Posts Tagged ‘QSA


They Are Just Words

QSAs get asked a lot of “what ifs”.

  • If I do ‘A’, will that result in ‘B’?
  • What if I do ‘C’, will that accomplish ‘D’?
  • If I do ‘E’, will that cause ‘F’?

Where this really hits hard is when an organization is trying to reduce scope in their cardholder data environment (CDE). Another area where this becomes problematic is when organizations are re-architecting their networks and want to take into account PCI or any other regulatory or security requirements. Nine times out of ten, the client wants a QSA to review the new network architecture and “bless it” as PCI compliant. We can discuss scope reduction strategies all day long but, until they are implemented and physically exist, they are all just a theory. And as I like to famously say, “In theory, theory works.”

I know this frustrates organizations, but the essence of PCI compliance is validation. A QSA can review proposed network architectures and state that they “appear” that they will be PCI compliant, but the proof is in the implementation. It is only when the organization can provide all of the configurations and penetration testing results for review that a QSA can then determine the PCI compliance of a network and the related devices.

So the next time you are asking your QSA a hypothetical question, do not get all wound up when the QSA responds with what appears to be a lame, “weasel worded” sounding answer. Until you provide concrete evidence, it is all just words, pretty pictures and a thought exercise.


Council Surveys QSAs On SSL

This message popped into my inbox late yesterday.


The survey in question contains the following questions.


All of my clients have gotten rid of SSL on their public facing Web sites.

The dilemma we have is that while SSL is dead, it is baked into so many products and appliances.  My clients are therefore stuck with appliances and software products that have SSL hard coded into them.  As a result, they will be dependent on their vendors to convert to TLS.

That said, what is the risk of using SSL internally?  Not a good practice, but truthfully, what is the risk?

In my opinion, using SSL internally for the next 12 to 24 months would not be the end of the world as long as it does not become a significant attack vector.

It will be interesting to hear the results of this survey.


SSL Is Officially Declared Dead

On January 30, 2015, QSAs received the latest edition of the Council’s Assessor Newsletter.  Buried in that edition was the following statement.

Notice: PCI DSS and PA-DSS v3.1 Revisions Coming

In order to address a few minor updates and clarifications and one impacting change, there will be a revision for PCI DSS and PA-DSS v3.0 in the very near future. The impacting change is related to several vulnerabilities in the SSL protocol. Because of this, no version of SSL meets PCI SSC’s definition of “strong cryptography,” and updates to the standards are needed to address this issue. (Highlighting emphasis added by the PCI Guru)

We are working with industry stakeholders to determine the impact and the best way to address the issue. While we do not have the final publication date, our goal is to keep you apprised of the progress and to provide you with advanced notification for these pending changes. We are also preparing several FAQs that will accompany release of the revised standards.

Should you have any questions, please contact your Program Manager.”

Because the announcement was titled about the coming v3.1 revisions to the PCI DSS and PA-DSS standards, I am sure a lot of QSAs missed this pronouncement.

Not that this should be a surprise to any QSA as the POODLE vulnerability effectively killed SSL.  The Council has now officially announced that SSL is no longer deemed to be strong cryptography.

Therefore, those of you still using SSL to secure transmissions containing cardholder data (CHD) need to stop that practice as soon as possible and convert to TLS or IPSec.

UPDATE: On February 13, 2015, the PCI SSC issued an update to their original announcement in the Assessor Newsletter.


PCI Compliance Is Getting More Rigorous

When Visa and MasterCard trotted out their security standards back in 2002 and 2003, the large eCommerce merchants that got to see them complained that they were too much.  Fast forward more than a decade and we still hear complaints that the PCI standards are too much.  Well if you are still complaining, things are about to get worse with version 3.  And the ever more consistent rumor is that business as usual (BAU) will be coming in v4.  If that comes to pass, I know some people that will likely jump out of windows as they did in the 1929 stock market crash.

So how is the PCI DSS getting more rigorous?

I spent some time analyzing the PCI DSS v3 as I did with v2.  From an analysis of v3 to v2, here are some of my findings.

  • There is an overall 11% increase in the number of tests in v3 versus v2.
  • Tests requiring some form of documentation have increased a whopping 83%. Not that 83% more documents will be required, just that there are 83% more tests where documentation is reviewed.  I will have more on this later in the post.
  • The number tests requiring interviews is up 48%. Again, not necessarily involving more people, just more questions to be asked and answered.
  • Tests requiring an observation of a process or activity are up 31%. As with the others, this is not a wholesale jump in new observations, but more an increase in things that must be observed.
  • Tests involving sampling are up 33%. This actually is an increase in the number of things sampled, but not all of the 33% increase are new samples.  This increase is the result of more clarifications from the Council to have QSAs explain what was sampled as it was implied in v2, but not explicitly requested.

Speaking of sampling, not only are the number of tests involving sampling increasing but the PCI SSC has told all of the QSAs that the days of “poor” or “inappropriate” sampling are over.  I have seen Reports On Compliance where QSAs have literally used a sample of one out of thousands under the rationale of “they are all configured the same”.  If you only tested one, how can you even draw the conclusion that the remaining thousands truly are the same?  You cannot and that is a big reason why the Council is getting picky on sampling.

The Council are also tired of incomplete samples.  The example most often quoted is there are 100 servers, half are Windows-based and half are Red Hat Linux.  A lot of QSAs were stopping there and sampling say five of each and calling their work complete.  Wrong!

