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.
DO NOT STORE CARDHOLDER DATA (CHD)
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.