Tag: asv

Do or Do Not – ASV for SAQ A


I would have thought this debate died out with the extinction of dinosaurs, but apparently, we are still at this subject in 2021. Still. Going. On.

So in the past weeks, there were some debate between us and some consultants as to whether the SAQ A requires an ASV scan or not. Our position was No. Their position was yes. So let’s look at it.

Now, keep in mind, we aren’t talking about best practice. We are talking about PCI-DSS v3.2.1 and what it says about ASV scans being mandatory for SAQ A. That’s it. That’s the statement. Now, debate.

There is actually no debate. This isn’t some sort of grey area, hard to explain, obscure rule in Sanskrit and written on the Sankara stones. This is just: Look at SAQ A, search for ASV, don’t find it. Thank you.

The ASV requirement is present in item 11.2.2 of PCI-DSS.

SAQ A does not have it.

So why do consultants still insist people do ASV scans for SAQ A?

There could be a lot of reasons, ranging from ‘guideline’, ‘best practice’ and so on. No doubt, having a scan (which isn’t expensive in any case) would be the least effort of security done by the merchant if they are hosting an e-commerce website that is redirecting customers to their payment processor once the “Click here to pay” is clicked. I mean, even if it has nothing to do with PCI, it may seem like common sense to have at least a scan done on your site to ensure it passes the very minimal requirement of security. So do we advocate an ASV scan to be done on any e-commerce site that deals with payment options (not necessarily payment data)? Yes, we do. There are many ways a site may get compromise. A coding error may allow data to be siphoned off, or passwords may be compromised. A re-direct may be vulnerable to man in the middle attacks; or even a total redirect to another page altogether where payment data is inadvertently entered. While the e-commerce site may be outsourcing the payment part to a processor, it still has the job of redirecting traffic to it.

Think of it as an usher (not the singer, but the job); where you enter into a dark auditorium, let’s say Royal Albert Hall to watch Ed Sheeran – and the usher takes you through this row of lights to what is supposedly your seat which you paid RM10,000 for.

When the lights come on, you find yourself in nice cosy room and in front of you someone who seemed to resemble Ed Sheeran but slightly off. His hair isn’t ginger and he isn’t as chubby as you see that guy on TV and he speaks with a slight Indian accent. And isn’t the Royal Albert Hall a HALL? Why are you in this room that resembles a glorified grandmother’s living room? You find out later that the usher had led you through the wrong Hall into a neighboring pub attached to the side of the hall and you are listening to the wonky music of Eddy Shiran.

The point is, the usher is pretty important in leading people to their seats. So as a redirect, even though you aren’t the main draw, you could end up leading your customers to Eddy Shiran instead.

But back to the main debate, whether it is required for SAQ A customers to go through ASV? No, it’s not.

However, there is always a but in everything. There are exceptions.

Some acquirers make it a point to state that they still require an ASV report even if merchants are going through SAQ A. That’s completely fine because the guidelines from Visa/Mastercard are just guidelines. At the end, the acquirer or payment brands may make individual decisions based on merchants, so it’s not written in stone. However, if there are no such requirement, we’re left to interpret the SAQ as it is, and it doesn’t state anything there.

Some may point out within the SAQ A under part 3a, there is a statement

ASV scans are being completed by the PCI SSC Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV Name)

Triumphantly being pointed out as proof of ASv requirement

Take note however, that above, under Part 3a, the instructions do state:

Signatory(s) confirms:
(Check all that apply)

the realisation that asv is still not needed for Saq A (or B)

Even under the title “PCI DSS Self-Assessment Completion Steps” of the SAQ:

Submit the SAQ and Attestation of Compliance (AOC), along with any other requested documentation—such as ASV scan reports—to your acquirer, payment brand, or other requester.

It does seem to be grappling at straws if this sentence was used to justify the requirement for PCI-DSS. “Such as” generally denotes an example, which may or may not exist or is required.

