PCI security group speaks out on encryption

Two guidance documents lay out Security Standard Council's views

The organization in charge of defining security for the payment-card industry's merchants and service providers Tuesday issued two guidance papers, the first on end-to-end encryption and the second on payment card technology used more commonly in Europe than the United States.

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There's considerable interest among service providers and merchants in using some form of point-to-point encryption to better protect sensitive cardholder data, and the PCI Security Standards Council's "Initial Roadmap: Point-to-Point Encryption Technology and PCI DSS Compliance" is aimed at helping merchants understand the council's current thinking on the topic. The paper suggests that the council is looking at establishing a PCI-defined evaluation process related to products supporting point-to-point encryption in the cardholder-data environment.

According to the point-to-point encryption road map, the council plans to issue another document tentatively titled "Validation Requirements for Point-to-Point Encryption" that will seek to define the requirements and the process for effectively validating point-point encryption solutions used to protect cardholder data. This document is expected to be issued next year, says the council's general manager, Bob Russo.

Point-to-point encryption "needs to be clearly defined," says Russo, noting that the council intends to determine a path toward lab-based validation of products and in addition, provide information on how use of point-to-point encryption of cardholder data may impact how the scope of PCI compliance in an organization should be determined.

Scoping, as it's called, has always been a contentious issue in PCI compliance since it calls for trying to set some kind of boundaries in an organization's network and processes related to handling payment cards, which can be hard to do.

Each year, any business accepting payment cards must demonstrate compliance with the PCI Data Security Standard (DSS), among other possible requirements, and use of point-to-point encryption may eventually change how PCI scoping is considered.

The council's point-to-point guidance document states, "The presumption of point-to-point encryption is that cardholder data in transit is protected when it's encrypted to the extent that the entity in possession of the ciphertext alone cannot reverse the encryption process."

However, the document notes that use of point-to-point encryption ushers in new questions about appropriate key-management systems and other complex technical factors that might be related to use of point-to-point encryption technologies. The council also notes there is a concern about "vendor lock-in."

Troy Leach, chief standards architect at the council, says the goal is to "as technology agnostic as possible" in looking at how point-to-point encryption is supported, with emphasis being put on understanding how products might affect the scope and assessment of PCI compliance.

EMV document issued

The second guidance document issued by the council today is related to EMV, the payment-card technology used more in the Europe than the U.S., although there's growing interest in adopting EMV in the U.S. as well.

Leach pointed out that EMV is a global standard that has been in existence for several years that offers the opportunity for fraud reduction for card-present situations.

But with EMV, sensitive information is still passed in the clear. So in the council's view, which is spelled out in the document "PCI DSS Applicability in an EMV Environment," EMV does not automatically satisfy all PCI DSS requirements for the protection of cardholder and sensitive authentication data.

"We're basically saying they're complementary technologies and EMV alone is not enough," Russo says.

Learn more about this topic

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The PCI Security Standards Council guidance document on EMV

The PCI Security Standards Council guidance document on Point-to-Point Encryption

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