New report due out next week shows compliance with industry standards for payment cards is still sorely lacking.

February 7, 2014

3 Min Read
Verizon: Security Compliance Coming Up Short

If recent, highly publicized data breaches weren't proof enough, a report that Verizon Enterprise Solutions will issue next week shows businesses aren't doing an adequate job of maintaining compliance with security standards by constantly testing their systems.

Verizon issues two annual reports per year, one tracking data breaches and another detailing compliance with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard. The PCI report, due out next Tuesday, shows that businesses are treating PCI DSS compliance a bit too casually. While a growing number (82%) of businesses meet overall PCI standards, less than one-quarter are doing the required regular security testing and even fewer (17%) the security monitoring that would detect breaches and enable a fast response. (See Verizon Finds Credit Card Security Iffy, Verizon Breaks Down Security Threats by Industry Segment, and Verizon: Hackers Still Using Old Tricks.)

While Verizon isn't commenting on the specific breaches at Target and Nieman-Marcus, that lack of ongoing testing and monitoring would explain why data breaches persisted for weeks or even months before being detected and stopped. "We can see an improvement overall across all industries in PCI compliance, but we also see that security testing is not performing well," says Ciske Van Oosten, an architect of the upcoming report and part of Verizon's PCI Security Practice, which does security assessments, program and project management, and risk assessments for businesses. "We know there is now increased awareness of data breaches but whether that leads to doing right things in terms of internal and external integration testing, we will have to see." (See Verizon Ventures into Risk Management.)

Because attacks are growing both in size and sophistication, and because newer attacks don't yet have signatures to make them detectable by malware prevention programs, it's important that businesses do daily testing and monitoring to maintain PCI compliance, Van Oosten says. Generally following a breach, a review of the invaded company's data logs show red flags indicating suspicious activity that could have been detected earlier and addressed, he adds. But even small companies handle such a volume of data that only automated daily monitoring would be effective.

"The PCI standard requires you to remain up to date -- on a daily basis with log monitoring, and that process needs to be automated, even if you have only a single server," Van Oosten comments. "Compliance in not just reducing the chance of being breached, it can help you respond sooner to it and contain the cost of a breach. But that means ongoing testing."

Most breaches today are detected by law enforcement or third parties, not by the businesses themselves, which catch less than 10% of the breaches.

Companies can also improve their chances against data breaches by using up-to-date software systems, by encrypting information at its point of entry into a company's network, and by maintaining separate secure status for the encryption keys. The latter approach would prevent most data captured in a breach from being used in a criminal way, unless those who steal the data are able to steal the encryption keys separately, he adds.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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