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PCI on campus

Zack Martin   ||   Jan 14, 2009  ||   , ,

Universities need to be aware of security requirements for payment card data

College and university campuses need to be aware that different portions of their computer networks may need to be secured because of requirements from the payment card industry. Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) are some times overlooked by campuses, but the National Association of Campus Card Users hosted two Web conferences to bring some of the issues to light.

PCI DSS pertains to anyone who accepts credit or debit cards and how that information is stored and transmitted. If organizations don’t protect payment card information and a breach occurs it could result in fines from the card associations, says J. Ashley Ewing, director of information security and compliance at the University of Alabama. In 2006 alone Visa issued merchant fines totaling $4.4 million across all industries.

The fines from the payments card associations aren’t the only costs associated with data breaches, Ewing says. The average higher education breach involved 5,000 to 50,000 accounts. A small breach can cost an initiation $1 million, but the average cost is $182 per account. This includes the cost of notifying those affected, paying for credit monitoring and unauthorized charges. “There’s also the additional cost of unfavorable publicity and significant brand damage to the institution,” he says.

Educational institutions seem to be particularly vulnerable to some of these breaches. Thirty-three percent of data breaches were at educational institutions, Ewing says. “There’s a lot more businesses out there than educational institutions,” he says. “We have a disproportionately high hit rate.”

There are a number of ways campuses can be impacted by PCI, Ewing says. Anyone or any system that deals with payment cards must know how to handle the information. So not only do the point-of-sales terminals in cafeterias need to be secured but the individual taking donations over the phone from alumni also needs to know how to securely handle payment card data. “Everyone who takes credit cards on behalf of the institution is affected by PCI,” he says.

Depending on what type of ID the campus issues, that could fall under PCI too, says Joel Weidner, director of information systems for Penn State auxiliary and business services. If the card has a MasterCard or Visa logo PCI standards have to be met. If a campus ID is tied to a bank account but a PIN is necessary the regulations are different and PCI doesn’t apply.

But even if it doesn’t, PCI may pertain to areas where the student ID is used, Weidner says. If a point-of-sales terminal accepts both student IDs and credit and debit cards PCI regulations need to be followed. “Understanding your environment is critical to compliance, he says. “Campuses need to understand what parts of the infrastructure need to be protected.”

Even if a campus outsources all of its card processing, officials need to make sure that vendors are complying with PCI regulations or they can still be held liable, Ewing says.

Campuses that enable students to use IDs at off-campus merchants need to perform due diligence too, Ewing says. Those vendors need to be questioned on how they handle payment card information to make sure they comply with security standards or the university could be held liable if there’s a breach.

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