What the Council is pointing out is that the QSA must go deeper in some cases when choosing their samples.  In the example above, the QSA needs to know the function of those servers so that they sample them based on their function such as database server, directory server, application server, etc.  In addition, the Council is also saying that it may be necessary to consider the applications involved as well to ensure that sampling provides a more complete picture of the environment.  In an assessment involving multiple applications, it might be necessary to sample database and application servers used by each application and not just a random sample of servers.

Finally, sampling might be higher for an entity’s first assessment or the first assessment by a QSA after a prior QSA.  The reason is that a higher sample size is warranted because all might not be as it is represented and minimal sampling would likely not reveal any issues.  This is common in the financial audit industry in situations where a new auditor is coming into the organization or the operations of the organization have been under increased scrutiny by regulators, banks or their prior auditors.

I earlier stated that documentation testing was up 83% and that was related to more testing of the same documents already being collected.  That is not to say that the amount of documentation is not increasing.  Regarding the amount of documentation required for v3 versus v2, I am estimating a conservative increase of around 100%.  I have been hearing horror stories regarding the amount of documentation being requested for v3.  I would not be shocked if the amount of documentation a QSA requires is up by 150% to 200% in some instances, particularly those situations where the QSA was not necessarily collecting all of the relevant documentation they should have been collecting.  A lot of this increase is that document counts now include observations which were considered separately in v2.

Based on this information, you should not be shocked if your QSAC increases the fees they are charging you for assessing your PCI compliance under v3.  Someone has to conduct all of those tests and review all of the extra documentation generated.  Even QSACs that have been doing the right thing all along are seeing impacts in the increases in testing required by v3.  But it has been definitely worse for those QSACs that were doing as little as possible to get an assessment done.  They are seeing the most impact from these changes and will likely find them highly onerous and difficult to justify the huge increases in professional fees required to cover their higher costs.  As a result, I would not be surprised if a number of QSACs stop doing PCI assessments because of the new requirements put on them.

But why are the changes occurring?

The primary reason is to minimize the “wiggle room” QSAs have in their testing so that assessments from one QSA to another are more consistent.  There has to be flexibility given to a QSA because organizations are never alike.  In addition what is compliant to one QSA can be non-compliant to another even within the same QSAC.  That occurs because every individual has their own sense of risk acceptance and avoidance.  This issue should be able to be taken out of the equation through discussion of the issue with the QSA and their superiors and, if necessary, development of mitigation strategies.

Under v2, a QSA that had a high risk tolerance could deem an organization compliant when the evidence would indicate that the organization is not compliant.  Or a QSA with a low risk tolerance could say one or more requirements are not in place in the same situation.  The new Reporting Template is an attempt to take the extremes out and reduce the wide swings in what is and is not compliant.  However, the new version of the PCI DSS does still allow some wiggle room for QSA/ISA judgment.

In addition to taking extremes in risk acceptance out of the assessment process, the Council is also trying to address the issue with QSAs that are judging organizations as PCI compliant when the QSA’s documentation does not support such a claim.  While the majority of QSAs thought this issue was addressed with the Reporting Instructions in v2, based on what the Council is telling us is that it apparently was not.  So the Council is getting stricter and stricter on their guidance as to what is acceptable through the language in the Reporting Template/Instructions as well as through their QSA training.

Another reason for the rigor is the breaches that keep occurring.  Each breach supplies information that might need to be incorporated into the PCI DSS.  One of the best examples of this is requirement 8.5.1:

“Service providers with remote access to customer premises (for example, for support of POS systems or servers) must use a unique authentication credential (such as a password/phrase) for each customer.”

This new requirement is in response to the significant number of breaches where the attacker gained access to a merchant’s cardholder data by knowing the remote access credentials of a vendor that is supporting the merchant such as those vendors that support point of sale (POS) solutions or card transaction processing.

Finally, the changes are also an attempt to circumvent some of the “legal” arguments that occur between the QSA and their client.  I am not the only QSA that has encountered clients that come up with very legal-like arguments and interpretations of what a particular test requires.  As a result, the Council has attempted to use wording in the tests and related testing guidance that reduces or even eliminates such interpretation arguments.  However, in my experience, clients that take this “legal” approach to their assessment are not going to stop.  They are not interested in security, they are interested in “checking a box”.  But the Council does no one any favors by only allowing QSAs and ISAs to read and have copies of the Reporting Template/Instructions until the client goes through their first PCI assessment under the new testing.  The Reporting Template should be a public document not one that only QSAs and ISAs have access.


Security Or Checking A Box?

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln

What is your organization interested in?  Security or checking a box?

Not surprisingly, most people answer “security” and then go on to prove with their actions and words that they are only interested in checking a box.

For all of you out there that argue ad nausea about the meaning of PCI DSS testing requirements and the requisite documentation are interested in one thing and one thing only; checking a box.  I am not talking about the few that have honest differences of opinion on a few of the requirements and how a QSA is interpreting them and assessing them.  I am talking about those of you that fight constantly with your QSA or acquiring bank on the process as a whole.

If you were to step back and listen to your arguments, you would hear someone that is splitting hairs in a vain attempt to avoid having to do something that would improve your organization’s security posture.  In essence, you want to only be judged PCI compliant, not actually be secure.

To add insult to injury, these are also typically the people that argue the most vehemently over the fact that the PCI DSS is worthless because it does not make an organization secure.  Wow!  Want to have your cake and eat it too!  Sorry, but you cannot have it both ways.

