Archive for the 'Scam' Category


The PCI Council’s Bold Move

The long wait is over and PCI DSS v4 has finally been released!

In a very bold move, the Council has taken a page out of the Microsoft playbook.  Instead of being called “PCI DSS v4” the Council has chosen the name “PCI DSS Miserable Edition” or PCI DSS ME.

Council Communications Director, April Fool, said that, “Everyone was getting tired of the numeric increase, so with the consent of the card brands we decided to change things up a bit with this release.  Based on the feedback we have gotten from the Participating Organizations, QSAs and other stakeholders, this new designation seemed to be appropriate.”

I am sure we all remember how well Windows ME worked out and that set the bar pretty low.  PCI DSS ME can only be a step up.

Have a great day and do not get taken in by any calls from Mr. Bear or Mrs. Cougar.


The FTC Enters The Fray

On Monday, March 7, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a news release that I am sure got a lot of notice by practice leaders of the PCI qualified security assessor companies (QSAC). On Friday, March 4, the FTC commissioners decided in a 4-0 vote to compel the following QSACs to respond to a 6(b) Special Report order.

  • Foresite MSP, LLC;
  • Freed Maxick CPAs, P.C.;
  • GuidePoint Security, LLC;
  • Mandiant;
  • NDB LLP;
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP;
  • SecurityMetrics;
  • Sword and Shield Enterprise Security, Inc.; and
  • Verizon Enterprise Solutions (also known as CyberTrust)

The first thing that is notable in my mind is that some of the big players in the PCI assessment business are absent from this QSAC list. I am not sure how the FTC arrived at this QSAC list, but it would be interesting to know their methodology.

But even more interesting and concerning is the information the FTC is requesting. From their request, here is a sample of some of the questions they are asking and the information they are seeking.

  • For each year of the Applicable Time Period, state the number and percentage of clients for which You completed a Compliance Assessment and for which You declined to provide: a “Compliant” designation on the Attestation of Compliance (“AOC”); or an “In place” designation on the final Report on Compliance (“ROC”).
  • For each year of the Applicable Time Period, state the number and percentage of clients for which You completed a Compliance Assessment and for which You provided: a “Non-compliant” designation on the AOC; or a “Not in place” designation on the ROC.
  • The extent to which the Company communicates with clients in determining the adequacy of any compensating control. As part of Your response, provide all documents related to a representative Compliance Assessment that considered a compensating control, including all communications between the Company and the client or any third party such as PCI SSC, a Payment Card Network, an Issuing Bank or an Acquiring Bank.
  • The policies and procedures for completing a Report on Compliance (“ROC”), including, but not limited to a discussion of whether a draft report is created, whether that draft is shared with the client or any third party such as PCI SSC, a Payment Card Network, an Issuing Bank or an Acquiring Bank, whether the Company accepts input on the draft from the client or any third party, and whether the Company ever makes changes to the draft report based upon the client or other third parties’ input. As part of Your response, provide all documents relating to a representative Compliance Assessment in which You provided a draft of the report to the client and/or any third parties, including a copy of the draft report, any communications with the client or third parties about the draft report, and the final ROC.
  • Provide: a copy of the Compliance Assessment with the completion date closest to January 31, 2015; and a copy of a Compliance Assessment completed in 2015 that is representative of the Compliance Assessment that the Company performs. For each Compliance Assessment provided in response to this specification, the Company shall also include a copy of any contract with the client for which the Compliance Assessment was performed, all notes, test results, bidding materials, communications with the client and any other third parties, such as the PCI SSC, a Payment Card Network, an Issuing Bank or an Acquiring Bank, draft reports, the final ROC, and the AOC.
  • State whether the Company ever identifies deficiencies in a client’s network during a Compliance Assessment and gives the client the opportunity to remediate the deficiency before the Company completes its final ROC. If so, provide all documents relating to a representative Assessment where the Company gave the client an opportunity to remediate before completing the ROC, including any communications between the Company and the client or any third parties such as PCI SSC, a Payment Card Network, an Issuing Bank or an Acquiring Bank, and the final ROC and AOC.
  • State whether the Company ever identifies deficiencies in a client’s network during a Compliance Assessment and issues a final ROC before the deficiencies are remedied based on assurances that the client will remedy the deficiencies in the future. As part of Your response, provide copies of all policies and procedure related to remedying deficiencies.
  • State whether the Company has any policies or procedures relating to potential conflicts of interest, including, but not limited to, any policies that prevent the Company from providing Compliance Assessments to clients to which it has also provided another type of service, or that concern the marketing or provision of other services to clients for which You have provided a Compliance Assessment. As part of Your response, provide copies of all relevant policies and procedures.
  • State the annual number of the Company’s Compliance Assessment clients that have suffered a Breach in the year following the Company’s completion of the Assessment for each year of the Applicable Time Period. For each such client, state whether it was subsequently determined not to be PCI compliant and provide the date of the initial Compliance Assessment and any communications between the Company and client or any third parties such as PCI SSC, a Payment Card Network, an Issuing Bank or an Acquiring Bank related to the Breach.

