PCI council sharpens oversight of security auditors

Quality assurance plan targets security assessors and scanning vendors

The PCI Security Standards Council Monday unveiled a plan to sharpen oversight of the hundreds of security-service providers now authorized to evaluate merchant networks under the organization's Payment Card Industry data standards.

Bob Russo, general manager of the PCI Security Standards Council, says the organization has put in place a quality-assurance program for oversight of the 165 "qualified security assessors" (QSAs) and 145 "approved scanning vendors" that conduct the major annual security reviews or periodic network scans of business networks to ensure PCI compliance.

Among the council's new demands is a requirement that QSAs submit to the council the reports these hired firms generate while evaluating the network security of businesses accepting credit and debit cards.

"We're asking for redacted reports and it will be the first time we're seeing them, anonymously," Russo says. In the past, the review of the reports was restricted to the individual banks, credit-card companies and merchants who pay for these assessments and scans. Russo emphasizes that PCI assessment reports will be edited to withhold the name of the business that underwent the PCI review.

There are many reasons the council wants to see these PCI reports now. "We want to make sure no one is rubber-stamping something," Russo says. "We want all these assessors to be doing things with the same rigor."

Russo acknowledges he's concerned because "this year we've seen companies that have been breached and were said to be compliant. The QSA then comes under suspicion. Was it a problem with the QSA?"

If a company that underwent a PCI review suffers a data breach, the QSA and others involved in that company's PCI compliance process could be immediately called on the mat to explain and face the possibility of being dropped as a certified QSA.

According to the council's current estimate, about 80% of the PCI-related reports are done by the dozen largest PCI-certified QSA vendors, such as Trustwave.

In another measure, the council will be looking at the individual resumes of people hired by a QSA to go out into the field to perform the often-extensive PCI assessments.

Russo says the council has three full-time staff members involved in the quality-assurance program.

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