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PCI DSSRetailers who accept credit cards must periodically demonstrate that they are in compliance the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). Large retailers are required to undergo periodic audits by independent auditors, called qualified security assessors (QSAs).

In a very unusual move this week, the QSA for Target was named in a Federal lawsuit related to last year’s Target cardholder data breach. In the suite, Trustmark National Bank of New York and Green Bank of Houston accused both Target and Trustwave of failing to stop the theft of payment card details for 40 million cards and for 70 million other personal information records. The suit seeks compensatory and statutory damages for costs incurred in canceling and reissuing exposed credit and debit cards.

According to a study in mid-February by the Consumer Bankers Association and the Credit Union National Association, the total losses incurred by all parties related to the Target breach had already exceeded $200 million, without even considering the losses due to fraudulent activities!

A PCI DSS audit represents the compliance status as of a point in time, a sort of snapshot. Firms that are not in compliance can face penalties including the loss of the ability to accept payment cards, critical to retail operations.

It is possible that Target was in compliance at the time of the most recent audit and the breach occurred afterward. The timeline of events will be critical in the outcome of the lawsuit. According to the suit, Trustwave scanned Target’s network on Sept. 20, 2013 and did not report any vulnerabilities. Target has reported that the attackers stole the data between Nov. 27, 2013, and Dec. 15, 2013 using software installed on point-of-sale devices. The law suit claims that there vulnerabilities present at the time of the September audit, but it is not clear at this time if these vulnerabilities are related to the breach.

Over the past 6 months there have been a series of high profile cardholder data breaches, including breaches at retailers Neiman Marcus and Sally Beauty. Businesses would be wise to increase the frequency of compliance and threat detection scanning beyond the PCI DSS requirements. Comodo offers 2 great services that provide PCI DSS compliance scanning for your web site, HackerGuardian and Web Inspector.

HackerGuardian is an on-demand, vulnerability assessment scanning solution to enable merchants and service providers to achieve PCI scan compliance. After each scan, you receive a comprehensive vulnerability report detailing any security issues with remediation advice and advisories to help fix them.

Web Inspector provides the same PCI Scanning and much more. It scans your site daily for malware and continuously monitors for other threats. Importantly, Web Inspector monitors blacklist sites that list compromised web sites. If you are listed, for any reason, on such a site search engines will block them. You lose customers because they can’t find your site.