Going From PCI to GDPR? You Are Starting from Square One

To be very clear from the outset, if you think the PCI DSS is a good ‘stepping stone’ to GDPR, you need to do a lot more homework. Data security represents less than 5% of the entire GDPR, and the PCI DSS is – in my admittedly biased estimation – no more than 33% of a true security program.

I have, for years, railed against the PCI DSS as an inadequate baseline for security, and even the card brands and the SSC have never claimed it be more than what it is; a set of MINIMUM security control related to the protection of cardholder data. Well, except for this ill-advised and rather naive quote perhaps;

People come to me and say, ‘How do I achieve GDPR compliance?’… Start with PCI DSS.

The PCI DSS was written for ONE very specific purpose, and it’s only ego, desperation, or vested interest that would lead people to think it’s anything more.

The reason for this particular blog is reading articles like the two samples below. It’s articles like these that lead organisations who don’t know better [yet] into making bad decisions. They also give cybersecurity professionals a bad name. Well, worse name, unscrupulous QSA companies and greedy product vendors have already caused significant damage.

Article 1, and by far the most egregiously overstated quote [so far] is from an article in SecurityWeek (PCI 3.2 Compliant Organizations Are Likely GDPR Compliant); “Any company that fully and successfully implements PCI DSS 3.2 is likely to be fully GDPR compliant — it’s a case of buy one and get one free.” Given the author’s apparent credentials, he should know better. Since when does the PCI DSS deal with explicit consent, or children’s data, or the right to erasure/correction/objection/portability and so on.

Then, in the very recent article 2; How the PCI DSS can help you meet the requirements of the GDPR – the author states that; “Failure to report breaches attracts fines of up to €10 million or 2% of annual turnover, whichever is higher. Breaches or failure to uphold the sixth data protection principle (maintaining confidentiality and integrity of personal data) can attract fines of up to €20 million or 4% of annual turnover (whichever is higher).

No part of the above statement is factually correct:

  1. Just because Article 33 – Notification of a personal data breach to the supervisory authority is included in Article 83(4)(a) – General conditions for imposing administrative fines, it does NOT mean that failure to respond in 72 hours will attract a fine. There are many caveats; e.g. Recital 85 states ; “the controller should notify the personal data breach to the supervisory authority without undue delay and, where feasible, not later than 72 hours after having become aware of it (Recital 85)”‘
  2. sixth data protection principle“? – Nothing to do with confidentiality and integrity, assume author meant the seventh principle (security).
  3. Maximum fines for data breaches are 2% (for an undertaking, a.k.a. a group of companies), not 4%.

The author then goes on to say; “The ICO is also likely to treat inadequate or non-implementation of the PCI DSS as a failure to implement appropriate “technical and organisational measures” to protect personal data…” which is clearly not the case. The ICO has always left loss of cardholder data / PCI up to the card schemes, and have already mentioned ISO 27001 in their “The Guide to Data Protection“.

Every article I have read on how PCI helps with GDPR, is at best, hugely overstated, and at worst, full of self-serving lies. I can fully appreciate the desire for cybersecurity companies (especially QSAs) to branch out from the massively price compressed and ultimately doomed PCI space, but to do so in this manner is unconscionable.

Unfortunately if you are falling for this advice, I can safely assume that you:

  1. have little idea of how limited the PCI DSS is, even as protection for the only form of data to which it’s relevant;
  2. have little idea what the GDPR is trying to achieve if you think a bunch of security controls are that significant a component; and
  3. don’t actually know what an ‘appropriate’ security program should look like.

This is actually not meant as a criticism, these things may not be your job, but if you have any responsibility for GDPR, you absolutely must learn to ask the right questions.  I will finish with some reasoning below, but leave to up to you work out whose guidance to take.

PCI and GDPR are very far removed from each other.

  1. Data protection Articles are only 3.34% of the Regulation – yes, I actually worked this out on a spreadsheet. That means the GDPR is 96.66% NOT security control relevant. Of course IT and IT security are important and intrinsic to GDPR, but PCI does not cover anything else other than than those things.;
  2. PCI DSS makes no mention of the need for Governance – PCI compliance is almost invariably an IT project, and while this is obviously wrong, does not prevent organisations from achieving compliance. In GDPR, the IT folks have absolutely no idea where to start. Nor should they, IT/IS people aren’t lawyers and they do not control the organisation’s direction, they are business enablers who do as bid by senior management. GDPR requires a team effort from every department, which is exactly what Governance is.;
  3. PCI DSS is about compliance to an already defined standard of security controls, the GDPR requires a demonstration of ‘appropriate security’ measures – For example, what if your annual risk assessment showed that the PCI controls were actually excessive? Could you scale some of them back? No, you can’t. Alternatively, what if your risk assessment showed that they weren’t enough, could your QSA insist that you went above and beyond? Again, no, so what the hell is the point of the risk assessment in PCI?
  4. Only QSAs that started out as security consultants [not the other way around] have the skill-set to provide any help at all. If they were experts in ISO 27001, CoBIT, NIST etc., then yes, they can help you both define and implement ‘appropriate security’. If all they did was pass the QSA exam, the only guarantee you have is that they can read.
  5. The PCI DSS can never keep pace with the threat landscape – It’s already way behind, and with its complete inability to change significantly, the DSS can never represent appropriate security. If the DSS did change significantly, both the card brands and the SSC would be lynched. Millions of organisations have spent BILLIONS on PCI, they will simply refuse to start all over again. GDPR on the other hand has no defined controls, it’s up to YOU to show that your controls meet the measured risk.

In the end, the only way PCI can help with GDPR is to use the assigned budget to do security properly. You will never reach GDPR ‘compliance‘ using PCI, but you will achieve both PCI and GDPR compliance on the way to real security.

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