In previous requirements of merchants from Visa, there used to be statements describing merchant levels such as

 * Merchant levels are based on Visa USA definitions
** The PCI DSS requires that all merchants perform external network scanning to achieve compliance. Acquirers may require submission of scan reports and/or questionnaires by level 4 merchants

And perhaps there is where the myth was perpetuated from. In recent times Visa has updated its site (https://www.visa.com.my/support/small-business/security-compliance.html) to reflect a better understanding, stating:

“Conduct a quarterly network scan by an Approved Scan Vendor (“ASV”) (if applicable)”

In conclusion, SAQ A and B do not require ASV scans. If it’s required by the acquirer then so be it. If it’s supposed to be done out of best practice requirements, so be it. But you don’t want to hear an ASV/QSA telling you that you need to do something that is above and beyond your PCI requirement without them pointing to something in the standards that states so.

Finally – for SAQ B, which usually applies to POS terminals dialing up to the bank for authorisation; we’ve even seen some consultants requiring the merchant’s website to undergo ASV, which has nothing to do with their POS Terminals. Why ASV the website? Don’t know. So the merchants go about scanning their website that hasn’t been updated since 2012 and wonder, what sort of nonsensical requirement is this from PCI-DSS that needs them to pay just to scan something that is built by an 18 year old intern who had left the company 10 years ago? You don’t need to. So don’t do it.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Let us know your thoughts or questions and send to us at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com and we will get back to you ASAP. Now, back to listening to our Spotify for Eddy Shiran!

PCI Pentesting and ASV Scans

Back in the days (as in when we started PCI more than 10 years ago), when it came to testing and scans, there were probably very gray lines on it. We saw a lot of reports that came out under the guise of ‘penetration testing’ that was straight out lifted from an automated Nessus Scan or one of the free Acunetix scans available. The problem was exacerbated when these penetration testing reports were further accepted by regulatory bodies like our regulatory bank and passed by other internal/external auditors. They basically just looked at a report and if it sounded and looked technical enough then it was technical enough.

Now, PCI got the hint and released a few versions of the Penetration Testing Guidance document, the latest iteration on 2017. A big part of it talks about scoping, clarifying on qualifications and requirement 11. But one of the key features of the document is highlighted in 2.1:

This came about to stem the misconception that as long as you have completed the vulnerability scan, you can use that to pass off as a penetration testing. We still see customers going down this route, in whatever creative ways they can conjure to avoid the penetration testing exercise.

An example was this response on their external PT report stating:

“We have conducted the PT exercise based on the recently passed ASV scan report by the QSA. Since the ASV scan has passed, the penetration testing report is also considered to be passed as there are no vulnerabilities to test.”

Which is basically the philosophy that as long as the scans do not yield any high or medium vulnerabilities, i.e a passing scan, there is no longer a need to conduct any penetration testing. Their concept was simple and fairly understandable: since there are no “vulnerabilities” in the scan, there is nothing for us to ‘test’.

Of course, this was rejected by the QSA.

While there are many arguments on this matter, the simple case against this is: the scan produces potential vulnerabilities and may even miss some out that may not be reported. False negatives do exist even in commercial scanners such Qualys or Nessus (two common auto-scanners). Additionally, a passing scan does not mean no vulnerabilities, it just means there are no medium/high vulnerabilities based on a non-contextual scan to the environment. A non-contextual scan means a lot of scanners already use internal libraries in their scanning database to categorise vulnerabilities without the definition of the actual environment risk it is scanning. So to equate CVSS to the actual risk of the organisation may be too broad an assumption as some low vulnerabilities may still be able to be exploited manually. The classic example here is when we check a simple form entry password and find it is well protected and designed, technically. However, a pentester may then go out into the organisation’s forum and discover that the admin regularly upkeeps a password file in Google Drive and shares it to the entire world inadvertently. The scanner won’t discover things like that.

Therefore to simply state, just because there is a passing ASV scan, it equates to penetration testing passing, is not going to get a free pass in PCI.

