The Virtualization Room

Apr 29 2008   12:49PM GMT

No virtualization-specific requirements for PCI audits

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

If your company deals with credit cards, you are required to follow the Payment Card Industry’s data security standards (PCI DSS). The major credit card players — Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover — set forth these requirements in order to protect credit card data. If audits reveal that these regulations are not followed, fines or revocation of credit card processing privileges can result. Often, these audits force companies to implement basic security practices that should have already been in place; however, no virtualization-specific requirements have yet been put into practice.

Having just survived another annual PCI compliance audit, I was again surprised that the strict standards for securing servers that must be followed contain nothing specific concerning virtual hosts and networks. Our auditor focused on guest virtual machines (VMs), ensuring they had up-to-date patches, locked-down security settings and current anti-virus definitions. But ironically, the host server that the virtual machines were running on went completely ignored. If the host server was compromised, it wouldn’t matter how secure the VMs were because they could be easily accessed. Host servers should always be securely locked down to protect the VMs which are running on them.

It seems that much of the IT industry has yet to react to the virtualization trend, having been slow in changing procedures to adjust to some of the unconventional concepts that virtualization introduces. When I told our auditor that the servers were virtual, the only thing he wanted to see was some documentation stating that the remote console sessions to the VMs were secure. It’s probably just a matter of time before specific requirements for virtual servers are introduced. In fact, a recent webinar takes up this issue of whether or not virtualized servers can be considered compliant, addressing section 2.2.1 of the PCI DSS which states, “Implement only one primary function per server”; that is to say, web servers, database servers and DNS should be implemented on separate servers. Virtual servers typically have many functions running on a single physical server, which would make them noncompliant.

Looking at the PCI Knowledgebase, it seems many companies are confused on this and some are not implementing virtualization until this is cleared up. We’ll have to wait and see what develops and how the specification is modified to allow for virtual servers. It would be in the best interest of companies like VMware and Microsoft to work with the PCI to get this sorted out as soon as possible.

You can read the current PCI Compliance 1.1 specification here.

1  Comment on this Post

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  • Christofer Hoff
    Eric: Brilliant! I've been using this very example for the last year and it scares the crap out of people! I just whipped up a bloggy on this very topic with your snippet in it: /Hoff
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