• United States



by Senior Editor

International Challenges in PCI Security

Nov 17, 20085 mins

Bruce Larson, CSO at American Water, and others discuss the challenges of maintaining PCI DSS compliance when the company has a global reach. (Third in a series)

In a country that’s seen many regulatory compliance challenges this decade, the headaches of PCI security tend to be analyzed from a largely American perspective.

In the process, companies tend to forget that PCI compliance has been a recipe for international indigestion.

“Remember that credit cards are used abroad, and many American companies have personnel handling credit card transactions in offices all over the world,” says Bruce Larson, security director at American Water, a major water utility that employs more than 10,000 people. “If you have a multinational organization, your data is not just sitting in the U.S.”

There may be some irony in hearing that from someone whose concerns are mostly based on security threats inside the U.S. Larsen has to worry about everything from cyberattacks targeting computerized water filtration systems to terrorists who might try to bomb pipelines or poison the water supply. He also loses sleep whenever there’s the chance of a natural disaster.

The inconvenience of online, global commerce

But more people are using credit cards to pay the water bill online, and he knows the credit card data is floating around in databases outside the U.S. Losing any of that data could be a body blow in terms of public confidence. Then there’s the fact that American Water does business with vendors across the globe.

“I have a very geographically distributed network — more than 1,500 locations where humans work, 150-200 of those are critical operations facilities,” Larson told attendees during a PCI security seminar CSOonline held in New York in September.

For Harshul Joshi, director of IT-risk and advisory services at CBIZ and Mayer Hoffman McCann P.C. (MHM), a professional business services company, doing business internationally can make for a lot of confusion regarding the PCI security ground rules.

“When we deal with non-U.S. companies, there is often confusion over what PCI security requires,” Joshi says. “We work with one of the largest magazine publishers with operations around the globe and if you dial an 800 number, chances are you’ll be talking to someone in a call center in Vietnam. You give your credit card number and it is recorded somewhere outside the U.S.”

On the outside looking in

If a company is based outside the U.S. — in Sweden or Ukraine, for example — the problem is usually a lack of communication and money regarding PCI security needs.

Dmitriy Tsygankov, director of the corporate customer care center at a bank based in Europe, says Visa USA tends to offer American companies more incentives and assistance for their compliance efforts. As an example, he mentions the $20 million in financial incentives Visa USA offered nearly two years ago to encourage quicker adoption of the standard.

“Why does Visa USA offer merchants a $20 million bonus to become compliant and not other regions?” he asked. He suspects it’s because e-commerce is more popular and profitable in the U.S. In the bigger picture, he says, it can be harder for foreign companies to come up with the cash needed to achieve compliance.

No financial incentives were mentioned in a recent statement from Visa Inc. announcing new global PCI compliance deadlines. Under the deadlines, announced last week, global merchants and service providers must show by Sept. 30, 2009 that they are not storing full magnetic stripe data (track data), security codes or PIN data after a transaction is approved. Sept. 30, 2010, is the deadline for all service providers and Level 1 merchants to file compliance reports.

David Taylor, founder of the PCI Knowledge Base, agrees companies outside the U.S. don’t enjoy the same degree of financial support. “There really are no global incentives, just a marketing pitch in the Visa Global PCI Deadlines announcement last week to service providers,” he says.

Visa spokesperson Rosetta Jones confirmed Monday that the company does not currently offer any financial incentives for merchants outside the U.S.

“While Visa USA did offer some monetary incentives for U.S. merchants for a short period of time, the major motivator for merchants to achieve compliance has been their desire to properly protect cardholder data and to prevent being the target of a data compromise,” she says.

Keep the global perspective

Regardless, security experts agree companies must look at PCI security as a global mandate and ensure that the same controls used in the U.S. are being used elsewhere. There’s a danger of that not happening when companies find themselves deep in the weeds trying to get their arms around the sheer scope of the standard, says Daniel Blander, a CISM, CISSP and president of Techtonica Inc. in Los Angeles.

His advice is to not let the scope of the challenge get the better of the organization, and use every remediation and control to give something back to the business that provides a non-PCI return on investment.

“File integrity monitoring is great for improving the quality of implementations and maintaining configuration standards if used correctly; configuration standards can improve the delivery of services and systems by promoting consistency,” he says, noting that’s good for business as a whole — wherever in the world the company operates from.

PCI DSS: THE NEXT PHASE The PCI Security Council recently released the latest version of its data security standard. CSOonline marks the occasion by asking companies where they continue to struggle in the battle for security and compliance, and what lies ahead.

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