Another question that many organisations come back to us, when they have their team of penetration testers doing internal testing is: Well, then how do you do a penetration test, then, if you state we cannot use the ASV report to also pass our external penetration testing?

And it would seem weird, that when I look at them and answer: wouldn’t your penetration testers be able to answer that, instead of us? So from the auditor perspective, we look at 3 things: Tools, Technique, Team.  

The tools being used are important, but not all for pentest. Just by stating you have Kali or Metasploit doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to operate it. Technique (or method) is important to document. This is key for PCI and a key difference between hackers and pentesters. A pentester would know how to document each step, inform their client and normalize and not destroy the environment. A hacker (or let’s use the more correct term cracker) would simply go in and cause as much damage as possible, depending on his/her objective. You would rarely come across crackers developing comments and detailed reports/documents to their victims and executive summaries to the Audit Committee justifying their methods, the scope of coverage and the time and date of engagement. And finally, PCI looks at the personnel (or team) conducting the exercise. They may be certified (or not), but they should at least be qualified. In this case, if the pentester has no idea how to start a pentest, then the normal assumption would be — he’s not a pentester. A chef doesn’t ask people how to start cooking. He may require an input or two to understand what he needs to cook, or how spicy the broth should be for the customer; but if the he’s asking how do we start the cooking process or what is a wok, then that should be a red flag.

So, while the coverage of penetration testing and vulnerability scanning in the entire document is not the the purpose of this article, it is keenly important to know the difference between both (penetration test vs vulnerability scan), and not use one to justify the inaction of the other. Your QSA may bounce back that vulnerability scan attempting to disguise itself as a penetration test and waste precious compliance timeline in the process.

Drop us a note at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com for any queries you have for PCI-DSS or ISMS and we will get back to you straight away! Stay Safe!

ASV Scans /= PCI Compliance

There is an old story about a chicken and eagle. I hear this story being told by life coaches or motivational trainers trying to get through to our thick, jaded, technical skull that there is something more to life than coding and technology.

The abbreviated version is this: A farmer was walking and finds an eagle’s egg fallen out of the nest. He picks it up, brings it back to his farm, and puts it into the chicken coop. Soon, it hatches, and joins the other chickens in the farm and learns how to be a chicken, even though its an eagle. So this is where some of the version diverges.

a) The chicken and the eagle starts talking one day and the eagle notices another eagle flying high in the sky and he goes, “Dang, I wish I could be an eagle,” and his chicken-pal looks at him scornfully and says, “You are a chicken. How can you be like the king of all birds, soaring through the sky?” So the eagle keeps thinking he is a chicken and the next day he gets roasted for dinner. And the farmer finds his meat a bit tough and doesn’t taste like chicken at all. The moral here is: Don’t let your limitations inhibit you or you will end up a cooked and eaten. This is probably the original version before the other two came along below:

b) The farmer is visited by a naturalist who observes this ‘chicken’ and immediately knows he is an eagle. So he takes this chicken up to a high cliff, and throws him over, shouting: “Spread your wings and fly! Soar like the eagle you are meant to be!” And the eagle soars through the clouds and sky and become the king of all birds. The moral of the story: All of us are eagles, even if you think you are a chicken. All you need is a life coach or a motivational trainer to throw you off the ledge and you will soar. This is the preferred version for life coaches and motivational speakers. For obvious reason.

c) Same as story b) above, but instead of soaring, the naturalist throws the ‘chicken’ off the ledge, and it falls 100 feet and splatters its brains all over the bottom of the ledge and dies since it doesn’t know how to fly. And gets cooked and roasted for dinner. The moral of the story (and this is by far, our more preferred, realistic and risk-averse version): Don’t do something you may be destined for but not ready for. Or you will end up smashed, cooked and eaten.

All three versions have this theme in common: The eagle isn’t a chicken and the chicken isn’t an eagle. The chicken may have commonalities of an eagle, like wings and a beak, but just because it has those doesn’t make it an eagle.

