Merchants who store unencrypted payment card data directly violate Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) requirements and may be subject to fines and other penalties after a compromise.
The discovery of unprotected cardholder data may indicate a number of factors, including an improperly designed or configured payment application, a non-PCI compliant payment application or improper card handling by employees.
"There's so much going on in the security industry that it's sometimes difficult to target the most important things," said SecurityMetrics CEO Brad Caldwell. "We think these findings are a game changer for the security industry, and will help focus priorities on the bigger problem plaguing merchants today. After all, criminals can't steal card data merchants don't have."
In it's entirety, the study found over 370 million unencrypted cards on various-sized business and home networks, with the largest amount of payment cards discovered in a single network scan at over 96 million.
The study concluded card discovery and deletion is not a one-time event, but must be a part of regular business operation to impact security.
"Today's business landscape is littered with merchants that don't know exactly what's on their system," said SecurityMetrics Director of Forensic Investigations, David Ellis. "In the majority of cases we've investigated, the merchant was unaware their system was storing unencrypted payment card data. Merchants must take responsibility for their customers' card data, which in turn will benefit worldwide commerce in general."