All of these questions lead one to believe that the FTC is looking to confirm that the PCI assessment process is a sham.

It will be very interesting to see how the FTC interprets the results of this effort. However, based on these questions and how I know they will end up being answered, I would venture to say that the result will be the government getting into the data security game with regulations.


A Reason Why The PCI Standards Get No Respect

Call it the “Rodney Dangerfield Effect.”  Conflicts of interest seem to pervade the PCI compliance process and it is something the PCI SSC and the card brands need to clear up before their precious standards get even more bloodied in the media.

I have run across another processor that dictates the use of a particular QSAC.  Now do not get me wrong, I am a capitalist and interested in making money just like the other guy.  But I have to say that I am not a shark like some of my competitors.  I know this post will sound like someone bemoaning sour grapes but, in my opinion, this situation just makes the whole PCI compliance process look like a worthless sham.

What prompts this post is a call with one of our clients that we have performed PCI assessments for years, even before the PCI SSC existed.  They are implementing a new point of sale (POS) terminal that requires them to use a different credit card transaction processor because their existing processor is not yet certified to process transactions from this new terminal.  Fair enough.

The new terminal is a test installation to see if the service should be expanded to all of our client’s locations.  Since the terminal will only generate a couple of thousand transactions in the coming year, the new processor has identified our client as a Level 4 merchant and is treating them accordingly.  In reviewing the processor’s contract, our client found that the contract dictates that they use a specific QSAC to “assist” them in filling out their PCI Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) A.  Knowing the SAQ A, our client cannot figure out what a QSAC would do to assist, but it is in the processor’s contract.

Our client’s first question was, “Since when does a processor have the right to force us to use a particular QSA?”  We explained that we have been told that while the PCI SSC and the card brands allow processors to have rules that go above and beyond the PCI SSC’s and card brand’s requirements.  While I understand that the processor is likely trying to ensure that their Level 4 merchants are not just checking the ‘Yes’ box on their SAQs, forcing the use of a particular QSAC seems a bit questionable.  Particularly when we have been told that some QSACs are giving processors payments for all of the customers they refer.

I have written about this issue before with processors charging fees to merchants for the filing of their SAQs.  There is also the scam of forcing merchants to use a specific PCI Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV) to scan the merchant’s networks even when the merchant does not have an ecommerce presence or outsources their ecommerce to a third party that already provides their ecommerce customers ASV reports.  This is just one more questionable requirement that processors demand that makes merchants and the media think PCI is a scam.

Their next question was, “Since you already do our ROC, can’t we just submit that to our new processor?”  You can do that, but you need the new processor’s approval as they do not have to accept our work.  What is the likelihood that the new processor will accept our client’s ROC?  No idea and I am anxious to hear what our client tells us in that regard.

The problem here is that the processor in question and the QSAC have numerous connections that give a distinct impression of conflicts of interest.  First, the QSAC in question runs the processor’s Level 4 merchant compliance program.  That program dictates that the QSAC perform some sort of assessment process in order for any of the processor’s Level 4 merchants to create and submit their SAQ.

The justification the processor gave our client was that the PCI SSC requires this action.  Last I checked, the PCI SSC and the card brands did not require a QSA to fill out an SAQ.  MasterCard has a deadline of June 30, 2012 for Level 2 merchants to have either an ISA fill out their SAQ or have a QSA conduct a PCI ROC.  Visa in Canada also requires that a QSA sign off on all SAQs.  But those are the only SAQ rules involving QSAs that I am aware.

