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Global Payments credit card security breach exposes PCI shortcomings

It’s becoming a pretty safe bet that the reported Global Payments credit card security breach isn’t the only big breach out there. Visa and MasterCard, without naming Global Payments, reported a payment processor had been popped between Jan. 21 and Feb. 25. Global Payments Chairman and CEO Paul Garcia, however, said yesterday that his company discovered the hack in early March and that’s when it reported the breach to law enforcement and hired outside security help.

Likely there’s another shoe to drop. Brian Krebs has been killing it on this story, and he wrote yesterday on his blog and was quoted in an ABC News story that his initial report that 10 million payment records had been stolen could have been about a breach at another processor that has not been disclosed yet. Only 1.5 million have been attributed to the Global Payments breach so far.

Clearly, we’re not past the big data breach. Clearly, PCI DSS continues to be a joke and a money pit that isn’t about security, but at a minimum, point-in-time compliance.

Over the weekend, Visa and MasterCard delisted Global Payments as PCI compliant, which indicates something nasty is going on with this breach behind the scenes. Maybe there isn’t another processor involved but deeper penetration into Global Payments that isn’t being reported until investigators say so. Martin McKeay, a former PCI QSA, has a good blow-by-blow into what happens to card data from the time it’s swiped, and how it moves through merchant and processor networks. There are plenty of places where data is exposed and security can fall down, and processors such as Global Payments have to continuously check these access and egress points, not just when it’s time for the PCI auditor to show up.

Other processors have been delisted; Heartland Payment Systems and RBS WorldPay in 2009 and CardSystems, which soon after went out of business in 2005. Global Payments said the reported breach (it says only Track 2 data has been stolen—account numbers and encrypted PINs) has been contained and no fraudulent transactions have been reported. Yet there’s a specter hanging over this story and Global Payments. Chances are, they’re not out of the water yet and should it fall, a la CardSystems, it’s another reminder that basic security measures still count, and hiding in the weeds hoping not to get hacked is a fool’s errand.

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