En-Cryptic Messages

PCATS members talk point-to-point encryption for payment transactions

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Taking a credit-card number swiped at the register, turning it into an encrypted message and sending it to the acquiring bank may sound complex, but the greater task is framing the steps into something the industry will want to adopt.

It's one of the many tasks that members of the Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards (PCATS) took on during its four-day conference this past week.

The process of taking credit-card numbers and encrypting them for transmission to the next link in the transaction goes by the name, "point-to-point" or P2P. About 30 retailers and suppliers at the P2P working session discussed elements of a draft document, designed to lay out benefits of P2P and set goals for what standards ought to look like.

Part of the goal with P2P is to further limit a retailer's exposure to fines from credit-card companies, which are determined to enforce regulations surrounding payment card industry (PCI) rules, said Alan Thiemann, general counsel for NACS. If P2P, allows retailers to get "out of scope" from PCI requirements, it will be less they have to worry about in terms of liability and equipment requirements.

PCATS members present reviewed several goals that P2P standards ought to include:

  • Support all petroleum payment-related cards, including fleet, gift, loyalty, prepaid, attendant and company-branded cards.
  • Interoperability of devices even if encryption is part of the system.
  • Burden of encryption is taken off the point-of-sale (POS).
  • P2P-capable options support future enhancements.
  • The removal of the merchant from access to data. 

The group also raised concerns over recent Visa efforts to force the adoption of an encryption process that today is widely accepted in Europe. PCATS members suggested that its efforts with P2P could align with the San Francisco-based Visa's goals, then left it up for future discussion.

PCATS is a standards-focused entity formed by members of the convenience store industry in the 1990s. Initially stemming from a National Association of Convenience Stores' effort, PCATS broke off as a separate entity. About two years ago, the Alexandria, Va.-based association and PCATS decided to once again merge operations.

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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