Everyone, including the Council, has been very clear that the PCI DSS is a bare minimum for security, not the “be all to end all” for securing an organization.  Organizations must go beyond the PCI DSS to actually be secure.  This where these people and their organizations get stumped because they cannot think beyond the standard.  Without a detailed road map, they are totally and utterly lost.  And heaven forbid they should pay a consultant for help.

But I am encountering a more insidious side to all of this.  As you listen to the arguments, a lot of you arguing about PCI compliance appear to have no interest in breaking a sweat and doing the actual work that is required.  More and more I find only partially implemented security tools, only partially implemented monitoring and only partially implemented controls.  And when you dig into it as we must do with the PCI assessment process, it becomes painfully obvious that when it got hard is when the progress stopped.

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.” Jimmy Duggan – A League Of Their Own

Security guru Bruce Schneier was speaking at a local ISSA meeting recently and when asked about why security is not being addressed better he stated that one of the big reasons is that it is hard and complex at times to secure our technology.  And he is right, security is hard.  It is hard because of our poor planning, lack of inclusion, pick the reason and I am sure there is some truth to it.  But he went on to say that it is not going to get any easier any time soon.  Yes, we will get better tools, but the nature of what we have built and implemented will still make security hard.  We need to admit it will be hard and not sugar coat that fact to management.

Management also needs to clearly understand as well that security is not perfect.  The analogy I like to use is banks.  I point out to people the security around banks.  They have one or more vaults with time locks.  They have video cameras.  They have dye packs in teller drawers.  Yet, banks still get robbed.  But, the banks only stock their teller drawers with a minimal amount of money so the robber can only get a few thousand dollars in one robbery.  Therefore to be successful, a robber has to rob many banks to make a living which increases the likelihood they will get caught.  We need to do the same thing with information security and recognize that breaches will still occur, but because we have controls in place that minimizes the amount or type of information they can obtain.

“There’s a sucker born every minute.” David Hannum

Finally, there is the neglected human element.  It is most often neglected because security people are not people, people.  A lot of people went into information security so that they did not have to interact a lot with people – they wanted to play with the cool tools.  Read the Verizon, Trustwave, etc. breach analysis reports and time and again, the root cause of a breach comes down to human error, not a flaw in one of our cool tools.  Yet what do we do about human error?  Little to nothing.  The reason being that supposedly security awareness training does not work.  Security awareness training does not work because we try to achieve success only doing it once per year not continuously.

To prove a point, I often ask people how long it took them to get their spouse, partner or friend to change a bad habit of say putting the toilet seat down or not using a particular word or phrase.  Never in my life have I ever gotten a response of “immediately”, “days” or “months”, it has always been measured in “years”.  And you always get comments about the arguments over the constant harping about changing the habit.  So why would any rational person think that a single annual security awareness event is going to be successful in changing any human habits?  It is the continuous discussion of security awareness that results in changes in people’s habits.

Not that you have to harp or drone on the topic, but you must keep it in the forefront of people’s mind.  The discussion must be relevant and explain why a particular issue is occurring, what the threat is trying to accomplish and then what the individual needs to do to avoid becoming a victim.  If your organization operates retail outlets, explaining a banking scam to your clerks is pointless.  However, explaining that there is now a flood of fraudulent coupons being generated and how to recognize phony coupons is a skill that all retail clerks need to know.

  • Why are fraudulent coupons flooding the marketplace? Because people need to reduce expenses and they are using creative ways to accomplish that including fraudulent ways.
  • What do the fraudulent coupons do to our company? People using fraudulent coupons are stealing from our company.  When we submit fraudulent coupons to our suppliers for reimbursement, they reject them and we are forced to absorb that as a loss.
  • What can you do to minimize our losses? Here are the ways to identify a fraudulent coupon.  [Describe the characteristics of a fraudulent coupon]  When in doubt, call the store manager for assistance.

Every organization I know has more than enough issues that make writing these sorts of messages easy to come up with a topic at least once a week.  Information security personnel need to work with their organization’s Loss Prevention personnel to identify those issues and then write them up so that all employees can act to prevent becoming victims.

Those of you closet box checkers need to give it up.  You are doing your organizations a huge disservice because you are not advancing information security; you are advancing a check in a box.


The ASV Process Is Broken – Part 3

So what are my ideas on fixing the ASV process?

Modify The ASV Program

The conditions that drove the ASV process originally made sense.  Vulnerability scanning tools were predominately open source and anyone could do scanning and just about anyone was doing vulnerability scanning.  The results produced out of the open source tools could be highly questionable at best and the reporting was haphazard and about as trustworthy at times as a three dollar bill.  Even in large organizations, the people doing the vulnerability scanning did not necessarily have networking, security or even IT backgrounds.  Then there was a tremendously high false positive rate out of the open source tools.  As a result, most organizations ignored the results they received because they found that they could not be trusted.

The purpose of the ASV program was to bring some sanity and professionalism to the vulnerability scanning process.  MasterCard invented the ASV program (it was not called ASV then) back in 2005.  A test network was built and prospective ASVs were required to run their vulnerability scanners against this network and produce results which were then reviewed by MasterCard.  It was a much a test of the vulnerability scanning tool as it was of the person running the tool.  When the program transitioned to the PCI SSC, the Council added a multiple choice test to the process, but the virtual network testing and report review is still part of the process.

