I started this year speaking and writing about how retail establishments can protect themselves from the rising tide of malware. I continue this train of thought by considering the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) as a general guidance to protect any small business.
Instead of looking at PCI-DSS as guidelines for protecting cardholder data, consider it as guidance for protecting any critical data. You may wonder what critical data you have, or think that you may have nothing of value to cyber thieves. And yet any business has at least one of the following types of critical data that cybercriminals want, which means that any business “including yours” is a potential target:
- Employee records
- Customer records
- Intellectual property
- Access (user names, passwords, etc.) to partner networks (the easiest way to breach a big company many be through a small partner)
- Access (user names, account numbers, passwords, etc.) to your bank account
Therefore, PCI-DSS guidelines can be a starting point for any business, retail or not. (I say a “starting point” because even if you are PCI-compliant as, I believe, Target was when they were breached, it does not mean you are secure.) At a high level, PCI-DSS guidelines provide some excellent places to start when looking to protect critical data. Looking at the six high-level guidelines for PCI-DSS, I have some thoughts:
- Build and maintain a Secure Network and SystemsThis one is pretty straightforward: build your network with an eye on security starting at the planning phase. Often businesses take a money saving approach and not structure their network for growth. This is a short-term view that often costs more money down the road. Often, in order to maximize performance, security settings are turned off. When looking at your network, make sure you are able to build it under the security umbrella. Looking at the cost of a breach, security is a very low-cost investment.
- Protect Cardholder DataIn the spirit of this blog, let me replace “Cardholder Data” with “Critical Data.” Making sure critical data is handled in a secure way would include encryption of your data and isolating it from those not qualified to access it. Again, something learned from Target.
- Maintain a Vulnerability Management ProgramAnti-virus should be something you require on all devices that can access network resources. This includes phones. I am sure we will see a newsworthy breach that starts with a compromised phone. There is a recent trend to deliver ransomware to phones. For both personal and professional reasons an antivirus on all your internet accessible devices is common sense.
- Implement Strong Access Control MeasuresIf you leave your freshly baked pie in the window, someone is going to take it. The aroma of your critical resources should be kept behind locked doors. It is more than passwords; the ability to see who is using these passwords will help you keep assets secure. This leads me to:
- Regularly Monitor and Test NetworksThere are many reputable organizations that can test your defenses. I have seen many of them offer inexpensive or free services to show you where you have vulnerabilities. Let the experts help you.
- Maintain an Information Security PolicySecurity is a critical business issue and should be considered integral to the organization. As you talk about products or new ways to expand your business, make sure that you do it in the context of a secure environment. After the fact and ad hoc security may leave you thinking you are protected when you actually are not.
I would hasten to add one more thing: implement an ongoing education program to build security awareness in the organization. As we all become more educated in proper cyber-hygiene, it becomes harder for criminals to compromise your organization.
The PCI guidance is something that is a great starting point for any business looking for a roadmap to security. If you are looking for more information, you might want to check out this webinar that Tim Brown, executive director and CTO of SonicWall Security, delivered on PCI – Focusing on security to meet compliance responding to changes in PCI DSS 3.1.