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After Target, Neiman Marcus breaches, does PCI compliance mean anything?

January 24, 2014 03:58 PM ET

"This leads to many points along the path of an active transaction where criminal malware can 'spy' on the information as it passes by which is what appears to have occurred at Target," Huguelet said. The best approach is to require that all card holder data be encrypted at the point it is swiped all the way until it reaches the merchant's bank for processing.

"This would take merchants' entire retail infrastructure out of the gun sights of payment criminals. There would simply not be any payment data that could be stolen from the retailers," he said.

Such end-to-end encryption can be costly, Huguelet said, but it is a one-time cost that is sure to drive real and lasting improvements in retail security.

John Pescatore, director of emerging technologies at the SANS Institute, said the breaches point out PCI implementation failures rather than a lack of controls in the standards itself. There's plenty in the standard that should have enabled Target and Neiman Marcus to catch the intrusions on the way in or to find and block the path the intruders took to break into the networks, Pescatore said.

"Doing security right is not trivial. But the problem is not some lack of requirements in PCI DSS or other standards," he said. "In fact, it would be counter-productive to try to jam attack-specific requirements into standards. It makes no sense."

The part of the PCI process that needs change is the compliance assessment process, Pescatore said.

The certified security assessors who verify a company's compliance status often don't do a good enough job. "Implementation or process failures should be caught by the assessors who do the yearly evaluations, or by quarterly vulnerability scanning," he said. "But too often the yearly assessments don't catch much and quarterly vulnerability scanning is not frequent enough."

The PCI Security Council, which administers the standard, did not have any immediate comments.

This article, After Target, Neiman Marcus breaches, does PCI compliance mean anything?, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at Twitter @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed Vijayan RSS. His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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