PCI 1.2 To Let WEP Stay For Two More Years

The new version of PCI due out in October will let the outdated WEP wireless security standard stick around for almost two more years, while also reducing the required frequency of firewall rule reviews.

But the changes confirmed by the PCI Security Standards Council this week—which have been circulated among members for the last few weeks—provide few other substantive changes, delivering the mild tweaks and updates the council has publicly promised.

The document lists some 30 changes to the current PCI Version 1.1 and PCI officials promise that the official and final version—now slated for release on Oct. 1, a few weeks earlier than originally expected—will include yet more changes.

Still, the document provides a fairly detailed peek into the council's thinking. The most significant change is language that addresses the much-maligned WEP and tried to balance conflicting member interests, from those who argued that such a weak security approach should be banned as soon as possible and their opposite numbers, who spoke to the cost and effort that retailers would need to deploy to make the change.

"We needed to give people enough time to be able to comply. We wanted to make sure that there was enough time," said Bob Russo, the council's general manager. "There's a lot of expense for a merchant. We had feedback from some merchants that it would cause them some stress."

The new rule will say that "new implementations of WEP are not allowed after March 31, 2009" and that "current implementations must discontinue use of WEP after June 30, 2010."

Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan said the move is the right one, but quickly added that "they could have put out an amendment to upgrade this (WEP) requirement earlier. This is so long overdue that I don't know what the right word is."

PCI consultant Walter Conway, a former Visa VP, said the date compromise for WEP "reflects some business realities. I would have wanted the WEP changes, I would have wanted something much stricter and much sooner. I mean two years? I would have expected something stronger there."

Ed Adams, president of a security vendor called Security Innovation, said he had reviewed the changes and wanted to "criticize the council for caving in to vendor pressure more than anything else with the new changes. It’s getting as bad as Capitol Hill filibustering and lobbyist groups setting new legislation."

David Taylor, a former Gartner analyst and currently the head of the PCI Knowledge Base, said some of the changes read as though they were "cutting some people a break."

For example, Taylor spoke of the section that requires annual visits to offsite storage sites. Taylor mentioned a few concerns about that requirement.

"Because some of these locations are outside the U.S., sounds like a travel burden for the merchant and a 'hospitality burden' for the service providers," Taylor said. "Also, a lot of banks and large merchants do visitation programs now. That’s not how you find problems, by doing an annual tour of the facilities. It’s done by asking lots of tough questions about process, reviewing procedures, etc. All you can see is that these places are physically locked down and that they are typically much more physically secure than retailers, so these visits won’t prove anything."

An area that allowed retailers to not necessarily have video cameras watching every sensitive area is a mixed blessing, Taylor said.

"This will be a huge savings to some retailers who have been told by assessors to have cameras on every register, as well as in multiple places in the back office," he said. "That's all fine, I suppose, except that these tapes and discs are never reviewed until forensics people are brought in after a breach. Their main role has been to place blame, rather than to actually reduce the risk of a security breach. So this is a good thing that they're doing." (Taylor has a column in this issue pointing out that PCI has completely avoided addressing virtualization. And that he believes their silence ultimately will make no difference.)

Gartner's Litan said the changes were, for the most part, good, but they didn't address the key problems that have surrounded PCI. "A few things I was looking for were there, but it’s kind of a yawner in terms of solving the real problems," Litan said. "This is good, it’s an improvement, but the standard’s never been the biggest issue."

Some of the other key changes:

  • Slightly softened the rule to maintain a firewall configuration, by reducing the required review frequency from once every three months to once every six months.
  • Clarified that a rule that forbid retailers from using "vendor-supplied defaults for system passwords and other security parameters" also applied to wireless. (Is someone suggesting that there existed professional retail IT security managers who made this argument with a straight-face? That someone actually argued—let alone believed—that vendor-issued default passwords are OK for anything, let alone a wireless deployment?).
  • "Removed requirement to disable SSID broadcast since disabling SSID broadcast does not prevent a malicious user from determining the SSID, as the SSID is broadcast over numerous other messaging/communication channels."
  • Deleted a reference in Version 1.1 that said "Note: Systems commonly affected by viruses typically do not include UNIX-based operating systems or mainframes." The new version will "clarify that requirement for use of anti-virus software applies to all operating system types." (The bigger question is why the initial security standard felt compelled to encourage not protecting Unix and legacy systems.)
  • Softened the patching requirement section. The 1.1 version, for example, required retailers to "install relevant security patches within one month of release" and other specifics. The new version will add "flexibility to the patching requirement by specifying that a risk-based approach may be used to prioritize patch installation." (It's hard to argue that IT directors need to be able to make decisions based on specific circumstances. That said, installing relevant security patches within a month is hardly draconian. Said PCI's Russo: "In some cases, 30 days was too onerous.")
  • Specified that offsite storage locations must be visited at least annually.
  • In 1.1, section 9.1.1 required retailers to "use cameras to monitor sensitive areas." Some assessors have interpreted that to require video monitoring of every POS station. The new rules will provide "flexibility in the requirement for cameras to allow organizations to select other appropriate access control mechanisms." It also clarified that the requirement to secure media applies to electronic and paper media that contains cardholder data as well clarified destruction requirements for media containing cardholder data.
  • The new rules will "clarify that logs for external facing technologies (for example, for wireless, firewalls, DNS and mail) must be copied to an internal log server" and "provide flexibility and clarified that three months of audit trail history must be immediately available for analysis or quickly accessible (online, archived or restorable from backup)."
  • In the test process section, the 1.1 requirements specified that "quarterly external vulnerability scans must be performed by a scan vendor qualified by the payment card industry. Scans conducted after network changes may be performed by the company’s internal staff." The new version wants to clarify that, regardless of whether the quarterly timing coincides with "after network changes," ASVs "must be used for quarterly external vulnerability scans."
  • The new rules will also specify "that both internal and external penetration tests are required and clarified that it is not required to use a QSA or ASV for penetration tests.
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