Next, the QSAC and the processor have swapped various personnel over the years.  As a result, there is an appearance that the two are essentially one in the same given that the QSAC runs the processor’s compliance program and the processor dictates that their merchants use the QSAC for PCI assessments.  I know that people move between organizations in the same industry all the time, but the number of people that have gone between these two would seem to be higher than expected.

I guess since I am an employee of a public accounting firm in the United States, I have greater sensitivity to conflicts of interest than most.  The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has very specific rules in regards to conflicts of interest.  We have an entire department dedicated to ensuring that we avoid conflicts of interest.  As a result, we regularly look at the services provided to our clients and ensure that we are not in conflict or even give an appearance of a conflict of interest.

Now I am not suggesting that the PCI SSC and card brands go to the levels that the AICPA requires.  But let us face it, it is the Wild West out there and some of the QSACs do not care what conflicts they may have and how it might hurt the PCI compliance processes.  The PCI SSC only requires its assessors document the services they provide to the organizations they assess in their assessment reports.  While that offers a certain amount of transparency, when you read some of these ROCs, it becomes painfully obvious that some QSACs are assessing their own security services.  In some cases, the organization being assessed has outsourced almost everything related to their PCI compliance to the QSAC doing their assessment.  What do you think the likelihood is that those services will be assessed as not compliant if there are compliance issues?  One would assume it will be very unlikely.

But it can get even worse.  A certain QSAC operates one of the card brand’s merchant PCI compliance program.  Merchants submit their Attestations of Compliance (AOC) and Reports On Compliance (ROC) to this card brand through the QSAC which manages the process.  Does this QSAC inform their clients that accept this card brand’s cards of this fact?  Not that I have ever been told by any prospects.  Does the QSAC list the management of the card brand’s merchant program on their ROCs?  Not that I have seen and I have seen a number of their ROCs for merchants that accept the card brand’s cards and I have never seen the program listed.  Does the QSAC submit their ROCs to the program that they manage?  They must as the ROCs I have seen are from merchants that accept the card brand’s cards.  Is this a conflict of interest?  One would think, but this is how things operate today.

The bottom line is that in this age of openness and transparency, it is these sorts of relationships and actions that give a very bad impression to the outside world.  The PCI SSC and the card brands need to enhance their rules for QSACs that define conflicts of interest.  Until this is done, the PCI standards will continue to be ridiculed and viewed as pointless.


Spear Phishing Season Is Declared Open

With the Epsilon breach announcement of last Friday, it seems every merchant under the sun is notifying their customers of the expected onslaught of electronic mail messages asking for bank account and credit card numbers among other personally identifiable information (PII).  Just in the last two days, I have received at least a half a dozen messages informing me of this possibility.

The result of this breach is likely to be the best spear phishing attack we have seen to date.  These phishing attacks will likely be highly targeted since the people that took the information from Epsilon know not only your name and email address, but also the merchant that the email address belonged.  While Epsilon states that only names and email addresses were taken, I would also think that all sorts of demographic information necessary to make these attacks very focused was also obtained.  That will mean the percentage of people responding to them will likely be higher than usual because of the level of detail that the attacks will be able to rely upon for targeting.  As a result, a lot of credit card numbers will likely get exposed.

So let us be prepared.  Even though you send out messages to your potentially affected customer base warning them of this possibility, there will likely be a lot of your customers that will end up getting caught in whatever scams get dreamed up.  Therefore you probably need to get your legal counsel up to speed as Epsilon and your company will likely end up embroiled in lawsuits regardless of the amount of warnings you issued.


New Scam Out There

Here’s a new twist on an old scam that may be affecting retailers.

The old scam was to get small business owners to purchase office supplies, copier paper, copier toner, etc. at inflated prices and pay exorbitant shipping costs. The scam was driven by unscrupulous distributors that had sales people do the old hard sell on a merchant’s support personnel who didn’t know any better.

The new scam involves an automated calling system that dials the retailer. The message delivered from this automated system is that the retailer’s credit card terminal is not PCI compliant and that the retailer needs to order new terminals to ensure that they meet legal requirements and remain PCI compliant. The automated system then asks the call’s recipient to press a key to order terminals.

At its best case, this may just be another take on the old office supplies scam and is being run by an unscrupulous credit card terminal dealer to jack up sales. In a worst case scenario, this may be an attempt by some form of organized crime to get doctored terminals into the retail stream so that they can collect credit card data for resale.

Either way, the word needs to get out that retailers are being targeted.

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May 2023