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Verizon Payment Security Report is a Wake-up Call: Time to Refocus on PCI DSS Compliance

Too many organizations fail to enact the baseline payment security controls, according to the Verizon 2020 Payment Security Report.

This week sees the launch of Verizon’s annual Payment Security Report, which looks at how organizations are maintaining – and not maintaining – compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Of significant concern is that the report highlights a continued, marked decline in compliance sustainability since 2016. Illustrating these findings is a late September news headline detailing how a technology provider failed to adequately protect bank account information.

Time and again, consumers have been let down by poor security controls. Why are organizations still failing to protect customer information?

Blackbaud ransomware security incident not over yet

Blackbaud is a global cloud software and services company founded nearly 40 years ago. Using the slogan, "powering social good," it is headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina.

Earlier in 2020, it was announced that education institutions and charities are among an unknonwn number of organizations affected by a successful ransomware attack on Blackbaud. Blackbaud paid off the attackers, but it remains unclear if the cybercriminals kept their side of the bargain.

The potential exposure of personally identifiable information (PII) was already known from the first reports of the ransomware attack. Blackbaud subsequently noted that prior to locking the cybercriminals out of its systems, the attackers removed a copy of a subset of data from its self-hosted (private cloud) environment.

Bank account information was not previously thought to have been exposed in the security incident.

However, at the end of September, Blackbaud submitted an 8-K filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), stating that the attack had been more invasive than it initially thought.

“After July 16, further forensic investigation found that for some of the notified customers, the cybercriminal may have accessed some unencrypted fields intended for bank account information, social security numbers, usernames and/or passwords,” according to the company's 8-K statement.

Blackbaud states on its website that it “acknowledges our responsibility for compliance with PCI requirements and protection of any cardholder data that we, as a service provider, possess, store, process, or transmit on behalf of the customer.”

Verizon Payment Security Report identifies many shortcomings

The Verizon 2020 Payment Security Report, released on Oct. 6, 2020, outlines the data security and compliance challenges facing organizations charged with securing payment processes. In particular, the report focuses on the state of PCI DSS version 3.2.1 compliance sustainability to date, as well as looks forward at what organizations can do to improve payment security.

This year’s report notes that compliance sustainability continues to fall, year on year, dating as far back as 2016. Looking at data from 2019, only 27.9% of organizations achieved 100% compliance during interim compliance validation. Overall, the report comments that lack of long-term security thinking – organizations that focus on applying quick fixes instead of creating and executing a larger strategy – is severely impacting sustained PCI DSS compliance.

Omdia research very much resonates with the findings of the Verizon report. It is a wake-up call to organizations that strong leadership is required to address failures, adequately manage payment security, and comply with PCI DSS security controls.

The alignment of security strategy with organizational strategy is essential for organizations to maintain compliance, whether that is with PCI DSS, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or any other regulation to which organizations are subject. Security is not compliance, and vice versa, but security does have a huge bearing on compliance; security must be aligned with PCI DSS compliance, and other key organizational requirements.

But any successful strategic initiative requires a stakeholder who is charged with seeing it through. Unfortunately, in most organizations rarely is one individual or role responsible for compliance, security, and risk, and this means that the best-laid plans can fall down the cracks.

Omdia concurs with the report’s comment that long-term data security and compliance success will require the combined efforts of multiple roles, including the Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Risk Officer, and Chief Compliance Officer.

Organizations must get a grip on compliance and uphold their customers’ trust, which is all too readily damaged by inadequate actions.

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