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Adding virtualization to the PCI standard

Earlier this month, I wrote about how the PCI standard was recently updated but still failed to take virtualization into account. Shortly after, VMware announced its participation in the PCI council to help address virtualization within the PCI data security standards. While this is certainly good news and will help tighten up the security standards around electronic credit card payments, the outcome of this announcement remains to be seen. The following are a few improvements that shouldn’t be too difficult to implement right away:

1) First and foremost, the PCI council needs to recognize virtual hosts and include them in the scope of the standard if any of the virtual machines (VMs) that reside on the virtual hosts fall within the boundaries of the standard. Currently, any server, network or device that has anything to do with cardholder data would be included in the standard and any audits that occur.

Additionally, if any virtual machine is included in the scope, then all of the virtual machines on a host should be considered in the purview of the standard because they all reside on the same physical server. Finally, as virtualization allows for VMs to be easily moved between host servers for failure recovery and load balancing, all of the virtual hosts in a cluster should be included within the boundaries of the standard as well.

2) Clarify the confusing item (2.2.1) that dictates that you can only implement one primary function per server. All they have to do is exclude virtual hosts from this item.

3) Most of the security items that are listed in the standard can be applied to virtual hosts as well. This includes things like audit logging, password policies and applying vendor patches.

4) Address virtual networking. Ensure that the security settings on virtual switches do not allow things like promiscuous code, forged transmits and MAC address spoofing.

By simply addressing these four areas, the Payment Card Industry (PCI) standard would be moving in a better direction. From there the council could delve deeper and address other specific areas on virtual hosts using some of the existing security guidelines. Another distinction it should make is between bare-metal and hosted virtualization products. Hosted virtualization products are typically less secure because the underlying operating system is not optimized for virtualization. As a result, they should be subject to tighter scrutiny and control.

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I wrote about this a few weeks back. I believe that this is a huge plus for the PCI standard, and frankly I am surprised it took so long for virtual machines to be included with the standard. Unfortunately, some IT departments don't understand that data loss prevention doesn't stop with what's written in the standards.