The trouble with this process is that the vulnerability scanning tool is no longer the problem.  Every ASV uses a commercial vulnerability scanning tool from either Tenable, Qualys, Saint, Tripwire or similar commercial tool vendor these days because they cannot afford to do otherwise.  Since these tool vendors are also ASVs, requiring a vulnerability scan for ASV certification has become a truly pointless exercise.  Other than the possibility of not properly entering the IP addresses to be scanned and running the wrong scanning policy, there really is very little that someone can screw up with a scanning tool.

The skill in vulnerability scanning today is reviewing the results, dealing with false positive results, working to address results with compensating controls and, with the Councils new edict on combining reports, working to get passing quarterly scans.

Therefore, in my opinion, training and testing of ASVs should be focused on the following.

  •  Determining the scope of vulnerability scanning.
  • Vulnerability scanning methodology.
  • Interpreting vulnerability scanning reports to confirm knowledge of the process and the meaning of the results.
  • What constitutes a false positive result and how to document a false positive result.
  • Development and documentation of an appropriate compensating control for a vulnerability.
  • Process for how to produce an acceptable passing scanning report from multiple reports.

And let us not limit ASV certification to just independent consulting firms.  As with the internal security assessor (ISA) program, open the ASV program to internal personnel as well.  Most large companies have independent vulnerability scanning teams that are as capable to more than capable than their ASV brethren.  There is no longer any reason that these internal people cannot do the ASV scans particularly if they meet the same standards and qualifications.

Approved Vulnerability Scanning Tools

I am not suggesting that the Council needs to develop a certification process for these tools as there are already plenty of sources that assess such tools.

The Council would publish a list based on the criteria developed by one or more independent tool assessment sources.  This list would define those tools acceptable to use for ASV vulnerability scanning.  The PCI DSS should then require that the QSA confirm that the vulnerability scanner used by the ASV is on the list in addition to confirming scope and the scanning policy used.

Require A Vulnerability Scanning Methodology

With the PCI DSS v3, the Council now requires penetration testers to use a documented and industry accepted penetration testing methodology.  Yet, there is no such requirement for vulnerability testing.

Most vulnerability scanning is done using what I call the “toss it against the wall and see what sticks” approach.  Basically, every possible vulnerability is run against every device.  Most commercial vulnerability scanners interpret banners, signatures and other markers to trim the list of vulnerabilities to be tested based on what they believe the target to be.  However, when you are scanning an external network blind, scanners cannot always properly interpret what an IP address resolves to as a device because of the mix of responses that they receive.  As a result, scanners do not necessary trim tests increasing false positive results or they trim them too much and the test is not complete.

Then there is the automated nature of today’s vulnerability scanning.  While I understand the desire to reduce costs of vulnerability scanning, the “point and click” nature of today’s ASV scanning has made it flawed.  And it gets worse as organizations get passing scans.  As a QSA, I cannot tell you how many passing scans I have reviewed where an organization could be hacked six ways to Sunday with the remaining vulnerabilities.  As a security professional, it scares me to death.  But as a QSA, while I can bring these up, they get no play because they do not have a CVSS of 4.0 or greater.  You hope that these vulnerabilities get picked up in an organization’s penetration test.

But there is no guarantee of that happening because the penetration tester’s vulnerability scanner may or may not pick up the same vulnerabilities.  As a result, part of the penetration testing methodology should include a review of all vulnerabilities found since the last penetration test and those should be tested for in the current penetration test to ensure they have been addressed.

Obviously, I have a preference to the methodology I discussed back in Part 2.  But there are a number of methodologies posted out on the Internet from a variety of good sources.  All I ask is that the vulnerability scanning methodology be integrated with the penetration testing methodology so that there are not gaps in coverage.

Require Monthly External Vulnerability Scanning

Before everyone panics, I am not asking that ASV scans be run monthly.  Although if the ASV program is modified, for organizations with internal ASVs that is a possibility.  I would still require the quarterly ASV scan, but I would add in monthly scans run by anyone deemed qualified as is allowed for internal vulnerability scans.

My primary rationale for this recommendation is driven by this simple fact.  When the dominant solution vendor releases patches on the second Tuesday of every month and the vast majority of those fixes have a CVSS score of 4.0 or greater, anyone that thinks quarterly scanning keeps them secure is seriously kidding themselves.  Not that a lot of security professionals bought into the quarterly vulnerability scanning requirement, even as a bare minimum.  But without the standard requiring it, a QSA has no leg to stand on other than to intimidate and shame people into doing monthly scanning.

Even if you are not Microsoft centric in your external environment, with the breaches that have occurred and the revelations of Shellshock and Poodle, it is painfully obvious that the quarterly requirement is not going to keep organizations secure.  I got a lot of calls after both of these vulnerabilities were announced with clients asking if their passing scans were no longer valid.  I was a bit schizophrenic in my thoughts.  On the one hand, I was glad they were at least thinking about the security implications of these vulnerabilities.  But their concern about their passing scans just highlights the importance of meeting a PCI requirement and passing their PCI assessment versus being secure.  Because, while I only got a few calls, you know that there are too many people that are congratulating themselves on dodging the bullets of Shellshock and Poodle because of the fortuitous timing of their  quarterly scans and that they got an additional 30, 60 or even 90 days to address them.

