“Technology…is a queer thing; it brings you great gifts with one hand and it stabs you in the back with the other.” – CHARLES PERCY SNOW”
This was a quote by a man born more than a century ago, that is resonating in its applicability even now, especially in the payment processes for retailers.
On one hand, we are discovering amazing new methods and breakthrough in payment and doing transactions, all driving convenience to the end customer. mPOS has been around for years, and is now migrating to using smartphones to replace bulky handheld terminals; Applepay and other technologies enable mobile phones to make micro transactions through a few clicks; internet transactions increasing to the billions whereby someone a thousand miles away can order something and receive it a few days later. And we are only skimming the possibilities. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin might dictate the future of retail where the entire currency is virtual. Transporting of goods through drones might be in the horizon, and in the future not as distant as you would like to think, 3D printing will enable item blueprints to be sent to your printer by the retailer and the item can be created in front of you. It is an exciting time to be involved in technology, for sure.
Yet, on the other hand, as there are people aiming to make a positive impact to the world, there are also those who will twist technology to their selfish ends. Every transaction funneling through the world wide web can be tracked, and tapped, and risk being stolen. Credit card information residing in so-called secure servers can be taken off by just one employee accessing the hard drive through a malware-infected laptop. The very thing that makes life convenient can also make it dangerous: the very same 3D printer that prints out your son’s first airplane toy, can also be used to print out a functioning AK-47 by terrorist cells.
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) is one of the emerging standards in the attempt to counter this onslaught of security risks. This standard was created by a group consisting of VISA, Mastercard, American Express, Japan Credit Bureau and Discover a decade ago and has now evolved to version 3.1 (with version 3.2 coming this year). The standard applies to any retailers involved in any sort of credit or debit card transactions involving any of these brands.
In PKF Avant Edge, we know there is no magic pill to solve all security issues. But having been actively involved in PCI-DSS since 2010, and with a portfolio of more than 30 PCI-DSS clients, ranging from up and coming payment processors that processes online games to mega sized oil and gas firms, we have experienced companies that are virtually built like a house of cards. Without proper guidance, their IT systems and information security have survived only by sheer luck. Through our methodology of assessing, remediating and certifying, we have helped them strengthen their systems; secure their information and limit needless propagation and storage of critical information assets.
Retailers have a larger challenge, whereby the more locations you have, the more security headaches you will receive. PCI-DSS attempts to do two things for retailers – limit only necessary credit card information to where it should be and to secure this information where it is stored, transmitted and processed. It is not always easy – in fact, the opposite is often true. Most retailer underestimate their security posture and think that PCI-DSS can be passed in a few weeks. In all cases, the rude reality is that they have to undergo changes to their architecture and project thought to be completed in 2 months can stretch to 6 to 8 months. Or even longer.
While some practitioners might say that the remediation effort is the most important aspect of the PCI-DSS program, we are of the opinion that it is in the scoping exercise right at the beginning. Retailers especially, due to distributed location, MUST scope correctly. In PCI, there is such a thing as ‘overscoping’, meaning the coverage of unnecessary items. This places pressure on cost, time and resources. There are alternative ways to make PCI easier, and this is where having an experienced PCI advisor is key. We are not just office consultants looking at a standard document or checklist. We are on the field technology practitioners not just experienced in PCI, but with real world work experience in IT service management, IT security and network operations control, security testing, software development, IT forensics and architecture solutioning. PCI-DSS is a technical standard, and whoever you select to guide you on your journey MUST be technical.
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