Yes, I am aware that the anecdote above isn’t a very good illustration of the point I am trying to make, but I couldn’t think of a better one. And in a roundabout way, what I want to illustrate here is that ASV scans do not make you PCI Compliant.

We get this a lot.

A company would come and say they are PCI-compliant. Or we have a client who outsources certain portion of their operations to another company and that company comes back and shows us their ASV compliant scan and says this is all they need to show us. We (The auditors/consultants) are compelled to accept this because the ASV scans demonstrate their PCI Compliance, they say.

Let’s make a point here: ASV questions and subquestions in the SAQ D covers around 14 queries. Out of around 600. That means ASV covers 2.33% of PCI-DSS. There is a massive load of other controls and items covering PCI-DSS Other than those precious ASV quarterly scans. What about your patching? Hardening? Firewall security? HR policies? Logging and monitoring? Logical access? MFA? Hardening of systems? Anti-virus and host firewalls? What about service provider management? What about vendor default passwords? What about storage, encryption, key management? Software development? Application and penetration testing? Internal vulnerability scans? Training?

You can see how impossible it is to accept just the ASV report as an evidence of PCI compliance, much like how we cannot accept the chicken as an eagle, but yet, we are constantly berated upon that we don’t know what we are doing and that their Banks have accepted their ASV scans as a sign of PCI compliance, so we should to. But we can’t. We can’t accept 2.33% as a 100% of something. It’s simply mathematically not possible.

So there you go – banks. Why do banks perpetuate this myth that PCI compliance = ASV scans? Why? It’s 2.33% of PCI-DSS! You can’t accept something as an eagle just because it has wings and a beak! There’s really no argument about it.

Here is what 2.3% feels like:

a) The number of Jazz music of all US Music sales in 2013

b) Increase in slot machine spending in New Zealand in 2018 Q1

c) Auto parts industry against the US GDP in 2013

d) Android 6.0 Marshmallow installation for all Android devices in July 2016

e) Thats lesser than the % of freshwater we have on this planet (2.5% of water on the planet is freshwater)

I am sure there’s a lot of 2.33% out there on this planet, but the point we are making is this: It’s not compliance. It’s a small but important part of compliance but it’s not compliance. So no matter what your banks tell you, we can never accept the ASV scan as a sign of PCI compliance. It can be accepted as one of the evidences of PCI compliance amongst many, but not as an evidence of complete compliance.

Now, stop calling a chicken an eagle. Let us know about your questions for PCI or any compliance at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com.

Clarifying ASV Scans

It has been a while since our last post but as we are getting back up to speed to restart our work, our email engines are churning again with a lot of queries and questions from clients and the public on PCI-DSS, ISMS, ITSM, GDPR matters. We even have an odd question or two popping up regarding COVID-19 and how to secure against that virus. I don’t know. It’s a multi-billion dollar question which nobody can answer.

So while all these things are going, the one relentless constant we are still facing is: PCI-DSS deadlines. Despite the worldwide pandemic, we still get clients telling us they need to get their certificate renewed, their ASV scans done, their penetration testing sorted within x number of days. The reality of course is a bit more difficult. For example, once you have tested or scan, how does one remediate the issue when we cannot even get onsite to do proper testing? What about the development team, or the patching process, or the testing procedures and change management that needs to be done? The reality is simply, due to the pandemic, DELAYS will occur.

One of the main concerns are ASV scans, because ASV scans need to be done quarterly, there may be actual issues in remediation delays that may cause the company to miss the quarter.

How do we overcome this?