Then there are those organizations that run solutions such as IBM’s Websphere or Oracle’s eCommerce suites.  Both of these vendors not only patch their own application frameworks, but they also release those patches to the underlying operating systems that are compatible with their application frameworks.  But worse, these vendors do not release monthly patch releases, they do patch releases on quarterly, semi-annual or even annual bases.  As a result, there is a high likelihood that some operating system patches could be left out of these releases due to compatibility or timing issues.  The work around is to mitigate any remaining vulnerabilities through additional logging, additional monitoring, changes in firewall rules, changes in IDS/IPS rules, etc.  The additional vulnerability scanning could help organizations identify these issues and address them quicker than quarterly.

A side benefit of monthly scanning will be improving the ability of organizations and their QSAs to determine if an organization’s patching and mitigation processes are working according to requirement 6.1.  Quarterly scans typically document a lot of vulnerabilities, mostly those under a CVSS of 4.0.  As a result, whether or not an organization is properly managing their environment can be very difficult and time consuming leading to missing items that should be addressed.  Having reports more often can facilitate getting these issues addressed sooner rather than later and keeping the volume lower and less daunting.

The bottom line in all of this is that monthly scanning is required to even have a chance at being secure these days.  Yet the vast majority of organizations are only doing quarterly scans and thinking they are secure.  That practice must change.

So there we have it.  My thoughts on the ASV process and how I would go about fixing it.


Lawyer Or Security Professional?

“It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If ‘is’ means ‘is and never has been’ that’s one thing – if it means ‘there is none’, that was a completely true statement.” –President of The United States of America, William Clinton

It has been an interesting time as the December 31, 2014 deadline approaches and version 2 of the PCI DSS comes to its end of life.  I have started to notice that there are a lot of security professionals and others that are closet lawyers based on the discussions I have had with some of you regarding compliance with the PCI DSS.

The first thing I want to remind people of is that if you do not want to comply with one or more of the PCI DSS requirements, all you have to do is write a position paper defining for each requirement you find onerous, why it is not relevant or not applicable for your environment and get your management and acquiring bank to sign off on that paper.  But stop wasting your QSA’s or ISA’s time with your arguments.  It is not that we do not care, but without such approval from your management and acquiring bank, QSAs and ISAs cannot let you off the hook for any requirement.

With that said, the first lawyerly argument we are dealing with these days revolves around the December deadline.  We continue to get into arguments over what the deadline actually means.

It appears that the PCI SSC and card brands’ repeatedly saying that version 2 is done as of December 31, 2014 was not clear enough for some of you.  And further clarifications from them that any reports submitted after that date must be under version 3 are also apparently too much for some of you to handle.  I do not know how there could be any misinterpretation of ‘DEADLINE’, ‘DONE’ or “AFTER THAT DATE’ but apparently, there are a lot of people out in the world that do not understand such words and phrases.  Then there are the amazing contortions that some people will go to in a twisted dance to the death to get around this deadline.

Where have you been?  How could you have missed this deadline?  It has been known since the PCI SSC announced their change when standard updates would be issued back with the release of the PCI DSS v2 more than three years ago.  But even assuming you were not involved back then, the PCI SSC announced the deadline over a year ago with the release of PCI DSS v3.  Either way, it certainly should not have been a surprise as there has been plenty of warning.

But then do not take this out on your QSA.  QSAs are just the messenger in this process and had nothing to do with setting the deadline.  The PCI SSC and the card brands set that deadline.  You have a problem with the deadline, complain to them.  But if you are willing to listen, I can save you that discussion.  They will politely tell you the deadline is the deadline.  You are out of luck.  If you do not like that answer, then stop taking credit/debit cards for payment for your organization’s goods and services.

The next lawyerly argument is around the June 30, 2015 deadlines for requirements 6.5.10, 8.5.1, 9.9, 11.3 and 12.9.  Again, it is as though these dates were kept from you, which they were not.  I even wrote a post about these requirements titled ‘Coming Attractions’ back in September 2013.

For those that are calendar challenged, June 30, 2015 is practically just around the corner in business terms.  If you had years to get ready for the PCI DSS v3, what makes you think that you can just turn something on in a year and a half?  Yet we continually see people arguing that until that date, they are not going to address any of these requirements.  All as though, like a light switch, something magical will occur on July 1, 2015 that will meet those requirements.

For merchants, requirements 9.9 and 11.3 are going to be huge issues particularly for those of you with large networks and lots of retail outlets.  If you have not gotten started on these requirements now, there is no way you will be compliant with these requirements by July 1.  Both of these require thought, planning and training.  They cannot just be started overnight resulting in compliance.

For requirement 11.3, the new approach required for penetration testing is resulting in vulnerabilities being uncovered.  Organizations that did not want to get caught flat footed are finding that their network segmentation is not as segmented as they once believed.  They are also finding new “old” vulnerabilities because of these network segmentation issues.  The bottom line is that these early adopters are scrambling to address their penetration testing issues.  In some cases ACLs need to be adjusted, but I have a few that have found they need to re-architect their networks in order to get back to compliance.  Obviously the latter is not an overnight kind of fix.

Requirement 9.9 is all about ensuring the security of points of interaction (POI) as card terminals are referred.  Because of all of the POI tampering and hacks that have occurred, the Council has added the requirements in 9.9 to minimize that threat.  The biggest problems early adopters are running into is getting their retail management and cashiers trained so that they understand the threats and know how to deal with those threats.  This requires creating new procedures for daily or more often inventorying of the POIs and visually inspecting them to ensure they have not been tampered with.  Companies are rolling out serialized security tape that must be applied to the seams of POIs so that any opening of the case can be visually determined.  Locking cradles are being installed for every POI to secure them to the counter.  Let alone implementing those new procedures for doing at least daily inspections and what to do if you suspect tampering and how to inform corporate of potential issues.  Again, not something that just happens and works day one.

