PCI Surprises

By Patrick Harbauer

Whenever we perform a PCI assessment for a new client, we invariably have the Gomer Pyle “Surprise!, surprise!” conversation with IT management. And the outcome of the conversation is that IT security controls are more closely monitored and the overall security posture of the organization improves. Here are a few examples:

Swiss Cheese Firewalls – When we perform a PCI assessment, we take firewall rule set reviews very seriously. Besides finding the obvious “ANY ANY” rule infractions, we find rules that were meant to be “temporary for testing” or rules that are no longer needed because entire environments have been decommissioned. It isn’t uncommon to see 10-20% of the firewall rules removed or tightened to allow only protocols, IP’s and ports that are actually required for the cardholder environment to function properly.

Missing Patches – Time and again we find in-scope systems that are not properly patched. This is usually due to overtaxed IT staff who don’t find the time to patch systems or a malfunctioning patching software solution. And in some cases administrators have been burned by a patch that brought down an application and vow to never patch again. What we usually find is that “practice makes perfect” with patching. Organizations that are up to date on patches have well-defined processes and document procedures to perform patching. And that leads us to our next issue…

One Environment – In many cases, organizations that are not up-to-date with their patches do not have isolated test/development and production environments. Besides being a PCI violation to have test/development and production systems on the same network and/or servers, if you do not have a test environment that mirrors production, you are more likely to break production applications when you patch. You will be much more successful remaining current with patches if you have a test environment that mirrors production and where you can address issues before applying the patches to production systems.

These are just a few examples of what we see when performing PCI assessments for new clients and illustrates some of the benefits that come out of a PCI assessment.

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