The main step is to always check with your QSA on this. I cannot repeat this ENOUGH. An organisation undergoing PCI-DSS, no matter what your size, especially if you are undergoing QSA certified program (Level 1 or Level 2 SAQ signoff from QSA) – ENGAGE your QSA to assist you. The QSA isn’t just supposed to come in at the end of your certification cycle, start poking holes into all your problems and tell you – you can’t pass because you missed our your internal VA back in Quarter 1. Or state your segmentation testing is insufficient at the end of your certification cycle. Or tell you that your hardening procedures are inadequate, with 1 month left to your certification cycle. The QSA needs to be in engagement at all times – or at the very least on a quarterly basis. Get them to do a healthcheck for you – all QSAs worth their salt should be able to do this. The mistake here is to treat your QSA as just an auditor and not onboard them throughout your certification cycle. An example is in the supplementary document from the council “Penetration-Testing-Guidance-v1_1” shows the possible involvement of the QSA:

In order to effectively validate the segmentation methodologies, it is expected that the penetration tester has worked with the organization (or the organization’s QSA) to clearly understand all methodologies in use in order to provide complete coverage when testing.

Pg 10 PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) v1.1

It’s essentially critical to understand the relationship the QSA must have and the involvement they have, especially in the scoping part of PCI-DSS. The problem we often see is there is a disconnect between the company and their QSAs in terms of scope, or expectation, or evidences, which generally leads to A. LOT. OF. PAIN.

For ASV scans, a QSA may also provide ASV services provided these are properly controlled that there is proper segregation of duties and independence within the QSA/ASV company itself.

However, we have also done many companies whereby we provide the ASV scan and another QSA does the audit. Or the other way where we provide the QSA audit, and ASV is done by another company.

There is one example whereby we were auditing a company, and the ASV scans were done by another firm. We have been engaged from the start on a quarter basis and we highlighted to them that their Q1 ASV scan isn’t clean. We got on a call with the ASV company and worked together to ensure that the next quarter, these non compliant items would be remediated. So even with Q1 ASV not passed, at the end as QSA we still accepted the PCI recertification. PCI Council addressed this in FAQ 1152 – “Can an entity be PCI DSS compliant if they have performed quarterly scans, but do not have four “passing” scans?”

Without early engagement of the QSA and ASV, there would be a lot of problems once the recert audit comes around. In this case we could set the proper expectation early in the cycle for the customer to address.

Another possible instance is whereby the ASV themselves can pass a quarter scan with non compliant findings with compensating controls. This procedure is detailed out in section 7.8 of the ASV program guide, whereby within the quarter scan itself, before the expiry of that quarter, compensating controls are provided and validated and the ASV is able to issue an acceptable report for that quarter. This is important, because QSAs like to see 4 quarterly clean reports, and they throw a tantrum if they don”t get what they want. So in short, for ASV scans, do the following in this order:

a) Remediate all and get a clean report for the quarter; or

b) If you have non compliant for the quarter, engage your ASV, provide acceptable compensating controls, and attempt (not influence) with the ASV to accept/validate these controls and provide a clean report for the quarter but documented under Appendix B of the scan report summary; or

c) If for whatever reason, a clean report cannot be provided for the quarter, work closely with the ASV and the QSA to ensure that at least the next quarter or quarter after next remediation is correctly done. This is tricky because once the quarter report is out, it’s out of the ASV’s hands and into the QSA – on whether they can accept these reports or not. You can hang on to FAQ 1152 – but remember, FAQs are NOT the standard, so you are essentially in the hands of the QSA.

Those are your options for ASV, if there are any delays. DO NOT, in ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, MISS Your quarterly scan. Missing your scan is NOT THE SAME as getting a non compliant report. Missing your scan means there is no recourse but to delay your certification until you can get your 4 quarters in.

Finally before we sign off – let’s clarify here what a ‘quarter’ means. Some clients consider ‘quarterly’ scans to be their actual calendar year quarter. No. It’s not. Essentially a quarter is 3 months of a cycle of 12 months compliance year. A compliance year is not your calendar year (it could be, but it doesn’t have to be). So let’s divide this into two scenarios:

a) Where the ASV scans are required for the compliance year

In the case – the compliance year first needs to be defined, and this is usually done by identifying the signoff date of your AoC. For example if the QSA signed off your certification on April 1st, then that is where your quarter 1 begins. April – June; July – September; October – December; January – March. 4 quarters. You need to perform your ASV scan within the quarter, resolve the issues, and get the clean report out. This is CRITICAL to understand. Because many organisation fail this portion where they do not even perform any scans for the first few quarters and only pick up their PCI-DSS again mid way through and everyone is like: “Oops.” So while drinks and celebration are in the works once you signoff the AoC – your quarter 1 has also begun, so don’t drink too much yet.