For service providers, besides 11.3, requirement 8.5.1 is going to be their biggest issue.  This requires the service provider to use different remote access credentials for every customer.  This is in response to the breaches that occurred at a number of restaurants in Louisiana a few years ago as well as more recent breaches.

The problem that early adopters of 8.5.1 are finding is that implementing enterprise-wide credential vaults is not as simple as it appears.  The biggest impact with these implementations is that service providers start missing their service level agreements (SLA).  Missing SLAs typically costs money.  So these service providers are not only incurring the costs related to implementing the credential vault solution, but they are suffering SLA issues that just pile on the injuries.

But the final straw is all of the people that closely parse the PCI DSS and only the DSS.  You saw this with some of the questions asked at the latest Community Meeting.  You also see it in the questions I get on this blog and the prospects and I clients I deal with daily.  These people are hunting for a way to get around complying with a particular requirement.

This occurs because people only read the DSS and not the Glossary, information supplements and other documents provided by the Council.  At least with v3 of the DSS the Council included the Guidance for each of the requirements.  Not that adding Guidance makes a whole lot of difference based on the arguments laid out by some people.  The Council could do us all a favor if they generally published the Reporting Template with all of the other documents.  Not so much that people would necessarily read it, but it would give QSAs and ISAs more ammunition to use when these discussions come up.

Successful security professionals understand the purpose of security frameworks.  These frameworks are meant to share the collective knowledge and lessons learned regarding security with everyone so that everyone can have a leg up and know ways of detecting and mitigating threats.  Successful security professionals use these frameworks to get things done, not waste their time developing scholarly legal arguments or twisting the English language as to why they do not need to meet some security requirement.  They put their heads down, review the frameworks, develop plans to implement the changes necessary to improve security, work the plan and deliver results.  Do those plans always meet requirement deadline dates?  Not always, but they are close or as close as they can get given other business issues.

The bottom line is that security professionals are not lawyers and good security professionals certainly do not sound like lawyers.  But if you constantly find yourself sounding like a lawyer digging so deep to split legal hairs, in my very humble opinion, you really need to re-examine your career or lack thereof.  I say lack thereof because, in my experience, security professionals that operate like lawyers do not have long careers.  They move around a lot because once people realize that they cannot deliver, they are forced to move on.  Eventually a reputation is developed and after that point these people end up forced to find a new career because the security community knows their modus operandi.


Do Not Jump To Conclusions

A QSA apparently posed a question to the Council regarding the scope of wireless headsets used in a client’s call centers.  In this case, the headsets rely on DECT technology.  The response from the Council was as follows:

“Although DECT is not specifically referenced in PCI DSS v3, it is a digital wireless telephone technology and given the scenario you are describing, PCI DSS requirement 4.1 and 4.1.1 would apply.”

The resulting LinkedIn discussion surrounded whether the DECT headsets are in-scope which, of course, they are in-scope.  However, the implication of the discussion was that, if in-scope, could the DECT headsets be considered as PCI compliant.  Let us walk through a discussion of this issue and develop a position on whether or not DECT headsets are a risk and can they be considered PCI compliant.

For those of us that do not have the PCI DSS memorized requirement 4.1 states:

“Use strong cryptography and security protocols (for example, SSL/TLS, IPSEC, SSH, etc.) to safeguard sensitive cardholder data during transmission over open, public networks, including the following:

– Only trusted keys and certificates are accepted.

– The protocol in use only supports secure versions or configurations.

– The encryption strength is appropriate for the encryption methodology in use.”

Requirement 4.1.1 states:

“Ensure wireless networks transmitting cardholder data or connected to the cardholder data environment, use industry best practices (for example, IEEE 802.11i) to implement strong encryption for authentication and transmission.”

For those of you not up on DECT, it does not rely on strong encryption as defined by NIST and other recognized sources.  The encryption used is 64-bit, almost as lame as DES.  But it gets worse; the protocol does not require the use of a secure authentication method to pair devices to their base station.  As a result, it is relatively easy to force authentication to a rogue base station.  To add to the threat, the theoretical transmission distance is 500m or around a third of a mile.  So it has the capability of transmitting fairly long distances.

Sounds like a PCI and general security train wreck does it not?

Now before we all go off and tell every one of our call center clients that DECT is no longer allowed, let us all take a big deep breath and look at this issue clearly.

The first question that should always be asked is what the real world likelihood of such an attack is.  In this case, would an attack on 20, 50, 100 or more DECT headsets make sense?  Probably not and here is why I believe that to be the case.

You would need as many rogue devices as actual headsets to surreptitiously pair with each individual headset in order to get the conversations.  This would require a large van with racks of notebooks in order to accomplish such an attack.  And that assumes that the transmission distance quoted in the standard can be relied upon.  However, based on the use of my own DECT phones at my home, I can tell you that my phones have issues 30’ away from my house, let alone a third of a mile away.

