PCI DSS needs to be stricter

Complying with PCI DSS is a good first step towards protecting credit card numbers from the cyber-criminals who steal them and resell them to other cyber-criminals. On the other hand, the large and high-profile data breaches that we've seen in the past few years show that what the PCI DSS doesn't actually do is to actually provide any reasonable assurance that credit card numbers won't be stolen. Because there's a significant gap between complying with the PCI DSS and real security, the PCI DSS may actually end up protecting businesses who just worry about complying with the standard instead of using more meaningful security. Here's why.

Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care. If you don't meet an appropriate standard for care then you're negligent, and you’re liable for any damages that you might cause. If you do meet the standard of care then your unlucky victim bears the full cost of his injuries. As a general rule, government regulations can be used to establish a standard for reasonable care. So if you're in compliance with government regulations then you can argue that you're using reasonable care and you're not liable for injuries that you might accidentally cause. This is true for government regulations, but it wouldn't be too surprising if other regulations might also work this way. In particular, because there's no government standard for protection of credit card information, it wouldn't be too surprising if you could successfully argue that the PCI DSS establishes a standard for reasonable care.

This means that it's not hard to imagine a case where a company that's suffered a data breach but has also passed their PCI DSS audit can argue that they've used reasonable care with the credit card numbers that they lost. Suppose that they can also show that they've passed other audits. Maybe their data center has passed a Type 2 SAS 70 audit and they have an ISO 27002 Certificate of Compliance. In this case, it's probably even easier for them to convince a judge or jury that they've used reasonable care. The problem is, of course, is that there may not actually be a connection between passing these audits and having strong and meaningful security. But if they can make a convincing case that they've used reasonable care, they may be off the hook, even if their security is weak enough to allow hackers to easily bypass it.

In the case of PCI DSS, there doesn't seem to be much of a connection between being compliant with the PCI DSS and having strong security. Could this end up actually protecting companies that focus just on compliance instead of trying to actually protect their sensitive data against hackers?

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