So know your quarters. Start your scan early in the quarter, rescans must be done after remediation, and in case you need compensating controls, you need to get ALL THESE DONE within the quarter. If you perform your rescans in the next quarter, you are doomed. You MAY perform the rescan in this quarter and the clean report comes out next quarter for the current quarter – but all scans must be done within the quarter itself.

a) Where we have NO clue when the quarters are

As funny as this may sound (in a tragic way), there are many instances where we (wearing the ASV hat) gets plopped into situations where the client HAS NO CLUE when their compliance quarters are. I don’t know why this occurs. When I request them to check their AoC, or their QSAs for guidance, some can’t provide it. This is as great a mystery as the Sphinx itself. We call these internally, ‘Orphaned ASV scans’. These are projects where we are given the IPs and just told to shut up and scan the IPs. In this case because we onboard all ASV scans with quarters to define when we need to remind our customers, or escalate issues if the quarter runs out – we generally just use the date of the scan as a reference for quarters. So for instance, we provide a clean scan on April 31st. Since they are orphaned scans, without a compliance year/cycle for reference, we use the date of the scan report itself – meaning this scan expires 31st July.

By and large, we are seeing less and less of these orphaned ASV scans issues. Because QSAs these days are more engaged with customers and their customer service has also improved, it’s rare we find a client who isn’t aware of these cyclical requirements. Most clients, not just the large ones, are serviced by QSAs who themselves are reinventing themselves not just as auditors coming in once a year to observe and audit, but provide separate, independent units/consultants to assist healthchecks and support as well to enquiries pertaining to clients.

And a final note on this article – when we refer to ‘QSA’ or ‘ASV’ under our umbrella, we mean ControlCase International (QSA and ASV), whom PKF have been working with for close to a decade. As to why we do not want to become QSAs ourselves, we take independence and segregation of audit and operations seriously, as accounting and audit is our DNA. An article has been written at lenght on this:

So – drop us a note at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com for any queries on ASV scans, PCI-DSS or compliance in general. And no, we don’t know how to solve the resolve the Coronavirus yet, but I hope we get there soon. Stay safe and stay well!

Preferred Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) for Maybank PCI-DSS Program

maybank pci

Great news!

Control Case International, with Malaysia representative PKF,  have recently been awarded as one of the preferred QSAs by Maybank Merchant Business to assist their merchants in attaining PCI compliance. PCI DSS is a contractual obligation whereby Maybank merchants agree to abide by PCI DSS through the terms of their merchant agreement with Maybank. This extends to any entities storing, processing or transmitting credit card data. As a Maybank merchant, you can enjoy significant savings on compliance by participating in this PCI compliance program.

Merchant are categorised under different merchant levels based on your annual volume of credit or debit card transactions. The following table describes the categorisation:


Depending on your merchant level, our compliance program is here to assist you in achieving PCI compliance through what we believe is the most cost-effective and resource-efficient service in the market. Our updated 2017 compliance program rates are as follows:


We can further clarify and explain these offerings either through our email, phone call or through our websites defined below:

Mr Stevie Heong: +6019 278 8629


About ControlCase International and PKF Malaysia
ControlCase International (“ControlCase”) is a United States based company with headquarters in McLean, Virginia and PCI centre of excellence in Mumbai, India. ControlCase focuses on compliance services and solutions related to regulations such as PCI, ISO27001, Sarbanes Oxley, GLBA and J-Sox globally. PCI compliance services are the core focus for ControlCase and the company has PCI experience on all sides of the card business, acquiring as well as issuing. ControlCase’s Malaysia representative, PKF is a top 10 international business advisory firm and we work closely with ControlCase to ensure efficient and local support is provided to all our clients.

© 2021 PKF AvantEdge

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