New PCI DSS standard will boost pen-testing methodological rigour

Australian providers of penetration-testing services are likely to see an uptick in demand during 2014 as the looming deadline for PCI Data Security Standard (DSS) 3.0 compliance forces local companies to implement clear methodologies for regular pen-testing of the systems they use to handle credit card data.

The requirement to add more consistency to pen-testing efforts is one of several changes being introduced in the upcoming version of PCI DSS, compliance with which is required by credit-card companies to ensure a certain level of protection of confidential financial information.

The PCI Security Standards Council says the tightened requirements for pen-testing methodologies is to “address requests for more details for penetration tests, and for more stringent scoping verification” to ensure that testing is being conducted not only regularly, but in an auditable way that is not as haphazard as sometimes happened in the past.

“The updated standards will help organisations not by making the requirements more prescriptive, but by adding more flexibility and guidance for integrating card security into their business-as-usual activities,” the council's advice reads.

“At the same time, the changes will provide increased stringency for validating that these controls have been implemented properly, with more rigorous and specific testing procedures that clarify the level of validation the assessor is expected to perform.”

The new requirements, which will remain as suggested best-practice until 1 July 2015, will boost the awareness of credit-card holders that they need to not only conduct pen-testing work on an occasional basis, but need to do so every time an internal software upgrade introduces significant changes in their data infrastructure.

“I always ask clients whether any change could potentially impact on the security of the application or the data that's behind the application,” David Muscat, chief operating officer of pen-testing and security consulting firm Pure Hacking, told CSO Australia.

“If you're going to upgrade software or make rule or policy changes, or anything of that nature, that would imply a potential security impact. We're finding clients tend to err on the side of caution more than anything else,” taking a good approach and doing it on a just-in-case sort of basis.”

As the new version of the PCI DSS requirements comes into effect, Muscat expects the additional clarity around the type and extent of pen-testing will offer valuable guidance for both organisations undergoing PCI DSS certification, and the Qualified Security Assessors (QSAs) whose role it is to certify organisations' compliance.

“This means the people to whom PCI DSS applies, can't just get someone internal to do a pen test because they were semi-qualified,” he explained. “They need to have something a bit more elaborate in place, and have a methodology through which the pen testing is conducted.”

“I wouldn't say that there's a set formal standard for pen-testing, but as far as PCI DSS is concerned, the methodology should be addressing all the current threats – and be adaptable to new threats and techniques as they emerge as well.”

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