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Questions To Ask Your System Vendor Or Reseller

Written by Walter Conway
January 9th, 2012

A 403 Labs QSA, PCI Columnist Walt Conway has worked in payments and technology for more than 30 years, 10 of them with Visa.

The National Retail Federation’s Big Show is next week, and the exhibition floor will be crowded with vendors offering retailers all types of software applications. As a public service, following is a list of questions all merchants should ask their POS system supplier or reseller based on one QSA’s experience—namely mine. The good vendors will be able to address all these questions. The not-so-good ones will hand you a carrier bag or a pen instead.

The theme here is value-added resellers and how to integrate operations with them. VARs play an important role for many small and midsize merchants of all types. Often treated as trusted partners, the vendors in many cases earn this trust. The problem comes when the vendor is not so trustworthy. Due to poor training, sloppy practices or simple incompetence, a vendor can actually increase a retailer’s risk of a painful data compromise that can threaten the life of its business.

Every retailer needs to understand that as far as PCI is concerned, they can outsource their processing, but they cannot outsource responsibility. That means while the reseller may be doing the work, the retailer is ultimately responsible. And if there is a data breach, it is the retailer who will bear the costs.

Is the application (and the version) validated against the Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA-DSS)? Both Visa and MasterCard mandate merchants use only PA-DSS validated applications. So using one is not only smart, it is required. A simple “yes” may not be enough, though. Retailers need to ensure the version is “Approved for New Deployments” and not “Acceptable for Pre-Existing Deployments.” The difference between these two ratings is important, and you should only consider a version that is approved for new deployments.

Once you know the application is PA-DSS validated, find out when the validation expires. Inquire about plans (and costs) for upgrades.

If you find you have a payment application already and it is no longer approved for new deployments, don’t panic. Instead ask the vendor how long it will continue to maintain the application and issue security patches. You may find that the vendor will continue support for some time but ultimately that support will end. Once that happens you have an end-of-life situation, and you will need to upgrade your application.


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One Comment | Read Questions To Ask Your System Vendor Or Reseller

  1. ed Says:

    These are great pointers. Vendors will hawk retail solutions with buzzwords like mobile POS, loyalty and RFID inventory to grab attention, but can they deliver?

    My experience early on was the majority of vendors could not follow up after the purchase order was generated. I ended up burnt dealing with firms I met at a conference who had nothing more than a nice brochure and a free memo pad with their logo on it.

    I won’t be able to make it this year but if anybody is going to the NRF, can they please follow up?

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