The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) sets the security standards essential for all business owners that process, store, or transmit cardholder data through card transactions. Created by the PCI Security Standards Council, which consists of major card brands such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, and JCB, this standard is integral for all organizations accepting credit card payments.

You must be PCI-compliant to accept payments using cards from any of these credit card companies. Doing so entails conforming to the PCI standards applicable to your organization.

Credit card information, or cardholder data, comprises the Primary Account Number (PAN) or card number in conjunction with the cardholder’s name, expiration date, or service code. PCI compliance is also required to collect sensitive authentication data. This sensitive data includes card validation codes/values, magnetic stripe or card chip data, PINs, PIN blocks, or any other information used to authenticate cardholders or authorize payment card transactions.

Why Is It Important to Be PCI-Compliant?

Adherence to PCI DSS safeguards credit card data and ensures that the information security of transactions is upheld. In today’s digital age, where the internet connects businesses to a global marketplace, sensitive debit and credit card data transmission has become more prevalent. 

PCI compliance is a crucial shield against the ever-present threat of cybercriminals and data breaches. By adhering to these standards, businesses create a robust defense mechanism that protects not only their customers’ financial information but also their reputation.

With rising concerns over hackers and data breaches, ensuring PCI compliance becomes critical to cybersecurity. The digital landscape is rife with cyber threats, and data breaches can be devastating. Customers and partners expect their data to be handled with the utmost care. PCI compliance reassures them you take security seriously, enhancing trust and loyalty.

Does my company need to be PCI compliant?

Any organization, from small businesses to large enterprises, that accepts credit card payments or deals with the transmission of cardholder data should adhere to PCI DSS requirements. 

The scope of PCI compliance is broad, encompassing many businesses. Whether you run a small online store or a multinational corporation, if you handle credit card data in any form, PCI compliance applies to you. This inclusive approach ensures that payment card data security is maintained across the board.

This extends beyond credit card companies and encompasses service providers, online e-commerce platforms, and physical stores using Point-of-Sale (POS) systems. PCI compliance isn’t limited to businesses directly issuing or processing credit or debit cards. 

Service providers, such as web hosting companies, must adhere to these standards if they handle cardholder data on behalf of their clients. Additionally, e-commerce platforms and brick-and-mortar stores that utilize POS systems to accept card payments are within the PCI compliance framework.

What Happens If I’m Not PCI Compliant?

Non-compliance with the PCI DSS standard can lead to hefty fines, loss of the ability to process credit card transactions, and a heightened risk of data breaches. The financial consequences of non-compliance can be severe, with fines imposed by card networks and regulatory bodies. Beyond the monetary aspect, non-compliance significantly increases the risk of data breaches, as hackers often target businesses with weaker security systems.

A company could face legal repercussions, reputation damage, and immense remediation costs in a data breach. Legal actions may follow a data breach, and the costs associated with addressing and resolving such an incident can be substantial. 

Moreover, the damage to a company’s reputation can be long-lasting, eroding customer trust and potentially leading to a loss of business. Overall, the impact of non-compliance goes beyond immediate financial penalties and can have far-reaching, detrimental effects on a business.

12 PCI DSS Requirements for All Merchants

The PCI SSC established four levels of compliance for merchants and two for service providers. Your organization’s level will determine whether you must undergo a PCI audit by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) to establish your compliance or if you may simply complete a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). 

Either of these tasks is arduous and can take many months or even years to complete. For this reason, many enterprises use compliance software to help them manage workflows, conduct self-audits, and perform other complex PCI compliance tasks.

It begins with taking decisive actions and implementing necessary controls to protect your Cardholder Data Environment (CDE). Explore how you can achieve this with the following essential PCI compliance requirements:

  1. Install and maintain network security controls:
  • Utilize physical or virtual firewalls and routers.
  • Implement strong access control measures for the cloud.
  • Update your antivirus software
  • Enforce risk management for network traffic using predefined policies.
  • Protect your sensitive CDE with appropriate risk control measures.
  • Maintain regular vulnerability scanning to assess risk rating and potential hazards effectively.
  1. Apply secure configurations to all system components:
  • Configure firewalls appropriately to reduce risk.
  • Change default passwords and eliminate unnecessary software and services.
  • Employ Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for system protection.
  • Implement prevention measures to safeguard stored account data (SAD).
  1. Protect Stored Account Data (SAD):
  • Implement protection methods like encryption, truncation, masking, and hashing to safeguard SAD. Minimize risk by:
    • Avoiding the storage of SAD unless necessary.
    • Truncating cardholder data if the full PAN is not required.
    • Avoiding the transmission of unprotected PANs through end-user messaging technologies such as email or instant messaging.
  1. Protect cardholder data with strong cryptography during transmission over open, public networks:
  • Ensure encryption for PAN transmissions to maintain confidentiality.
  • Evaluate network security against applicable PCI DSS requirements.
  1. Protect all systems and secure networks from malicious software:
  • Utilize anti-malware software to defend against various threats and security vulnerabilities.
  • Safeguard against viruses, worms, Trojans, and more.
  1. Develop and maintain secure systems and software:
  • Apply software patches to system components for risk mitigation.
  • Implement secure coding techniques for bespoke and custom software.
  1. Restrict access to system components and cardholder data by business need to know:
  • Enforce role-based access control measures.
  • Prevent unauthorized access to secure systems.
  1. Identify users and authenticate access to system components:
  • Use unique IDs and authentication factors for enhanced security.
  • Ensure accountability and traceability for authorized users.
  1. Restrict physical access to cardholder data:
  • Protect sensitive data from unauthorized physical access.
  • Prevent breaches and maintain cardholder privacy.
  1. Log and monitor all access to system components and cardholder data:
  • Maintain audit logs to create an audit trail for system monitoring.
  • Track user activities and stay alert in case of system compromise.
  1. