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Ecommerce standard tightens up wireless security

PCI DSS update

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A revised version of an important security standard for ecommerce merchants was published on Wednesday.

Version 1.2 of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) mostly tweaks and clarifies the existing framework for the secure processing of credit card data. The 12 existing requirements - covering areas such as the need to used a firewall, store cardholder data securely and encrypt transmission of cardholder data - remain unchanged.

The revised standard, however, adds tighter controls for the security of wireless networks. The latest version of the standard calls for wireless networks "connected to cardholder data environments" to be tested alongside those that transmit card data.

Also, use of the aging WEP wireless encryption will not be allowed in certified environments from the start of July 2010, and banned in new environments from April 2009.

The tightening of wireless security testing follows on from the indentification of an insecure wireless network at a TJX branch that resulted in the exposure of 45.7 million card records last year. Other retailers including Barnes & Noble and Forever 21 were breached using the same approach, according to prosecutors in an upcoming case involving the TJX breach expected to go to trial next year.

PCI DSS v1.2 is effective immediately and becomes the compulsory approach from the start of January 2009. Details of the standard, the fruits of two years consultation between the PCI Security Standards Council and industry, can be found here. A breakdown of changes in the latest version of the standard from the previous guidelines can be found here (pdf).

Compliance with PCI DSS standard ranges from self assessment, in the case of smaller ecommerce firms, to a full annual audit in the case of larger firms. Non-compliant firms risk losing their ability to process credit card payments over the longer term or stiff fines, especially in cases where breaches occur, in the shorter term.

PCI DSS compliance is certainly not a panacea for ecommerce security woes. US grocery chain Hannaford admitted in March that a security breach, later blamed on malware, had resulted in the exposure of an estimated 4.2 million credit card records. Hannaford had the PCI DSS seal of approval but audits have failed to uncover what looks, with the benefit of hindsight, to be a fairly obvious problem.

"Security is more than simple compliance to guidelines. Just because you are compliant doesn't mean you are secure," Gary Jackson, chief exec at application security tools firm Ounce Labs told El Reg last week. ®

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