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PCI compliance and how PI affects your testing

In a recent E-Commerce Times article titled “Beyond the Audit: Maintaining a PCI-Compliant Environment,” Dave Shackleford lays out the basics for ongoing compliance fundamentals. In the article, he mentions achieving visibility in the environment, implementing rigorous change control, and managing the scope of what needs to be controlled.

However, early in the article he points out how compliance doesn’t make you secure:

Yet even if you pass the audit, doing so doesn’t automatically render your system secure, or even demonstrate an effort toward improving security. The recent breach at Heartland Payment Systems is, unfortunately, a shining example: The company had been audited and certified PCI-DSS compliant.

Fellow Software Quality Insights blogger Jack Danahy provided additional details on the Heartland Payment Systems story in his “Does PCI compliance make your data secure? Nope.” post.

So what does all this mean to testers? Are we slaves to the auditors? Helpless to help ourselves and our companies in the fight for data security? Are nebulous words and concepts like “change control” and “increased visibility” our only defense? In the words of Jack Danahy, “Nope.”

Here’s what you can do.

As software testers you have a hands-on understanding of the systems your company is using. More importantly, you have a working knowledge of the data those systems are using and how they are using it. In the fight for data security, it’s important that you understand what protected information is and how it needs to be managed. You can test (not document, but actually test) that the data storage is secure — whether it’s in a database, a flat-file, or some other format. You can track the data through a transaction and make sure it’s transported in secure formats and via secure transports. You can ensure that it’s not mistakenly getting written out to unsecured application log files. Because you’re doing the testing, you get to verify that the data is treated in a way that keeps it secure as the system processes it.

Will doing so keep all your customer data safe? It won’t. But it’s an important step — along with change control, data management policies and restricted access. It’s the step that you control: providing information to the rest of the project team about the PCI-compliance implications of their technical implementation of data management within the system you’re testing.

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