If that isn’t enough, the DECT cards required are no longer manufactured.  If you are lucky, you may be able to get them on eBay from Europe for about $25€ or $30USD.  I would take this as a good indication that DECT hacking was not a big thing.  But it does get worse; the cards use the PCMCIA interface (superseded in 2003) and, according to the limited number of eBay sellers, do not work reliably for hacking DECT when using the requisite adapter cables for connecting them to modern computers via USB.  As a result, the hack will also require a large number of old notebooks to execute.

The final nail in this coffin is that the known software exploit, ‘deDECTed’, appears to have languished in development (most likely because of the situation with the PCMCIA cards) and was only included in one distribution of BackTrack, now Kali Linux.  You can still download it, but without the requisite hardware, you are pretty much at a standstill.

While all of the tools exist, is this threat realistic?  Why would someone go through all of this effort when, in all likelihood, it would have been probably a thousand times easier to hack the call recording system?  Hacking the call recording system would skip all of the rigmarole of surreptitiously going after the headsets and skip straight to searching the recordings.

In my opinion, while there is a threat, the risk of that threat occurring is low.  Based on this analysis, I would feel comfortable judging these DECT headsets as being PCI compliant and would provide this analysis in my work papers so that reviewers could understand my rationale.

However, this is me talking from my willingness to accept this risk.  Other people and organizations might not be quite so willing and may decide to not allow DECT headsets or phones.  That is their decision but it should be made with information and discussion such as was provided here and not in a vacuum as a “knee jerk” response.

By the way, this technique of capturing people’s conversations is much easier to do with Bluetooth and such tools exist in Kali Linux to accomplish that attack.  However, the same issue of one rogue device to one Bluetooth device still exists.  Good news there, Kali Linux is available for smartphones, so you only need a lot of smartphones to execute the attack.  That is mitigated by the fact that the distance for Bluetooth is only 30’ or 9m.  So as long as a call center enforces a policy of no personal or foreign technology on the call center floor, then any headsets should be safe.

The take away from this post is to think through the implications of the Council’s directives before you go off advising organizations that certain technologies are not PCI compliant.  While I agree with the Council’s answer to the question, it did not immediately mean that the technology was now verboten just because the technology’s basic characteristics appeared to make it non-compliant.  QSAs and organizations need to assess the threat, the risk of the threat occurring and then make a decision as to whether or not that threat is something to be managed or avoided.


Interested In Business As Usual?

I am encountering more and more organizations that are interested in business as usual or BAU.  Organizations are finally realizing that the only way they are ever going to feel secure is to embed security controls in their everyday business processes and make sure that they periodically assess that those controls are working.  The PCI SSC used a page and a half in the PCI DSS v3 to discuss the concept of BAU.  This leads some of us to believe that BAU will become part of the requirements at some point in the future.

However, what is involved and what will it take to implement BAU?  This post will give you an idea of what you will be up against.

Going through the PCI DSS v3, I did an analysis of the requirements and testing and came up with some interesting statistics regarding BAU.

  • There are 14 requirements/tests that are required to occur at least daily.
  • There are 18 requirements/tests that are required to occur whenever changes occur.
  • There are five requirements/tests that are required to occur whenever significant changes occur.
  • There is only one requirement/test that is required to occur at least weekly.
  • There are three requirements/tests that are required to occur at least monthly.
  • There are 11 requirements/tests that are required to occur at least quarterly.
  • There are four requirements/tests that are required to occur at least semi-annually.
  • There are 118 requirements/tests that are required to occur at least annually.

For my analysis, I assigned actual values to those requirements/tests that use the words “periodic” or “periodically” in their definitions.  The values I assigned were based on other standards or security “best practices”.  That is why my analysis does not include those references.

In total, there are 227 requirements/tests that need to be done at some frequency.  There are some requirements/tests that are duplicated in this count because they are not only required to be performed for example at least quarterly or annually, but they may also be required to be performed whenever changes occur.  The best example of this is vulnerability scanning which is required to be performed at least quarterly but also whenever a significant change occurs.

The biggest problem organizations will have with BAU is getting all of this integrated into their operational.  To address that, I tied the requirements to their priorities from the Council’s Prioritized Approach spreadsheet.  This allowed me to determine which BAU to implement first, second and so on.  What I found was:

  • There are 16 requirements/tests in BAU that have a ranking of ‘1’ (highest priority).
  • There are 75 requirements/tests in BAU that have a ranking of ‘2’.
  • There are 37 requirements/tests in BAU that have a ranking of ‘3’.
  • There are 58 requirements/tests in BAU that have a ranking of ‘4’.
  • There are 30 requirements/tests in BAU that have a ranking of ‘5’.
  • There are 11 requirements/tests in BAU that have a ranking of ‘6’ (lowest priority).

Once BAU is integrated into operations, organizations will want to ensure that it continues to operate effectively.  That will likely mean including the assessment of BAU as part of their internal audit activities.  This will further mean that departments will have to maintain evidence of their BAU activities to prove that BAU is being followed.  Some of that evidence will already be maintained in centralized logging and change control solutions.  However, other evidence such as with new user setup or user termination may have to be retained in a folder in the email system or exported as a readable file and stored on a file server.  The bottom line is that evidence of some form needs to be maintained to provide proof that BAU activities are performed and performed consistently throughout the year.

But that is the ultimate point about BAU.  It is all about engraining the security concepts in the PCI DSS to better ensure security is being maintained throughout the year, not just at assessment time.  And that is where most organizations fail with PCI is keeping the controls functioning throughout the year.

