express/Discover credit cards were disclosed by ABC Company.”  The card brands are always called out first, followed by the company and, if the company is a franchise operation, sometimes the franchisee is named.  The problem is that the general public typically only remembers the card brand names, sometimes the company name, and usually never remembers the name of the franchisee.  Want proof of this, just look at how badly TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, Marshalls and the like suffered after their parent, TJX Companies, incurred one of the largest breaches in history two years ago – NOT!  In a public relations coup, TJX Companies got the media to use TJX as the name of the breached organization which protected the brand names of their actual retail outlets.  As a result, sales at their retail outlets were only slightly affected by the breach news.

Another point that Forrester brings up is that naysayers point to the fact that PCI compliant companies have been hacked, therefore the PCI standard must not be effective.  As I have argued time and again, PCI compliance is not a one time, annual thing.  Compliance requires consistent execution of all of the PCI DSS requirements in order to remain compliant.  Consistent execution is a struggle for even the most diligent organizations.  It requires constant commitment by employees and management to the importance of doing security right all of the time.  The problem is that we are all human and humans are fallible.  So lapses will occur in any organization.  This is why all security frameworks are built on the concept of overlapping controls so that should a control go out of compliance, the whole house of cards does not come down.  What differentiates a good organization from a bad organization is that a good organization does not have so many lapses at once that entire control structures fail.  If you read the reports from TrustWave and Verizon Business Services on breaches they have investigated, a significant portion of those breaches were the result of systemic failures of the control environment.

Related to the previous point is another good point made by Forrester that the PCI standards are just a baseline and that organizations must go beyond the PCI standards to be as secure as they can be.  The PCI DSS is just the ante to be in the game.  If you want to be certain, you need to go beyond what the PCI DSS requires.  Why?  Because new flaws are discovered in software or new techniques are developed that make prior security methods obsolete or no longer as effective.  As a result, your security systems must adapt or new security methods need to be developed to detect and circumvent these new threats.  The PCI standards may address these new threats in a future version, but it is your organization’s responsibility to deal with them first.  This is also why most security experts say that security is a journey, not a destination.

One point of contention I have with this report is that they state, “Companies that already have robust security policies, processes, and technology do not have difficulty with PCI.”  Having worked with a number of organizations that meet these criteria, I can attest that this is not necessarily the case.  A lot of them have very robust security policies, processes and technologies; however, the day-to-day consistent execution was haphazard at best.  Management believed that they were in pretty good shape for meeting the PCI standards.  As we pealed the onion on their security environment, it became obvious that all management was seeing was a facade of security.  Security people said all of the right things and their policies and procedures said all of the right things, but the actual execution was not even close to consistent.  As they like to say, “They talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk.”  As a result, these organizations have struggled to change ingrained cultural issues and “bad habits” that can be much tougher to deal with than implementing new policies or technologies.

Finally, the next time you hear someone say that they feel PCI standards are not fair or they are impossible to comply with, ask them if they think they can afford a breach?  The best tidbit offered by this Forrester report is their estimated cost per account of a breach.  Forrester estimates that a breach costs between $90 and $300 per account breached, excluding lawsuits and any remediation efforts.  A modest breach of say 100 accounts carries an estimated cost of $9,000 to $30,000, excluding:

  • Legal representation – you know that your organization will be sued or threatened to be sued over a breach and that will require your lawyers to go into action.  If you think lawyers are cheap, thing again, particularly when they are fighting a lot of battles;
  • Public relations – just as in politics, your organization will have to put the best face on such an incident.  If your organization does not, the media will provide that “face” without you and it likely will not be a “good face”;
  • Investigation – the card brands will require a forensic examination to be performed.  If you think lawyers are expensive, the costs related to a forensic examination will make you believe your lawyers are cheap;
  • Remediation – there will be changes required to better ensure security and some of those changes will likely have a cost associated with them.  Only the lucky get away with policy or procedural changes with a minimal cost; and
  • Loss of sales – your organization will lose customers over this lost of trust and future sales may also be affected if you did not adequately address the public relations aspect.

There are likely other events that will result from such an incident that will also cost your organization time and money.  The bottom line is that this is something your organization should avoid at all costs because, in my experience, most organizations do not survive such an incident.




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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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