PCI Requirement #6,6 has been in the news for quite some time, primarily because complying with it is not trivial. PCI Security Council published a press release on April 22, 2008, hoping to clarify some of the requirements and help merchants comply before the upcoming deadline of June 30, 2008. Some of the clarifications are confusing, since they seem to go against basic application security concepts, as well as the principle of compensating controls already laid out by the PCI standard.
Secure web sites against attacks is requirement #6,6′s aim, by requiring either of the following for all web-facing applications:
Manual code review by experts
Application Layer Firewall
Now this press release effectively says that the intent of code review requirement is met by:
Manual web application security is thought vulnerability
Proper use of automated web application security vulnerability assessment (scanning) tools
The million dollar question is: Can a vulnerability assessment or penetration test really detect the uniform findings that a code review does? Can we think that a code review can be replaced by a vulnerability assessment or a penetration test?
I don’t agree. Code review is a white box exercise, yet vulnerability assessment is a black box exercise. A security expert can look under the hood and see the guts of the application with code review,where as a vulnerability assessment looks at the application from outside and can only see the few security flaws that have actually manifested themselves into full blown exploitable vulnerabilities. Therefore a vulnerability assessment will leave out many other complex, subtle, yet serious flaws that only a code review could have discovered.
So I want to know why the council thinks that it meets the intent of the code review requirement.
Now here’s some background before you read about the next confusion.
The PCI standard clearly states that a compensating control must be in addition to controls required in the PCI DSS compliance. Just sounds involuted, it’s really simple. Interpret with an instance: Let’s take Requirement #3.3 which asks the PAN to be masked when displayed. If this requirement cannot be met then the merchant will have to propose a compensating control.