Security Experts:

PCI Compliance Is No Slam Dunk

A new report issued by Verizon this week on compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) reveals that only 22 percent of the organizations assessed were PCI compliant at the time of their initial examination. But compliance is worth the trouble. According to the report, organizations that suffer credit card data breaches are 50 percent less likely to be PCI compliant.

Compliance is also not a distant goal in most cases. On average, non-compliant organizations were already following over 80 percent of the procedures required by PCI. Unfortunately, the three PCI requirements that cover areas most vulnerable to security breaches -- protect stored data, track and monitor access to network resources and cardholder data, and regularly test security systems and processes – are also the ones that companies struggle the most to meet.

According to the report, the top attack methods used to compromise payment card data were malware and hacking (25 percent), SQL injections (24 percent) and exploitation of default or guessable credentials (21 percent).

In addition to tracking problem areas, the report identified best practices found in fully compliant organizations. These include:

• Building security into business processes from the beginning rather than adding it on.

• Aligning compliance and security and handling these issues with a single team rather than treating them separately.

• Treating compliance as a continuous process, not a point-in-time event.

• Avoiding “scope creep," where activities above and beyond PCI requirements are added in an attempt to ensure compliance. The larger the scope of the assessment, the more costly and difficult it is for the organization to perform.

The compliance report is based on findings from PCI DSS assessments conducted by Verizon's team of PCI Qualified Security Assessors (QSAs) in 2008 and 2009, and a review of a sample of approximately 200 assessments.