What you Should Know about PCI DSS Penetration Training

Companies that process payments need to comply with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) conditions in a bid to safeguard cardholder data.  In fact, it globally applies to all the entities that are involved in processing, storing and transmitting cardholder data. PCI DSS is generally part of the standards that the payment card industry (PCI) Security Standards Council administers.

Why you Need to Use PCI DSS Testing 

Proper implementation of PCI DSS   as well as attaining and maintaining compliance allows you to boost your company’s entire security status while preventing expensive data breaches and fines. Doing so will help you or your organization to prepare adequately when it comes to detecting and preventing a wide range of malicious attacks from accessing your information assets, both at the physical and network level. While PCIDSS has been around for more than a decade, penetration testing was only included in the process recently.  Your organization has to identify penetration testing techniques that verify that its controls can protect its cardholder data environment. This task allows it to integrate PCI DSS compliance properly.

Types of Penetration Testing 

PCI DSS involves three types of penetration tests. Black-box assessments do not offer you any information before the beginning of the tests. For white-box assessments, companies normally provide penetration testers coupled with network and application details. Lastly, grey-box assessments encompass the provision of partial information relating to target systems.

Throughout   PCI DSS testing, both white-box and grey-box assessments give organizations a comprehensive insight regarding their activities. What’s more, the information a company or organization provides during testing helps considerably in streamlining the entire process, which not only makes it less costly but also saves time.

Distinguishing between Penetration Tests and Vulnerability Scans

Vulnerability scans are designed to assist you in identifying, categorizing and reporting any weaknesses that can interfere with your system.  Although it is generally advisable to carry out such scans quarterly, you have to conduct them each time you make any significant changes to the data environment. Additionally, vulnerability scans mostly use automated tools and come with manual verification, which is intended to eradicate existing issues.

On the other hand, penetration testing is intended to deliberately take advantage of vulnerabilities through identifying the gaps within your security system. In essence, it involves the active process of trying to penetrate a system with the intention of exploiting the existing weaknesses. This case makes penetration testing different from vulnerability scans, which passively go through your system to identify potential issues.

Penetration testing comprises proactive manual processes that are time-consuming, which explains why you can only conduct it once per year.  Nevertheless, it offers a more comprehensive insight into your security apparatus. 

How do you Establish the Scope of your Cardholder Data Environment?

According to PCI security standard’s definition of Cardholder Data Environment (CDE), it entails the people, process, and technologies that process, store and transmit sensitive cardholder data.  Hence, the initial step for you ought to be determining the scope of the whole process, particularly for PCI compliance. During this case, you must consider several guidelines.

Payment processors must evaluate aspects pertaining the access to open networks, which include the controlled access to external IP addresses. Furthermore, you have to channel your focus to your critical internal systems, mainly those revolving around access to information.  In cases whereby, your company has split its information, it is recommended that you all the systems, more so those that are outside the cardholder data environment in a bid to keep cross –contamination cases at bay.

Apart from making sure that your information stays separated, testing systems that are not in your CDE environment helps to ensure that your company’s separation controls work appropriately. Terming your system or network as out of scope translates to making sure that its weaknesses do not have any impact on cardholder data.  Hence, carrying out penetration testing in such environments not only proves that segmentation controls work in policy but also in practice.

 What does Critical Systems mean?

According to PCI DSS testing, systems that take part in the processing and safeguarding of cardholder information are critical. These systems may include security systems, public-facing devices as well as all devices that process, store and relay cardholder data. What’s more, e-commerce redirection servers, intrusion detection servers, authentication servers and penetration testing are all considered to be critical as far as your operations are concerned. By and large, bear in mind that critical systems comprise of all technology assets that those who are privileged within your company utilize to oversee and support CDE.

The Distinction between Network-Layer and Application-Layer Testing

Recently, malicious attackers appear to be increasingly targeting the weaknesses inside the application layer.  As such, most companies nowadays are utilizing various tools as fundamental elements of their payment processing plans. They include internally-developed software, web applications, legacy applications, third-party software, and open source components. Therefore, application-layer testing means trying to penetrate software to identify the exact vulnerabilities.

Alternatively, network-layer testing mainly concentrates on devices inside your organization’s surroundings.  For example, this process can allow you to pinpoint potential weaknesses in your systems including routers, switches, servers, and firewalls.  Some of the weaknesses that you can spot within your network layer consist of unpatched systems, misconfigured devices, and default passwords.

What Application-Layer and Network-Layer Tests does PCI DSS Need?

Normally, the provisions of PCI DSS penetration call for your company to test PA-DSS compliance applications, a different testing environment, authentication and web applications.  With regards to authentication, you must ensure that you assess functions and access to your employee environment. However, you also need to ensure that only your clients can gain access to their data.

A penetration tester has to assess both workforce user controls and cardholder customer controls. Also, keep in mind that if your organization utilizes a PA-DSS approved application, then PCI DSS penetration testing has to be done during the execution of the application even though it does not need testing.  For this reason, testing should concentrate on the operating system and exposed devices as opposed to the functionality of your payment application.

Automating compliance alleviates the burden of penetration testing considerably. Thanks to this automated method, it becomes easier for your company to roll out a governance system that delivers comprehensive insights. In addition, you can include a reporting dashboard in a bid to conveniently assess health control fast while noting down the critical problems that your company faces. By doing so, you can easily achieve enhanced cross-enterprise results.

About the Author

Ken Lynch prides himself on being an enterprise software startup guru with a great fascination regarding how to make work more engaging and what motivates workers to work. He actually founded Reciprocity with the intention of pursuing this desire. Since establishing the entity, he has spearheaded its success with his goal of engaging workers with the compliance, risk and governance goals of their company in an attempt to create corporate citizens who are more socially minded.  Away from that, Ken Lynch is an MIT alumnus with a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in computer science and electrical engineering.

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