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Revision to PCI standards welcomed despite minor changes, as calls made for tokenisation to be incorporated

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The PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) released version 2.0 of the PCI data security standard (PCI DSS) and payment application data security standard (PA DSS) this week with minor changes.

Claiming this is designed ‘to provide greater clarity and flexibility to facilitate improved understanding of the requirements and eased implementation for merchants', version 2.0 will become effective on the 1st January 2011.

As revealed by SC Magazine in August, version 2.0 does not introduce any new major requirements and the majority of changes are modifications to the language, which clarify the meaning of the requirements and make understanding and adoption easier for merchants.

The council said that key revisions 'serve to reinforce the need for a thorough scoping exercise prior to assessment'. This is in order to understand where cardholder data resides; promote more effective log management in securing cardholder data; allow organisations to adopt a risk-based approach when assessing and prioritising vulnerabilities that is based on their specific business circumstances; and accommodate the unique environments of small merchants to simplify their compliance efforts.

The most recent version (1.2.1) was released in July 2009. Wolfgang Kandek, CTO at Qualys, attended the meetings and said that the changes do show that the standards have matured enough that major changes are not required regularly.

He said: “All in all we see the number of merchants adopting PCI increasing. The council has done a great job at being reactive and responsive in an open community-based effort to get the standards to a mature state. Now they are attempting to stay ahead of the curve with new technologies in a dedicated effort working with industry leaders.

“Ultimately we expect DSS 2.0 to help merchants improve the security of their PCI networks, while providing flexibility with their compliance efforts given the many different implementations that are out there.”

Also welcoming the changes was LogRhythm, who claimed that the changes should aid the many organisations that have still not met the PCI SSC's previous recommendations. 

Ross Brewer, VP and MD of international markets at LogRhythm, said: “Some of the anticipated changes by the PCI SSC can't come too soon. Some reports show high rates of non-compliance, a fact often viewed as a reflection of the lack of clarity, which has negatively affected the standard in the past. Guidance on virtualisation and the alignment between PCI DSS and the PA DSS will also be welcome, while the evolving requirement for centralised logging of payment transactions is a definite plus.

“Too many organisations view compliance as a one-time only requirement, instead of an ongoing process that can actually aid wider business operations. For example, companies that heed the PCI SSC's recommendation to continuously log and monitor their networks will also find that they are able to gain deep insight into their IT systems, particularly how data is stored, accessed and used. By capturing a complete picture of all the activity occurring across their entire infrastructures, organisations can detect any unauthorised event, regardless of whether it is related to credit card security and can also pinpoint inefficiencies in their IT operations.”

Rafe Pilling, PCI consultant at SecureWorks, said: “Organisations looking for clear guidance on storing PCI and non PCI systems in a virtualised environment might be disappointed, as the boundaries are not clearly defined.  This is where an organisation needs to rely on the guidance and expertise of an independent QSA. Organisations need to partner with a QSA that possesses a strong technical background, takes a risk-based approach and who has a thorough understanding of the letter and intent of the PCI DSS."

Adam Bosnian, executive vice president of Americas and corporate development at Cyber-Ark, also believed that despite the PCI standards in general being fairly mature, many organisations are still playing catch up.

He said: “Despite the minor changes, organisations will continue to face significant challenges complying with 2.0. Our customers and prospects still view overcoming manual processes and controls as major hurdles in complying with PCI guidelines. Automating control over privileged users and accounts, including the ability to streamline management of embedded application credentials, will address these issues and enable full compliance to be achieved.”

Edy Almer, VP of marketing at Safend, said: “With a data protection view we welcome the revision of the PCI standard. PCI compliance is a long and painful process for many and clear guidelines on how to approach and prioritise the actions and streamline the process should allow merchants to become compliant faster and more efficiently, in order to better protect the public.

“Foremost of the new requirements is the clarification recommending a discovery process to make sure that organisations know where all credit card related data is. Organisations need to locate, classify and map data stored on endpoints and network shares to avoid any data loss. Knowing exactly where information is stored is imperative and a prerequisite, necessary to protect the data and the introduction of new clarifications, will support this process."

Ulf Mattson, CTO of Protegrity, and Jonathan Lampe, VP of product management at Ipswitch, both called on the PCI SSC to provide guidance on how the tokenisation of cardholder data can reduce the size of the Cardholder Data Environment (CDE).

Mattson said: “This is important because the CDE is that part of the network that possesses cardholder data or sensitive authentication data. Like many others, I expect the document to somewhat mirror the tokenisation best practices document that Visa released in July, which will be a good framework for the industry to build on.

“I'm happy the council is acknowledging the need to address emerging technologies such as tokenisation. As these technologies continue to mature and gain traction with merchants, I believe they will eventually find their way into the PCI DSS standards.”

Lampe said that the future incorporation of tokenisation technologies would be a key security and cost saving development. “The use of data tokens in place of sensitive data is essentially a cost saving measure. Early adopters are shrinking the costs of PCI compliance by handing responsibility for their most sensitive information to a trusted custodian, saving them the expense of treating every interaction as top secret,” he said.

“Tokenisation is already accepted by Visa and is the focus of a current PCI Council committee; the next logical step is for it to be incorporated into official PCI guidance.”

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