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!