Virtual Terminals and PCI 2.0 – Introducing the SAQ C-VT

In a previous post, I mentioned that the Security Standards Council would be releasing a new version of the Self Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) for merchants using virtual terminal environments for processing cardholder data. Well, say hello to the SSC’s new bundle of joy; called the SAQ C-VT, this version is applicable to “merchants who process cardholder data only via isolated virtual terminals on computers connected to the Internet”. This should come as a welcome addition to merchants who developed blank stares and involuntary tics as they tried to figure out which SAQ was applicable to their browser-based terminals. Full disclosure: I am guilty of getting into heated (and very boring to anyone else) discussions about the applicability of certain SAQs in various browser-based situations; this should simplify the discourse in the future, and leave time to discuss more important matters (such as why the 2010 Vikings should be traded to the Mexican Football League). I also think that the clarifications will have some positive implications for securing virtual terminal workstations. This is important, as two typical arguments that I have run into when doing an assessment involving virtual terminals go something like:

  1. “The terminal just has a web-browser, and our payment gateway uses SSL. This workstation is out of scope and we don’t have to secure it. Antivirus is too expensive. Hold on while I install this kitten screensaver someone sent me through my AOL account on this terminal”.
  2. “We don’t know how to deal with this PC, so we are cutting our company’s Christmas bonuses to pay for locking it down. We hired a team of InfoSec PhDs to harden the workstation and we have moved it into its own datacenter. To access it you have to go through a screening process that was rejected by the TSA for being too intrusive.”

To address the lines of thinking above, the SSC created the SAQ C-VT, which makes it pretty clear that virtual terminal workstations must be segmented and secured; the SAQ C-VT also provides streamlined requirements that are much more aligned with a virtual terminal’s function and typical configuration. For SAQ C-VT eligibility, a merchant must meet the following criteria:

  • Merchant’s only payment processing is via a virtual terminal accessed by an Internet-connected web browser;
  • Merchant accesses the virtual terminal via a computer that is isolated in a single location, and is not connected to other locations or systems within your environment;
  • Merchant’s virtual terminal solution is provided and hosted by a PCI DSS validated third party service provider;
  • Merchant’s computer does not have software installed that causes cardholder data to be stored (for example, there is no software for batch processing or store-and-forward);
  • Merchant’s computer does not have any attached hardware devices that are used to capture or store cardholder data (for example, there are no card readers attached);
  • Merchant does not otherwise receive or transmit cardholder data electronically through any channels (for example, via an internal network or the Internet);
  • Merchant does not store cardholder data in electronic format (for example, cardholder data is not stored in sales and marketing tools such as CRM); and
  • If merchant does store cardholder data, such data is only in paper reports or copies of paper receipts and is not received electronically.

The full SAQ C (v 2.0) contains 80 requirements; the SAQ C-VT has a trimmed down 51. The changes are summarized below:

  • In SAQ C-VT, a personal firewall is required
  • The requirements to encrypt non-console access have been removed
  • There are no longer 3.x requirements for storing authentication data, as you wouldn’t be doing this in a VT situation
  • Encryption strength and security protocol configuration requirements are removed (4.1(c) and (d))
  • There are no longer requirements for encryption of wireless transmissions of cardholder data
  • Antivirus and patching requirements stay the same (as they should)
  • Remote access for vendors and two-factor authentication requirements are gone
  • Quarterly wireless scans/NAC for detection of rogue access points are gone, as well as the associated requirement for inclusion of wireless access point detection in the incident response plan
  • This is a BIG ONE: Internal and external quarterly scan requirements are gone. This in itself should make a very compelling argument to ditch the card swipe and start typing out those card numbers
  • Several requirements for ‘critical technologies’ are gone, including authentication for use of remote access, acceptable network locations for use of the technology, and automatic disconnection and activation of remote access technologies

Also, props to Branden Williams (truly a gentleman and a scholar) for being the first to make me aware of the release of the new 2.0 SAQs on his excellent blog.

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