PCI standard to require application scans

Application vulnerability scans required by June

Baseball is a tough game. It would be even tougher if the umpires decided to, say, change the distance between the bases. Consider, then, how IT and compliance folks at online merchants are feeling after a MasterCard International official last week said that his company and Visa are updating their PCI (Payment Card Industry) security standard to cover a new range of security risks.

Changes due this summer will add checks for software application holes to other requirements, such as anti-virus and firewall software and network vulnerability scanning, according to Tom Maxwell, a director of advanced payment systems at MasterCard. He spoke May 15 at a security conference in San Francisco hosted by Qualys, a vulnerability scanning company.

MasterCard and Visa did not respond to requests for comment on the changes for this article.

As of June, merchants will need to prove that they have scanned their networks for evidence of SQL injection and Cross Site Scripting vulnerabilities, two of the most commonly exploited application holes. The requirement will include comprehensive application vulnerability scans by 2008, according to Philippe Courtot, CEO of Qualys.

PCI took effect in June 2005, but many organizations that accept credit cards are still grappling with the requirements, said Chris Farrow of ConfigureSoft, a systems management company.

Vulnerability management is something that most merchants should already be doing. Adding it to the PCI standard will just enforce good practice, said Dave Criminski, security director at Limited Brands, a clothing retailer. Changes to PCI have been rumored for several months, and updates to PCI are needed, such as requirements for spyware phishing attack monitoring, Farrow said.

The standard gives smaller companies a good baseline for measuring security. However, some requirements of the standard, such as those concerning data encryption, are difficult and expensive for merchants to implement, Criminski said.

Merchants will need time to digest any new PCI rules, he added.