Going Beyond the Standard

PCI DSS v3.0 – ‘Going Beyond the Standard’ Series

In a previous blog How to Achieve Compliance on the Road to Real Security I stated my intention to write a series of articles on; “…the intent of the 12 main sections of the PCI DSS, as well as provide guidance and options on how to go above and beyond PCI…”  Well, here it is …finally.

For this series, I will provide 3 distinct elements for each aspect of the PCI assessment process, the LAST 12 of which will be the PCI DSS v3.0 requirements sections themselves. I do this because you should not even be LOOKING at these until you have completed several pre-requisites.

The first is performing a Risk Assessment, the second is choosing the right QSA / consultant to help you.

Element 1 – Intent: One of the most confusing things about the DSS – to both layman and crappy QSAs alike – is how can a controls standard that is the most prescriptive of any regulation to date, be open to so much interpretation? How can QSAs have different opinions, or worse, how can QSAs working for same QSA company have different opinions?

Well, you just have to look at how many times the word ‘periodic‘ appears in the DSS to begin to figure this one out; 11 times against 5 distinct requirement sections (3, 5, 8, 9 & 10). Or how about ‘appropriate‘?; 15 times, also in 5 distinct requirement sections (2, 4, 6, 9 & 12). Or ‘applicable‘?; 15 times in 6 distinct requirement sections (2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 11 & 12).

But the prize for ambiguity goes to 2.2.1.a.; “Select a sample of system components and inspect the system configurations to verify that only one primary function is implemented per server.”  The SCC does – in v3.0 anyway – provide guidance that this means you should not have functions at different ‘security levels’ on the same server, but ‘security levels’ as defined by whom?

For a number of years the SSC has been trying desperately to bring the standard into line with a more risk based approach. For example, in the requirements section, the word ‘risk’ appears 20 times in v3.0, compared to v1.2 in which it appeared only 5 times; Patching requirements have gone from ‘you will do it in 30 days’, to ‘do it in 30 days IF it’s appropriate’; and so on…

It all boils down to the INTENT of each section, and too often, the standard is seen as a black and white / all-or-nothing checklist with no room to actually fit the security goals into the business as a whole. This is not the case, so an understanding of the intent is critical before making ANY move to become compliant.

Element 2 – Above & BeyondThe second thing I will attempt to do is explain that every requirement is a bare minimum, so going just a little bit above and beyond is not only the RIGHT thing to do, it builds a portfolio of compensating controls that, if applied in total, should enable you and your QSA to have conversations related to risk and not semantics.

Element 3 – Continuous Compliance ValidationThe third thing I will do is try to provide some guidance on how to KEEP the controls in place through either automation or process change. Unless your goal is to develop your management systems into those that can provide Continuous Compliance Validation, you’re working much harder than you have to, and your incident response capability will never be optimal.

In the end, this series will NOT be about PCI compliance, it will be about doing security properly and appropriately for your business, compliance will be nothing more than a by-product.

And finally, this is not about credit card data, this is about protecting ALL your information assets. Credit cards are approaching their end-of-life, and with the card brand’s acceptance of Host Card Emulation (HCE) and the enormous pressure to migrate payments to mobile devices, this will happen at an ever increasing pace. Don’t waste your time and effort on ‘just PCI’.

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