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PCI DSS dissed

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Organisations are still struggling with data security, putting consumers at continued risk of identity theft as a result.

A survey by the Ponemon Institute on the Payment Card Industry’s (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) found that more than half of those surveyed (55 per cent) work for businesses that only secure credit card information but not other sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and bank account details. Consumers are generally more at risk with smaller businesses, the survey of 500 US and multinational IT security practitioners suggests.

PCI DSS outlines a set of security guidelines for firms of all sizes that handle credit card information.

Some firms certified under PCI DSS, such as Heartland Security, have experienced high-profile breaches of late. Since PCI DSS was enacted in June 2005, the number of data breaches and amount of credit card fraud has continued to rise.

However, Ponemon's survey found that organisations taking a strategic approach to PCI compliance experience fewer data breaches. Unfortunately PCI DSS is not treated as strategic in the firms of 71 per cent of the IT security experts polled. The majority (73 per cent) of respondents have reached PCI compliance using a basic, checklist approach.

Three in five of the respondents polled expressed the opinion that they lacked sufficient resources to comply with PCI DSS.

"Security departments are using PCI compliance as leverage to gain more budget, but these resources are not always translating into greater security for sensitive customer data," said Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute. "The results of our study indicate that while some companies have figured out how to convert PCI standards into an overall security mandate—many more have not."

The study also found only one in favour (28 per cent) of SMEs with less than 1,000 workers comply with PCI DSS as opposed to 70 per cent of larger companies (75,000 or more employees).

"Companies devote 35 per cent of their IT security budgets to PCI compliance on average, making cost a significant obstacle, especially for smaller companies," explained Amichai Shulman, CTO of data security firm Imperva, which commissioned the study. "This is why Imperva is recommending that the PCI DSS Council modify the requirements for larger and smaller companies to take into account different environments and security needs."

Avivah Litan, VP at analysts Gartner, agreed: "The PCI Security Standards and the card brands must update the PCI-DSS so that it’s risk-based, depending on the system configuration of the complying company. The ‘one size fits all’ approach of the current standard imposes unreasonable requirements on many companies that have simple networks, or have implemented security technologies that aren’t included in the PCI standards, but provide equal or greater levels of protection."

The PCI DSS standard is under review, with a deadline of submissions set for 31 October. Imperva has published recommendations to businesses and the PCI DSS Council ahead of this deadline. It wants the PCI DSS council to modify compliance needs for larger and smaller companies and to run a compliance logo scheme, so consumers can see if a firm has reached the standard.

Imperva wants PCI to be used in implementing "broader, more effective security programs" in business. ®

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