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PCI Security Standards Council to Help Clear Cloudiness

Hopefully, this helps clear some of the cloudiness of virtualization and cloud computing

The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) is expected to release a new version of the PCI Data Security Standard (DSS) in October of this year. In this new version, the PCI DSS will address virtualization and cloud computing. This new guidance will be a huge win for virtualization adoption, as well as the organizations that are subject to PCI and under pressure to better manage costs.

The Council, founded by American Express, Discover Financial Services, JCB International, MasterCard Worldwide, and Visa, developed the PCI DSS to specify how to best protect payment card information. In other words, it specifies how to best protect you and me from anyone who attempts to break into systems to steal our valuable financial information.

The most recent PCI DSS, version 1.2, includes 12 requirements that describe the necessary controls that must be in place to protect the platform, network, and storage used in any system that processes, transmits, or stores PCI cardholder data. As you might expect, many retailers and financial services firms are subject to PCI compliance, which can impose significant fines for non-compliance. Beyond retailers and financial firms, many state and local governments are using PCI as a framework for security controls, given its comprehensive nature.

Today, PCI DSS does not explicitly mention virtualization or cloud computing. As a result, many organizations choose not to host applications that may be subject to PCI compliance on virtual or cloud-based platforms. Deeming this the "safe" approach, these organizations unfortunately deny themselves of the significant cost savings that could be achieved through virtualization.

Despite this current lack of guidance, other organizations have found the lure of virtualization too strong to resist and have plowed ahead with their initiatives and virtualized systems that are subject to PCI compliance. Despite the obvious advantages of virtualization, these organizations willingly enter into a "gray area" of compliance. As such, they are potentially at risk of non-compliance, depending primarily upon the judgment of the assessor who may or may not be comfortable with these emerging technology solutions.

With the release of the new version of PCI DSS in October, this situation should improve dramatically since virtualization and cloud computing will be addressed. This should result in a big win for organizations beholden to PCI DSS. It will allow them to embrace virtualization and cloud computing with the confidence that they will be able to be PCI-compliant, assuming they have the right controls in place. Assessors should have an easier time too with new, clear guidelines on what to assess. In the end, this will drive more adoption of virtualization and cloud computing services.

Hopefully, with the update to PCI DSS, other private or government regulatory bodies such as HIPAA or NIST will look to adopt similar content, enabling healthcare companies and federal institutions to confidently adopt cloud-based technology. In the interim, while there's a vacuum of information to guide these organizations, don't be surprised to see them informally adopt elements of the PCI DSS so that they too can take advantage of these technological advances.

Hopefully, this helps clear some of the cloudiness of virtualization and cloud computing.

More Stories By Eric Chiu

Eric Chiu is CEO and founder of HyTrust, an early stage startup focused on secure virtualization management and compliance. He has in-depth knowledge about what’s needed to achieve the same level of operational readiness in virtual, as in physical I.T. infrastructures. Previously Eric served in executive roles at Cemaphore, MailFrontier, mySimon, and was a venture capitalist at Brentwood/Redpoint, Pinnacle, and M&A at Robertson, Stephens and Company.

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