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PCI compliance: encryption, firewalls work. IDS and IPS, not so much

The Ponemon Institute recently surveyed 155 globally certified PCI DSS compliance auditors about how the largest retailers (Tier 1 merchants) are doing with respect to compliance with the credit card industry’s cardholder data security requirements.

Asked by Ponemon to rank the effectiveness of technologies used to protect cardholder data, auditors identified encryption of data at rest and in motion, firewalls and endpoint encryption as the best technologies. Least effective were ID & credentialing systems, intrusion protection and detection systems (IDS and IPS), and website sniffers and crawlers. Ponemon’s research didn’t explain why auditors felt this way about the various technologies. A systems administrator at a nonprofit recently told that his organization is looking at segmenting its network with VLANs to help implement the controls it needs for compliance.

Also, the corporate network is the MOST vulnerable infrastructure element to a potential data breach, auditors said. Fifty-one percent of auditors identified corporate networks as a weak point. Corporate databases (43%) were the second most vulnerable. Only 10% considered unattended payment terminals as a vulnerability.

Ponemon also revealed that the average Tier 1 merchant spend about $225,000 on its compliance audit, but it didn’t identify how much these company’s spend on operations and technology.  Auditors said that business units are the most likely (40%) part of a company to be responsible for auditing PCI compliance, but they unlikely to own responsibility for delivering that compliance (19%). IT security (30%) and the office of the CIO (10%) combine to own a plurality of compliance responsibility. This division of responsibility between compliance and auditing could create some tension between IT and business units.

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