How Micro Segmentation Can Help You in the PCI Compliance Process?

Security is no longer a secondary issue. On the contrary, it is one of the most fundamental elements of sustainable success in the business world. Today, we can access the internet from anywhere, anytime. Yes, this is great freedom, but on the other hand, this “connectedness” draws us into a much larger ecosystem. We have to admit that any incident in a company can easily affect business partners and other companies in distant geographies.

Most of the attack techniques used today are not that different from those used a few years ago. Weak passwords can be easily compromised, such as phishing attacks and malware downloaded from infected browsers. However, the impact of today’s attacks can be much more significant, and the attack processes can be easily hidden.

See Also: Scoping and Segmentation for PCI DSS

At this point, micro-segmentation enables IT to deploy flexible security policies deep within a data center using network virtualization technology instead of installing multiple physical firewalls, making it difficult for attackers to access sensitive data.

Additionally, micro-segmentation can be used to protect every virtual machine (VM) in a corporate network with policy-driven, application-level security controls. Since security policies are applied to different workloads, software for micro-segmentation can improve the attack resistance of an organization significantly.

See Also: What Are the Ways to Reduce PCI Scope

Implementing micro-segmentation is one of the most successful ways merchants can comply with PCI-DSS. Micro-segmentation allows merchants to isolate system / transactional components from the cardholder data environment, making it difficult for hackers to access credit card information. That way, even if part of a merchant’s network is breached, sensitive cardholder data will be safe.

What is Micro-Segmentation?

Micro-segmentation is a process used by network security professionals to divide a network into smaller pieces to make it easier to keep the overall system security. This method can be applied to cloud systems or data centers and enables security professionals to secure individual parts of the entire system. Micro-segmentation also offers an advantage over traditional perimeter security, as it provides a reduced attack surface for malicious users.

See Also: How to Reduce the PCI Scope for Easier Compliance

Micro-segmentation typically uses a set of firewall interfaces configured to connect network segments to a security zone. The security zone is secured by rules that allow only permitted users, devices, and applications to access that zone. Security zones, controls, and workflows must be strictly defined for micro-segmentation to work effectively.

For years, companies have relied on firewalls, virtual local area networks (VLANs), and access control lists (ACLs) for network segmentation. Micro-segmentation applies security policies to individual workloads for more excellent attack resistance. Where VLANs allow you to do very coarse segmentation, micro segmentation will enable you to do more refined segmentation.

So it would be best if you got down to detailed sections of traffic everywhere. In short, a private VLAN prevents systems from reaching other systems on the same subnet but does not prevent connections to other systems that they can reach over a network layer connection.

However, micro segmentation often provides a policy-based control to control which connections are allowed and which ones should be blocked. It is a process usually performed in the data center to protect sensitive data and applications.

The manual effort to configure traditional internal firewalls and maintain the configurations has been very complicated and costly for organizations over time. On the other hand, SDN (Software-defined networking) and SDDC (Software-defined data center) capabilities support the network’s ability to provide services on demand through micro-segmentation, flexibility to change parameters, and provide security on each virtual machine.

See Also: What Are the Effects of Using Active Directory as a Shared Service on PCI Compliance?

Another concept of micro-segmentation, the so-called “zero-trust model” of virtualized security, can enable only the necessary permissions and connections to be enabled on only one workload or application. Nothing else is blocked by default.

Using micro-segmentation, administrators can program a security policy based on where a workload or application will be used, what types of data will be accessed, and how sensitive the application should be.

Reduce PCI-DSS Compliance Scope with Micro Segmentation

Since merchants rely on multiple systems and processes to operate their company, the entire network can be endangered by a breach in one of the systems or processes.

When it comes to PCI DSS, micro segmentation can support you in reducing PCI scope. PCI DSS compliance regulations are apparent. For a system component to be considered out of the scope of PCI DSS, it must be adequately isolated from the cardholder data environment (CDE) not to affect the CDE’s security, even if the out-of-scope system component is compromised.

See Also: How is the PCI Network Segmentation Affecting the PCI Scope

Some systems are likely to be physically separated from your CDE. In the past, firewalls could harden and protect network zones such as virtual LANs with healthy ACLs. However, more complex architectures such as cloud-based VMs or containers made it difficult to implement traditional security measures.

