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Townsend Security Data Privacy Blog

PCI DSS Losing Ground?

Posted by Patrick Townsend on Oct 5, 2011 3:34:00 PM

verizon compliance reportThe recent 2011 PCI Compliance Report released by Verizon concludes that many companies are losing ground on PCI DSS compliance and 44% of all breaches take over a year to be discovered. These findings are disturbing. eWeek.com wrote an excellent summary of the report.

Here is one snippet from the article:

"About 42 percent of organizations had trouble encrypting data in the database or implementing a proper key management strategy to keep the information safe."

We know that data protection is the hardest part of PCI DSS compliance. Many studies show that organizations struggle with encryption and key management. But are they really losing ground after they get their data in place?

I talk to a lot of customer about PCI DSS compliance, and I have a different take on this.

The recent audit and training changes that affect Level 2 Merchants may be showing up in this statistic. Prior to 2011, Level 2 Merchants completed an annual Self Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). Starting in 2011 Level 2 Merchants must either undergo an on-site audit by a QSA auditor, or send a member of their IT team for ISA training by the PCI council. A lot of companies are opting for the second option and are getting their internal staff through the ISA training process.

I think that a lot of these newly trained IT professionals are coming back home and understanding encryption and key management requirements a lot better. It was easy to put the check marks in the box when doing the SAQ questionnaire. Now there is a lot more thought about what good encryption and key management means. I think that is driving a lot of the change, especially in the area of key management.

Did these companies lose ground? No, they weren’t in compliance before, and they are just coming into compliance now.

Customers tell me that meeting the PCI DSS requirements for key management is their biggest area of remediation. They’ve been storing encryption keys in a file, or somewhere on the hard drive, or on a USB storage device, or on another server where they are not properly protected. None of these techniques can meet PCI DSS requirements for Dual Control, Separation of Duties, and Split Knowledge. Really, any storage of data encryption keys on the same server as protected data is going to be a compliance problem. Newly trained IT staff now understand this and are taking action to fix the problem.

So, did they fall out of compliance? No, they weren’t in compliance before and now they are moving towards better security. And that is a good thing.

I don’t mean to minimize the effort that it takes to stay in compliance with PCI DSS. It’s a lot of work and it takes on-going attention. And security and IT departments are under the same budgetary pressures that all of us feel. They are trying to make do with fewer people and smaller budgets. 

But perhaps the news is not as bad as we think. If you haven’t taken a look at your key management strategy lately, now is the time to do it.

Fore more information, download our podcast "Key Management Best Practices: What New PCI Regulations Say" and learn about encryption key management best practices, as well as what PCI has to say about integrated key management (why it isn't a good thing), dual control, separation of duties, and split knowledge.



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Topics: Compliance, PCI DSS, Encryption Key Management

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