Home > Best practices, Compliance, PCI, Retail, Wireless security > Will Target Breach Prompt Retailers to Raise the Security Bar?

Will Target Breach Prompt Retailers to Raise the Security Bar?

January 8th, 2014

Did 2013 have to end with the somber news of a big credit card security breach? But it did! It is reported that 40 million credit cards were compromised in the security breach in stores of a major U.S. retailer Target. This is only a shade second to the earlier TJX breach in which 45 million credit cards were compromised. (After this blog was published, it was reported that the number of affected accounts in the Target breach is as high as 110 million, which would make it more that double the TJX breach!)

After any breach, and surely after the breach of such dimension, discussion on the data security issues at the retailers escalates. Earlier, the TJX breach resulted in stricter wireless PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance requirements. The current Target breach can also trigger tightening of the compliance requirements. This breach may also prompt IT, security and compliance managers at major retailers to take a hard look at the information security aspects of the various technologies that they have deployed. Add to it the fact that retailers are aggressively deploying mobile and wireless technologies like POS, kiosks and tablets in stores. What are some of the core issues they should be looking at?

Don’t be content with “compliance”, demand “security”!

Retailers in these types of breaches often pass the security audits like PCI with flying colors. That exposes the harsh reality that security is distinct from compliance. 2014 is the year of the world cup soccer (football). So let us use soccer analogy to understand this distinction.

Compliance vs security, wireless PCIWhen you are defending a free kick in soccer, you make a wall and your goalkeeper is on alert to block the ball that could go through or around the wall. No soccer team would be comfortable with a sole reliance on the wall and allowing the goalkeeper a break during the free kick. The wall is like “compliance” – it’s one line of defense.

Retailers work hard to get check marks from auditors on their PCI compliance. Vendor marketing does a good job of selling features that help get those coveted check marks. Compliance does help improve the security posture, but is it adequate? Every now and then, this line of defense is breached and if the goalkeeper isn’t standing behind the wall, you are toast! However, if you demand security in addition to the compliance check marks, you can build that inner line of defense.

How will you know if you have the inner line of defense or not?

That is a hard question. One way to answer it is that whether you have it or not depends on the compliance solution you have chosen. If you are using a solution which has compliance reporting bolted on to meet the compliance standard in letter, you probably lack the inner line of defense. On the other hand, if your solution offers PCI compliance as a natural outcome of the strong security fundamentals, you automatically get the inner line of defense.

I can testify to this dichotomy from my experiences with the wireless PCI compliance standard and solutions that are touted to facilitate meeting that standard. Many Wi-Fi vendors have come up with bolt-on WIPS (Wireless Intrusion Prevention System) features with check mark PCI reporting. The real question to ask is: While these systems generate PCI reports in letter and may please your auditor, will they pass the security scrutiny in spirit? So, what are some of the questions you should be asking when scrutinizing the wireless PCI solution to ensure that you are getting the security in addition to the compliance?

  • How much of the security information that the PCI report contains is based on actual scanning of the environment? I have seen many PCI reports based mostly or even entirely on the Q&A type documentation or PASS/FAIL check marks merely based on what feature configuration in enabled in the system. That is fail on security.
  • Is threat scanning 24×7 or is it only occasional spot scanning? PCI does not require 24×7 scanning. It only requires quarterly scanning, but didn’t we just say that we are not interested in mere PCI check marks, we want security. Notably, entire Target breach occurred only over 3 weeks – that is much smaller period than a quarter!
  • Does the scan merely throw raw data at you or does it filter out genuine threats so you can actually act to mitigate them? All too often, I have seen wireless PCI reports simply document all APs seen across all locations to satisfy the so called rogue AP scanning requirement. So, if the report shows 10,000 APs found in of the scan of 100 remote retail locations or 100,000 APs found across 1000 remote retail locations, how in the world are you going to distinguish threat posing APs from this list? If you can’t, this report will meet the PCI clause in letter, but fail miserably on improving the security posture.
  • Is the solution capable of detecting all types of vulnerabilities? For example, can it identify various types of rogue APs? If it only can identify a few types of rogues (such as rogues with correlation between their wired and wireless MAC addresses – so called MAC adjacency), how can you trust that report since there could be unidentified rogue APs connected to your CDE (Cardholder Data Environment) among the large number of APs detected during the scan?
  • Is the solution capable of automatically containing the identified vulnerabilities? Although automatic mitigation is not a PCI requirement, in large nationwide deployments, automatic containment is a requirement for security. Automatic containment reduces the window of vulnerability. Moreover, automatic containment has to occur without  false alarms which can disrupt your  and neighbors’ legitimate operations.
  • Is the solution certified against security standards other than PCI? Again, this is not a PCI requirement, but it meets the litmus test of strong security fundamentals of the solution.
  • Is the solution capable of full security operation at the store level without critical dependence on WAN links?

Does security have to cost more than compliance?

Again, the answer depends on the compliance solution you have chosen. If the solution has PCI compliance reporting bolted on to check against clauses in the standard, you will probably have to add security on top of it, paying considerably more from a total cost of ownership perspective or continue to carry the risk of a breach. On the other hand, if the solution offers PCI compliance as a natural outcome of the strong security fundamentals, you can get security without the extra effort or cost.

With Airtight, there isn’t a chasm between compliance and security

AirTight provides a wireless PCI compliance solution that also meets the critical security criteria. Central to AirTight’s solution is its best in class wireless intrusion prevention engine, the only one today to earn the highest industry ranking. It excels both in the depth of security and the ease of use at the same time – due to core innovations and patented technology. So with this PCI solution, retailers can enjoy the same level of security that financials, governments and defense organizations demand without the additional complexity and cost.

In order to simplify the deployment and management across 100’s or across 100’000’s locations, AirTight provides cloud managed PCI solution with its plug & play APs/scanners in stores and centralized management console in the cloud. In fact, it was the first to launch such a solution when wireless scanning was added in the PCI standard after the TJX breach in the past.

24×7 wireless PCI scanning and WIPS are an intrinsic part of AirTight’s Secure Wi-Fi offering and is provided at no extra licensing cost. It also offers pure OPEX pricing model for its solution to further alleviate the cost burden. Moreover, retailers can also leverage AirTight’s social Wi-Fi and business analytics built into its retail Wi-Fi offering to increase brand following, recruit into brand loyalty programs and offer secure guest Wi-Fi services in stores. It can’t get better than that!

Wishing you a happy and SECURE 2014!

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Meet AirTight at NRF14 on Jan 13-14 and at ACTS event on Jan 15.

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Hemant Chaskar

Hemant Chaskar is Vice President for Technology and Innovation at AirTight. He oversees R&D and product strategy for AirTight Wi-Fi and WIPS; and also performs roles in technical marketing, business development, and customer facing activities. Hemant has worked for more than 14 years in the networking, wireless and security industry, with 9 years in Wi-Fi. He holds several patents in these technology areas and has Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Follow on Twitter @CHemantC.

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