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Security standards are like getting a driving license

When will people learn that compliance does NOT equal security? I blogged about this back in September 2009. Recently Global Payments has suffered a breach despite being PCI-DSS compliant (article from The Register)

Security standards, and being assessed against them, are like getting a driving license. Passing your driving test means that you have achieved a minimum standard of driving, but it doesn't mean that you are a good driver or that you will never have an accident. The same is true of compliance to a particular standard - it doesn't mean that you can be any less vigilant about security or that you will never be compromised, it just means that you have met an agreed minimum level.

People forget that the PCI-DSS is only concerned about payment card data and won't necessarily look at all systems and processes. It is perfectly possible that a system is legitimately considered out of scope, but that the compromise that system allows a platform to attack a system that is within scope. The penetration tests performed are usually more focused on external access to PCI data as well. What if I can compromise the administrator's laptop though? Attacks from more adept hackers won't always go straight for the target; there are often easier ways.

PCI-DSS, and any other standard, should not even be considered the minimum requirement. It should be a given that the organisation will pass their compliance as they should be aiming so far beyond the standards. I realise that resources are not unlimited, but that doesn't mean that you should be satisfied with scraping through audits. If fewer resources were wasted trying to fudge results to pass compliance then more could be spent on actually securing the environment and compliance would be practically automatic.

The goal is a secure, trusted environment, not getting a bit of paper from the auditors.

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