I have yet to encounter any organization that can prove to me that all of the PCI requirements are functioning at 100%, 24x7x365.  All organizations have issues with controls, but with BAU, the idea is to have a mechanism that identifies those issues before they become damaging and correct them before too many controls fail and result in a breach.  If you read any of the breach analysis reports, that is why the breach occurred because the controls were not functioning and no one addressed the failure.


Keeping It Simple – Part 1

Apparently, I struck a nerve with small business people trying to comply with PCI.  In an ideal world, most merchants would be filling out SAQ A, but we do not live in an ideal world.  As a result, I have collected some ideas on how merchants can make their lives easier.

Do Not Store Cardholder Data

It sounds simple, but it amazes me how many small businesses are storing cardholder data (CHD).  In most cases, it is not like they wanted to store CHD, but the people in charge just did not ask vendors that one key question, “Does your solution store cardholder data?”  If a vendor answers “Yes”, then you should continue your search for a solution that does not store CHD.

Even when the question is asked of vendors, you may not get a clear answer.  That is not necessarily because the vendor is trying to hide something, but more likely because the salespeople have never been asked this question before.  As a result, do not be surprised if the initial answer is, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”  If you never get an answer or the answer is not clear, then you should move on to a different vendor that does provide answers to such questions.

If your organization cannot find a solution that does not store CHD, then at least you are going into a solution with your eyes open.  However, in today’s payment processing application environment, most vendors are doing all that they can to avoid storing CHD.  If the vendors you are looking at for solutions are still storing CHD, then you may need to get creative to avoid storing CHD.

That said, even merchants that only use points of interaction (POI) such as card terminals can also end up with CHD being stored.  I have encountered a number of POIs that were delivered from the processor configured such that the POI was storing full PAN.  Apparently, some processors feel it is the responsibility of the merchant to configure the POI securely even though no such instructions were provided indicating that fact.  As a result, you should contact your processor and have them walk you through the configuration of the POI to ensure that it is not storing the PAN or any other sensitive information.

Then there are the smartphone and tablet solutions from Square, Intuit and a whole host of other mobile solution providers.  While the PCI SSC has indicated that such solutions will never be considered PCI compliant, mobile POIs continue to proliferate with small businesses.  The problem with most of these solutions is when a card will not work through the swipe/dip and the CHD is manually keyed into the device.  It is at that point when the smartphone/tablet keyboard logger software captures the CHD and it will remain in the device until it is overwritten which can be three to six months down the road.  In the case of EMV, the device can capture the PIN if it is entered through the screen thanks to the built in keyboard logger.  As a result, most EMV solutions use a signature and not a PIN.  The reason Square, Intuit and the like get away with peddling these non-compliant POI solutions is that they also serve as the merchant’s acquiring bank and are accepting the risk of the merchant using a non-compliant POI.

The bottom line here is that merchants need to understand these risks and then make appropriate decisions on what risks they are will to accept in regards to the explicit or implicit storage of CHD.

Mobile Payment Processing

The key thing to know about these solutions is that the PCI Security Standards Council has publicly stated that these solutions will never be considered PCI compliant.  Yes, you heard that right; they will never be PCI compliant.  That is mostly because of the PCI PTS standard regarding the security of the point of interaction (POI) for PIN entry and the fact that smartphones and tablets have built in keyboard loggers that record everything entered into these devices.  There are secure solutions such as the Verifone PAYware line of products.  However, these products only use the mobile device as a display.  No cardholder data is allowed to be entered into the mobile device.

So why are these solutions even available if they are not PCI compliant?  It is because a number of the card brands have invested in the companies producing these solutions.  As a result, the card brands have a vested interest in allowing them to exist.  And since the companies offering the solutions are also acting as the acquiring bank for the merchant, they explicitly accept the risk that these solutions present.  That is the beauty of the PCI standards, if a merchant’s acquiring bank approves of something, then the merchant is allowed to do it.  However, very few merchants using these solutions understand the risk these solutions present to them.

First is the risk presented by the swipe/dip device.  Some of these devices encrypt the data at the swipe/dip but not all.  As a result, you should ask the organization if their swipe/dip device encrypts the information.  If it does encrypt, then even if the smartphone/tablet comes in contact with the information, it cannot read it.  If it is not encrypted, I would move on to the next mobile payments solution provider.

The second risk presented is the smartphone/tablet keyboard logger.  This feature is what allows your mobile device to guess what you want to type, what songs you like and a whole host of convenience features.  However, these keyboard loggers also remember anything typed into them such as primary account numbers (PAN), driver’s license numbers and any other sensitive information they can come into contact.  They can remember this information as long as it is not overwritten in the device’s memory.  Depending on how much memory a device has, this can be anywhere from weeks to months.  One study a few years back found that information could be found on mobile devices for as long as six months and an average of three months.

While encrypting the data at the swipe/dip will remove the risk that the keyboard logger has CHD, if you manually key the PAN into the device, then the keyboard logger will record it.  As a result, if you are having a high failure rate with swiping/dipping cards, you will have a lot of PANs contained in your device.

The bottom line is that if you ever lose your mobile device or your trade it in, you risk exposing CHD if you do not properly wipe the device.  It is not that these solutions should not be used, but the purveyors of these solutions should be more forthcoming in the risks of using such solutions so that merchants can make informed decisions beyond the cheap interchange fees.

There are more things merchants can do to keep it simple and I will discuss those topics in a future post.


If you are posting a comment, be patient, as the comments will not be published until they are approved.

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.


August 2021

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