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PCI Security Standards Council Releases Guidance on Pen Testing

The PCI Security Standards Council has published new guidance to help organizations develop methodology for testing the security controls and processes protecting cardholder data.

The report, available here, was developed by a PCI Special Interest Group of industry experts and is aimed at organizations of all sizes, budgets and sectors. Specifically, the guidance focuses on understanding the different components comprising a penetration test and how they differ from a vulnerability scan in terms of scope, application and network layer testing, segmentation checks and social engineering. It also provides advice on determining the qualifications of a pen tester as well as information related to the "three primary parts of a penetration test": pre-engagement, engagement and post-engagement.

Finally, the document includes penetration test reporting guidelines outlining what information is necessary to document the test, as well as a checklist that can be used by the organization or assessor to verify whether the necessary content has been included. It also features three case studies that illustrate different concepts presented in the guidance and a quick reference guide to assist organizations in dealing with the requirements.

Penetration testing is covered under Requirement 11. In Verizon's 2015 Compliance Report, the company noted that Requirement 11 was the "least-well complied-with requirement" in Verizon's study. Only 33 percent of companies passed all the testing procedures in 2014, compared with 40 percent in 2013 - making it the only requirement in which Verizon saw compliance drop between 2013 and 2014.

"The terms “vulnerability scanning” and “penetration testing” are often misunderstood by organizations," according to the report. "A vulnerability assessment uses automated tools to look for known vulnerabilities across defined IP address ranges. The sorts of vulnerabilities found include unpatched or misconfigured systems. Penetration testing goes a step further. A penetration tester — such tests will always be carried out by a person, not automated — will scan systems to identify the IP addresses, device types, operating systems and software in use. This will enable the tester to identify likely vulnerabilities, which they will try to exploit to identify and evaluate weaknesses in networks and applications. A thorough penetration test may also include using physical and social engineering techniques."

"Penetration testing is a critical component of the PCI DSS," said PCI SSC Chief Technology Officer Troy Leach, in a statement. "It shines a light on weak points within an organization’s payment security environment which, if unchecked, could leave payment card data vulnerable."

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