PCI-DSS Requirements for Backup Power Security

Greetings and welcome back!  In today’s blog we are going to look at a critical segment of PCI-DSS security that is often overlooked: PCI-DSS Requirements for Backup Power Security.  To begin with, PCI PIN Security Requirements and Testing Procedures require the use of an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) as given in the following section:

32-5 All access-control and monitoring systems (including intrusion-detection systems) are powered through an uninterruptible power source (UPS).

This makes good sense because, in the event of a power failure, if security access control and monitoring systems are offline, someone could easily force their way into a network closet and your data rack and simply pick up the server and walk out with it.  Needless to say, you must have enough power to ride-through a significant power outage but, how much backup power is enough?  PCI-DSS standards do not say but, it is interesting to note that the FCC now requires telecom providers to supply 8 hours of backup power to any IP-based telephone system or line.  While that may seem like a long time, consider this: the loss of power for a utility customer in the US can average nearly 5 hours in length as this annual report from the US Energy Information Agency shows.

PCI-DSS Requirements for Backup Power Security

Let’s take a look at the detail of this chart.  The total time of an outage is broken down into “non major events” and “major events”.  Non major events tend to be local outages caused by such things as a blown transformer within a utility system.  Major events are normally related to weather such as significant thunderstorms.  As the graph shows, major events are always longer, on average, than are non-major events within a utility’s own system.  But, even the best performance for outages – from municipally owned utilities – shows a nearly one hour power outage for a system-caused problem and the municipal utility average for a major event was 2 hours.

The long and short of this is that, if you fall under PCI-DSS, you need to backup the security systems protecting your server’s data for a minimum of 2 hours.  If you are within an investor-owned utility’s service area, the average outage with a major event is 3.5 hours and with a co-op, its nearly 5 hours.  So, if you fail to provide the proper backup and someone simply walks in and steals your server, you would be liable under the “reasonable man” concept of law from any credit card lawsuits that result from this type of data loss.

In addition to purchasing a UPS with sufficient battery backup time, you also need to monitor that UPS and its battery time.  Why do you need to do this?  The answer is that batteries, whether in your car or in a UPS, degrade over time.  With each passing year they provide less and less ability to generate the power that you need.  In addition, batteries degrade with each cycle in which they are used.  So, if your site is located in an area where there are lots of power flickers, those sub-second flickers actually cause the UPS to go onto battery and will also affect the backup battery life.

Fortunately, most UPS system provide a serial or network port that allows you to monitor the battery conditions and ensure that you will have the necessary battery backup time if it is needed.  Our RackGuardian product was designed with securing a rack and protecting its power systems from physical, operational or cyber problems.  RackGuardian integrates with any type of card-key or biometric door locking system, allowing you to be fully compliant with PCI-DSS physical security requirements.  In addition, RackGuardian plugs into the network or serial port of your UPS as well as your Rack Power Distribution Unit (PDU) to secure these systems from a cyber or physical attack and to monitor their system integrity.  RackGuardian’s exclusive and patented power analytics will provide you with an early warning to any problem with your battery system, ensuring that you have the battery backup time available when you need it.

Think about these things a bit and, we would be more than happy to have a confidential discussion about protecting your data and your backup power systems.  In fact, our experts can actually help you choose the best power system for you from the numerous sources available to us.  So, until next time,


Be Well!