Even simple compliance arrangements, such as installing a firewall, become a challenge in complex cloud-based architectures. Additionally, dynamic workloads also mean you need to provide detailed visibility into where changes are happening in real-time within the CDE.

Providing you with rich visibility into traffic flow is number one on the list for any auditor. Rich visibility into traffic flow has two benefits. First, it shows the regulatory board that you have a strong understanding of your network data and access. Second, it proves that you can automatically detect a threat or violation, even if the worst happens.

By properly isolating device components from the cardholder data setting, micro-segmentation shines in its capacity to help merchants avoid this situation (CDE). In complex network architectures, including cloud-based VMs or containers, micro-segmentation can be used to minimize the PCI reach of CDE. That way, it won’t affect the security of the CDE, even if the out-of-scope system part is compromised.

Additionally, when micro segmentation is combined with a visualization tool, it can clearly define the extent of the cardholder environment. Besides, it can help meet the PCI standard that requires assets to maintain a scheme of cardholder data flows across systems and networks.

Providing visibility works well when merchants need to demonstrate compliance with PCI-DSS. Micro-segmentation can help merchants simplify audits because the audit will only consider the systems within the specific micro segments that make up the CDE and the processes and controls operating in those micro-segments.

What are the Benefits of Micro-segmentation?

Organizations that adopt micro-segmentation receive tangible benefits in reduced attack surface, improved breach prevention, more robust compliance posture, and modern policy management. More specifically, we can list the advantages of micro segmentation as follows:

  • Reduced attack surface: Micro segmentation provides visibility into the entire network environment without slowing down development or innovation. Early in the development cycle, application developers should incorporate the concept of the security policy, ensuring that neither application implementations nor updates generate new attack vectors. In the fast-moving world of DevOps, the lower attack surface is important.
  • Improved breach prevention: Micro-segmentation provides security teams the ability to monitor network traffic according to predefined policies and respond to breaches and reduce remediation time.
  • More robust legal compliance: Regulators can establish policies that separate regulated systems from the rest of the infrastructure using micro-segmentation. Detailed control of communication with regulated systems reduces the risk of incompatible use.
  • Streamlined policy management: The transition to micro-partitioning architecture provides an opportunity to simplify firewall policies. Instead of performing these functions on multiple network elements, an evolving best practice is to use a single centralized policy for subnet access control and threat detection and mitigation. This strategy decreases the area of attack and enhances the organization’s security posture.

When cybercriminals spend extended periods on a network, they become able to capture all kinds of information quickly. Since most of the company information is kept electronically, the longer the attackers stay in the network, the more information they have about your company’s business processes and data flows.

We can give the type of attack we know as “Carbanak” as an example. In the Carbanak attack, cybercriminals follow the administrator’s (admin) computers and try to access surveillance cameras, and examine how bank officers work, and record these processes. In the next stage, they imitate these processes and complete the money transfer through their systems.

Network segmentation helps mitigate the effects of the attack. Because the company can limit the attack to a single point and prevent it from affecting the entire network, it also allows sensitive data to be kept in a much more secure location. Keeping sensitive data in an isolated and highly secured area makes it difficult for attackers to access sensitive data.

See Also: What is PCI Network Segmentation Test and How is it Done?

Remember, you cannot protect every data on your networks if you cannot monitor all network processes. Since your networks are pervasive and complex, the most important thing you need to do is find sensitive data, isolate this data in a safe place, and continuously observe the pathways that provide access to this data with a granular focus method.

Relying on a security solution that uses micro-segmentation can be a powerful tool that provides unparalleled control over traffic in your hybrid IT ecosystem. The right approach is to monitor and route all traffic by isolating and segmenting all applications. By doing this, micro-segmentation can effortlessly meet the requirements for your compliance regulations, be it PCI-DSS, HIPAA, or others.

Surkay Baykara
Surkay Baykara
A passionate Senior Information Security Consultant working at Cyberwise. Over the past 15+ years my professional career has included several positions beginning as a developer and IT administrator, working my way up to a senior Technical Performance Consultant before joining Biznet back in 2015. I had several different roles at Cyberwise, including Penetration Tester and PCI DSS QSA. In my job as a QSA, I found my passion and worked closely with the Audit and Compliance team. I've been working inside InfoSec for over 15 years, coming from a highly technical background. I have earned several certifications during my professional career including; CEH, CISA, CISSP, and PCI QSA.

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