Why 41 Percent of You Would Fail a PCI Audit

Businesses still behind 2006 compliance requirements

Security vendors are launching a gazillion products this week at RSA Conference 2010, but hidden in all of those press releases are a few nuggets that illustrate the big picture trends. Here are a few of the more interesting items found in the press room this morning:

New research from The Ponemon Institute suggests nearly half of the companies out there would bomb a PCI security audit.

The report says that while only two percent of businesses outright fail compliance audits, 41 percent would fail if unable to rely on temporary compensating controls to meet Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) requirements. These alternative routes to compliance must meet QSA approval, but they may be just temporary fixes or be eliminated by future changes to PCI DSS. Their prevalence appears to indicate businesses are still coming up to the speed with the security standard introduced in 2006.

"This study is the first ever to analyze PCI DSS compliance trends from the QSA perspective and reveals some very interesting information about the way organizations approach compliance and how they protect sensitive information," said Dr Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of The Ponemon Institute. "PCI DSS compliance isn't easy and it's definitely not all about any one technology or process. This study indicates a significant concern among QSAs that many merchants are primarily focused on complying with PCI and less on what should be equally important -- protecting sensitive information."

When it comes to compliance, QSAs find the most difficult requirement for merchants to meet is restricting access to cardholder data on a business-driven need-to-know basis (PCI DSS Requirement #7) and QSAs believe this is the most important part in achieving PCI DSS compliance. QSAs also find the most significant threats to card data are in merchant networks and databases containing cardholder data. Not surprisingly these are the places where criminals have caused the highly publicized data breaches in recent years.

The news is hardly surprising, given the growing chorus of complaints from the security community that companies are worried more about completing a compliance checklist than implementing true security.

That was one of the main messages delivered by Joshua Corman, research director for enterprise security at The 451 Group, during that firm's 4th Annual Client Performance Conference in November.

"Organizations have made PCI DSS and compliance in general the basis of their information security policies," he said at the time. "They're basing security on sloppy logic from Visa and MasterCard and in the process are ignoring some very bad state-sponsored threats. As a community, we have not evolved at all."

He compared PCI DSS to No Child Left Behind, the education reform law championed by former President George W. Bush. The law has been criticized by some who believe it has stifled innovation in education and focused too much on standardized testing.

That assessment led to a recent two-part roundtable podcast debate, a transcription of which is available here: " The Great PCI Security Debate of 2010."

Imperva Report Details Reveals Hacker Scheme to Infect Educational Servers WorldwideSecurity vendor Imperva released a new report warning that hackers have become industrialized and represent an exponentially increased threat to individuals, organizations and government. The report says the emerging industrialization of hacking parallels the way in which the 19th-century revolution advanced methods and accelerated assembly from single to mass production. The result is that today's cybercrime industry has transformed and automated itself to improve efficiency, scalability and profitability.

As an example, Imperva discovered a new hacker scheme that is infecting educational servers worldwide with Viagra ads. "This attack on academic institutions highlights how hacking has become industrialized infecting servers from major institutions including UC Berkeley, Ohio State and more. Ironically, this technique is the most prevalent method used to create havoc in cyberspace, yet remains virtually unknown to the general public," Imperva CTO Amichai Shulman said.

Key findings in the report include the organizational structure and technical innovations for automating attacks:

  • Organization structure: Over the years, a clear definition of roles and responsibilities within the hacking community has developed to form a supply chain that resembles a drug cartel.
  • Technical innovations:Hacking techniques once considered cutting-edge and executed only by savvy experts are now bundled into software tools available for download. Today, the hacking community typically deploys a two-stage process designed to proliferate botnets and perform mass attacks. One example is search engine manipulation, the most prevalent method used to spread bots. Essentially, attackers promote Web-link references to infected pages by leaving comment spam in online forums and by infecting legitimate sites with hidden references to infected pages. For example, a hacker may infect unsuspecting Web pages with invisible references to popular search terms, such as "Britney Spears" or "Tiger Woods." Search engines then scour the websites reading the invisible references. As a result, these malicious websites now top search engine results. In turn, consumers unknowingly visit these sites and consequently infected their computers with the botnet software.
  • Executing mass attacks through automated software:To gain unauthorized access into applications, dealers input e-mail addresses and usernames as well as upload lists of anonymous proxy addresses into specialized software, the same way consumers upload addresses to distribute holiday cards. Automated attack software then performs a password attack by entering commonly used passwords. In addition, today's industrialized hackers can also input a range of URLs and obtain inadequately protected sensitive data.

VeriSign Opens New Lab to Test Compatibility of Internet productsVeriSign Inc. is inviting Internet companies to join it, Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks and others to improve the security of Internet communications with interoperability solutions at a new DNS Security Extensions Interoperability Lab.

VeriSign executives will meet with hardware and software vendors, ISPs and government agencies to explain how they can help facilitate the successful implementation of DNSSEC. Also at RSA, VeriSign Executive Chairman James Bidzos will focus on the crucial role that trust plays in securing the Internet in a keynote address at 3 pm Thursday, March 4.

DNSSEC helps protect the Domain Name System from "man in the middle" and cache poisoning attacks by applying digital signatures to DNS data. By signing DNS data, DNSSEC authenticates the origin of the data and verifies its integrity as it moves across the Internet. Working methodically and carefully, and in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Commerce and ICANN, VeriSign anticipates that by the first quarter of 2011, DNSSEC implementation will be complete on the .edu, .net and .com Top Level Domains (TLDs).

"DNSSEC offers security protection to Internet users of all kinds, but it will only be effective if it is implemented from end to end," said Ken Silva, senior vice president and chief technology officer at VeriSign. "The entire community must participate if we're to remove the technical roadblocks that still exist with firewalls, load balancers and other infrastructure equipment. That's why it's so vital for solution providers, ISPs and government agencies to join Cisco, Juniper Networks and the other industry leaders who have wisely taken advantage of the testing environment provided by the VeriSign DNSSEC Interoperability Lab.

The DNSSEC Interoperability Lab is staffed by VeriSign personnel who can help solution and service providers determine if DNS packets containing DNSSEC information, which are typically larger than standard DNS packets, will cause problems for their Internet and enterprise infrastructure components. For instance, some solutions may make assumptions about DNS packet size and structure that are no longer true with DNSSEC.

Read more about data protection in CSOonline's Data Protection section.

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