PCI DSS v4.0 – a game-changer in social engineering awareness & prevention


Johannes Briel | Specialist | Senior IT Security | Galix | mail me |

As social engineering attacks continue to rise in sophistication and prevalence, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) has evolved to address this growing threat.

PCI DSS v4.0 places a strong emphasis on social engineering awareness and prevention, going beyond generic security training to mandate specific technology and controls.

Previously, many PCI compliance efforts focused solely on broad security awareness campaigns, often relying on generic warnings against clicking on suspicious links. While these efforts have some value, they often fall short in addressing the nuances and evolving tactics of social engineering attacks.

PCI DSS v4.0 takes a more proactive approach, requiring organisations to implement targeted security awareness programmes tailored to the specific risks faced by their employees. Additionally, it mandates the use of technology-based solutions to detect and prevent social engineering attacks, such as anti-phishing filters and social engineering simulation tools. This shift in focus reflects the growing recognition that social engineering is not just a matter of human error but a complex and ever-evolving threat landscape.

By incorporating specific social engineering controls into PCI DSS v4.0, the PCI Security Standards Council is sending a clear message that organisations must take a more comprehensive approach to security awareness and prevention.

Enhancing security against social engineering attacks

PCI DSS v4.0 requires organisations to enhance security against social engineering attacks by aligning their operations with the council’s standards and recommendations. The significance of safeguarding payment card information and avoiding illegal access, including through social engineering techniques, is emphasised by PCI DSS v4.0.

The following are some crucial tactics to improve security against social engineering attacks:

  • Security awareness training

Making sure that your organisation’s staff members are aware of the tactics used by hackers is one of the greatest strategies to protect against social engineering assaults. To protect your company and its employees, you must create a thorough security awareness training programme because social engineering is centred around exploiting weaknesses in human behaviour.

  • Simulating social engineering attempts

Your company has put in place a comprehensive security awareness training programme. What comes next? It is crucial that your company tests staff members using social engineering simulations, going beyond simply educating them about cybersecurity.

  • Implement policies around social media usage

Cybercriminals frequently use social media to gather information about their victims. One such tactic is spear phishing, which is phishing that is specifically targeted and tailored to a single person. The amount of data that the attacker can obtain about their victim will determine how successful these attempts are. Establishing guidelines for what and how employees post on social media might help lessen the likelihood that social engineering tactics will succeed, as oversharing can be a problem.

The benefit of implementing these controls is that, through awareness training, employees learn how to detect, react to, and report social engineering events and related attacks. This minimises the probability of an attack and thus also minimises the reputational damage and financial losses suffered by an organisation as a result. Conversely, implementing PCI DSS v4.0 controls can at times be costly, and often, while deploying the required technology tools, companies tend to leave the critical human aspect out of the equation, forgetting to consider how these tools impact their employees, often making their jobs more difficult.

While organisations strive to go beyond generic security awareness and adopt a holistic approach to security awareness training to address the specific risks their employees face, awareness alone is not enough.

Complete and effective training must cover every base, including personalisation, ease-of-use, and attention-grabbing short awareness lessons that are incorporated into employees’ day-to-day functions. Importantly, training must include concrete dos and don’ts that employees must be made aware of concerning social engineering threats. While it is difficult to predict future trends in social engineering attacks, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) poisoning has recently emerged as a growing trend. This involves cybercriminals manipulating search engine rankings to redirect users to malicious websites or links injected with malicious code.

At the same time, AI-driven deepfakes and phishing-as-a-service are also on the rise, posing increasingly serious threats to organisations in the payment card industry. The growing prevalence of these types of attacks serves as a stark reminder that companies should adhere to the recommendations of PCI DSS v4.0.

Leveraging third-party providers for PCI DSS v4.0 requirements

This is where third-party providers can play a vital role in helping organisations comply with PCI DSS v4.0 requirements.

As experts in the field, third-party providers are well-positioned to provide solutions that help organisations fully automate the learning experience using various technology tools. By harnessing Artificial Intelligence (AI), third-party providers can create realistic social engineering and training campaigns, which ultimately save their clients time and money.

As the threat landscape of social engineering attacks continues to evolve, PCI DSS v4.0 represents a significant step forward in addressing these challenges.

With a focus on tailored awareness training and specific controls, this latest standard emphasises a proactive approach to combatting phishing, vishing, and other forms of social engineering. However, organisations must not overlook the human element in implementing these controls, and third-party providers offer valuable support in automating learning experiences and staying ahead of emerging threats.

Adherence to PCI DSS v4.0 is essential in safeguarding both cardholder data and organisational reputation in an increasingly complex digital environment.



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