Visa announced on Friday that it has removed Heartland Payment Systems and RBS WorldPay -- two payment processors that have announced massive data breaches in recent months -- from its list of service providers compliant with payment industry guidelines.
"That could be a pretty significant event because retailers are obligated to use PCI compliant service providers," Avivah Litan, a distinguished analyst at Gartner, told SCMagazineUS.com on Friday. "It's almost like saying all their customers have to leave them."
If a processor is not compliant, then their merchant customers, in turn, may be violating their terms of the guidelines, potentially opening themselves up to fines, Litan said.
Heartland had been listed as under review -- but still compliant -- prior to Friday's announcement, but now Visa has removed the Princeton, N.J.-based company from its lengthy list of service providers compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). It was unclear whether RBS also had been under review.
"Heartland and RBS WorldPay are actively working on revalidation of PCI DSS compliance using a qualified security assessor (QSA)," said a Visa statement. "Visa will consider relisting both organizations following their submissions of their PCI DSS reports on compliance."
The DSS requires companies that process more than six million credit card transactions each year must undergo annual on-site reviews from an approved QSA, as defined by the PCI Security Standards Council, which manages the PCI guidelines.
When informed by SCMagazineUS.com on Friday that Visa had removed Heartland from its list of compliant vendors, a spokesman for the company said he was unaware of the situation.
The company later issued a statement that said it currently is undergoing a PCI assessment and hopes to be recertified as compliant by May.
"Heartland is cooperating fully with Visa and other card brands and we are committed to having a safe and secure processing environment," the statement said. "Heartland was certified as PCI DSS compliant in April 2008 and expects to continue to be assessed as PCI DSS compliant in the future."
A statement on Friday from RBS said the processor was planning to be recertified by April.
"Visa has asked us to obtain a new certification of PCI compliance because of the recent data-security compromise," the statement said. "Visa has removed us from its list of approved PCI-compliant processors until the new certification is complete. There have been no material system changes that would have negatively altered this certification and we have, in fact, enhanced the security of our systems in the interim. Because of the criminal intrusion, we need to be recertified earlier than the normal schedule
Heartland -- which disclosed earlier this year that it may have exposed tens of millions of records to hackers -- passed a PCI assessment last April, according to Visa. RBS previously had said it was compliant with PCI; however, the company made no mention of the standard when it announced its data breach, which involved some 1.5 million victims, in December.
"It's essential that every business that handles payment card information adhere to the highest standards to protect the security and privacy of their customers' financial information," Visa's statement said. "The PCI DSS remains an effective security tool when implemented properly -- and remains the best defense for businesses against the loss of sensitive data."
Both Heartland and RBS WorldPay said they still were processing Visa transactions. A spokeperson at MasterCard could not be reached for comment.
Rich Mogull, founder of IT security consultancy Securosis, said in an email Friday to SCMagazineUS.com that the PCI assessment process needs revamping.
"What we see is that although no PCI-compliant company seems to ever get breached, many are certified and then found non-compliant after the breach," he said. "Thus, it's clear the certification process is flawed. While I don't expect certification to impart immunity from attack, decertifying all these companies seems disingenuous."