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The Coalfire Blog

PCI DSS 3.0 puts emphasis on year-round awareness

September 10, 2013, Matt Getzelman, PCI Practice Director

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Matt Getzelman

It's easy to think of PCI compliance as just another annual hoop to jump through. Of course, after the annual audit, the business is safe for another 12 months, right? Well, not exactly, and with the upcoming release of PCI DSS 3.0, there will be an even bigger reason to think about compliance beyond the scope of a yearly audit.

eWEEK's Sean Michael Kerner recently highlighted comments from several industry experts in an effort to understand what the new compliance requirements will mean for businesses. One of the most important points to keep in mind is that officials are pushing merchants to think about compliance more frequently.

"There is no requirement for more reports than an annual validation, but that's just a snapshot in time," PCI Security Standards Council CTO Troy Leach told eWEEK. "What we're hoping with this is that, through the process, there is more regularity of checking by the merchant as the environment changes."

In practice, this translates to a heightened focus on user education, security awareness and self evaluation. For example, one of the changes in PCI DSS 3.0 is the ability to use passphrases rather than merely relying on passwords for user profiles. Employees will still need to be aware of their organization's policies regarding password or passphrase choices, and it may also be an opportunity to educate them about password-strength best practices.

PCI DSS 3.0 change drivers
While a higher degree of awareness and education is one of the driving forces behind PCI DSS 3.0, there are several other factors influencing the upcoming changes. The PCI Security Council identified several in particular, including:

  • Use of weak passwords
  • Third-party IT services
  • Inconsistency in compliance assessments
  • Slow malware and vulnerability detection

It is important to keep in mind that the changes are not designed solely to make compliance more difficult for merchants. In fact, changes such as allowing the use of passphrases are intended to give organizations more options to satisfy PCI mandates. However, the push for standardized auditing practices makes it important for IT decision makers to not only be aware of accepted practices but to ensure that those they receive IT services from follow those requirements as well.

"Securing cardholder data is a shared responsibility," the PCI Security Standards Council said. "Today's payment environment has become ever more complex, creating multiple points of access to cardholder data."

At a high level, PCI DSS 3.0 is intended to shift the focus from compliance (audits) to security (preventing breaches).

Most importantly, the PCI Council will add guidance for organizations to maintain compliance as part of business-as-usual practices. That’s an important change intended to move organizations past the idea that PCI compliance is a once-a-year affair designed to satisfy auditors and then soon to be forgotten.

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