Heartland Shares Advice on Data Breaches

By: Absolute Team | 8/17/2009

Earlier this year, we posted about one of the largest data breaches to ever come to light: the Heartland Payment Systems breach that affected as many as 100 million and cost the company $12.6 million in legal costs and fines from MasterCard and Visa.

Heartland CEO, Robert Carr, is now opening up about the security breach, hoping other companies can learn from their experiences.

Carr believes that PCI compliance auditors failed the company, that they believe it was right to inform customers of the breach before the media, and how other companies can learn from all these issues.

Essentially, Carr says the QSA (Quality Security Assessor) audits of their systems were of no value, since they were unable to detect the security holes that were exploited.

"To the extent that they were telling us we were secure beforehand, that we were PCI compliant, was a major problem. The QSAs in our shop didn't even know this was a common attack vector being used against other companies. We learned that 300 other companies had been attacked by the same malware."

Carr was surprised to learn that others knew of this attack vector and that the information had not been shared. Carr says he now understands the "limitations of PCI" and the assessment process. The problem with any set of standards, in any industry, is that it can lead companies to a false sense of security, meeting those compliance measures, if those measures are not kept up to date. Heartland learned the hard way that "PCI compliance doesn't mean secure."

In the rest of the interview, Carr shares how Heartland has spent $32 million to upgrade their security at all levels, making sure that data is secure and encrypted wherever it resides. Heartland shares that their best advice to other companies experiencing a breach is to be up front with customers. After their breach, all Heartland employees were advised to tell customers what the breach meant for them, to be the point of contact for customers (vs the press). "Being candid has been key."

Financial Services