Top 10 Roadblocks to PCI Compliance

Truth be told, this post could be titled; ‘The Top Roadblock to Compliance, and The Other 9 That Result From It”, but per the excellent advice from a blogger far better than I “You can’t [stop readers cold] if you use cute, clever or confusing headlines.” I’m keeping it simple.

So what is this offending roadblock?

1. Lack of Management Buy-In

Sounds simple, in fact, it sounds like a cliche, and above all, it does not sound anywhere near as important as I’m making it out to be. But let me ask you this; If your manager doesn’t care about something, how much do YOU care about it?

Now extrapolate that from the CEO all the way down and you get something like this;


If the CEO makes it clear that they don’t care about PCI, how much traction do you think achieving compliance is going to get? The project gets handed to the IT Manager (because it’s clearly an IT problem not a business one, right?), and PCI will receive no attention, very limited budget, and no respect.

That is, until they get breached and fined for the equivalent of gross negligence, and then the IT Manager gets blamed for slacking. Sounds familiar?

The CEO, as well as senior management, control the culture, and that culture had better include the importance of cybersecurity.

Let’s be very clear; The CEO sets the tone for the entire company; its vision, its values, its direction, and its priorities. If the organisation fails to achieve PCI compliance, it’s the CEOs fault, and no-one else’s.

And now for the other 9…

2. No Perceived Return on Investment (ROI)

While very closely tied to the 1st reason, this is distinct because it’s clear that few have accepted that there are actually benefits of PCI compliance (see Why PCI Isn’t ALL Bad). So even if the CEO does pretend to care, few will get behind the process in any meaningful way. Nor will they bother trying to fit PCI into their existing security program, which is the only way it makes sense.

3. No Dedicated PCI Project Manager

PCI compliance, like all security, is eventually a process, but achieving it for the first time should be a project with a dedicated internal resource. Ideally, that resource has nothing else to do except PCI, but that’s rarely practical. So until compliance is achieved, they will need considerable support from management, and some of their more mundane duties re-distributed.

4. Choosing the Wrong QSA 

Per my white paper on Selecting the Right QSA for Your Business, the choice of an assessor is extremely important. The right one can help you deal with almost all of these roadblocks, the wrong QSA may be the roadblock. It’s probably in your best interests to bring a security expert in first to prepare your security program and infrastructure for the QSAs visit. At the same time helping you to make not only PCI, but your entire security programme sustainable – and just as importantly – cost effective. And above all, appropriate to the value of the data to your business.

5. Thinking Policies & Procedures are Just Paperwork

Odd as it sounds, without solid documented and enforced policies, standards and procedures (Policy Set), there is no real way you can have the culture of security necessary to achieve the company wide backing necessary to run an effective PCI project. The Policy Set is a corner-stone of your security program and should received its due.

6. No Standardisation

This is a very broad subject, and includes configuration standards, change control, monitoring, patch management, the SDLC, vulnerability management etc. The PCI DSS allows sampling of systems during validation, but this must be earned. Without standardisation, there can be no sampling as there are no systems created and maintained identically.

7. No Centralisation

How organisations manage often hundreds of devices without some form of centralised management is beyond me. I have to assume it’s not done well. The QSA also has a very hard time granting the privilege of sampling if you cannot show centrally HOW you keep the systems the same. There are plenty of tools out there, and the benefits of them go way beyond PCI compliance.

8. Not Knowing Where to Start

At first this may seem obvious, and perhaps a little redundant, but bear with me. I have had a lot of experience with this little roadblock, so I know just how difficult it can be to overcome. The answer – as it was for me – is simple; Ask someone. Your QSA should be able to take you all the way through this process relatively seamlessly, but if you don’t have one yet, ask someone who has already achieved compliance for their organisation. I personally know dozens of people who are more than happy to spend time with PCI novices and share their experience and guidance. This is one of the easiest roadblocks to overcome if you keep your ego or shyness out of play.

9. “But we’ve always done it this way!”

Perhaps the most irritating phrase in the English language – with the possible exception of “What are you thinking?”, especially for a consultant. The business wants things to stay the same, they want the same access they’ve always had, and they want the same data. The fact remains that the vast majority of business processes have very short shelf-lives, so they should be reviewed regularly, and access to in-scope systems or data justified. I’ve found that adding PCI compliance expenses to their cost centres tends to get their attention.

10. No Budget

Not much you can do about this one, but it’s certainly worth trying to re-iterate that the security controls should be in place anyway, and that they fall firmly in the good practices introduced in my The 6 Security Core Concepts.

I didn’t know how to blog until I asked my wife, and I have no idea how to read legal-ese so I ask my Sister. If you want to be PCI complaint, or even better, be secure AND PCI compliant, ask someone who’s done it.

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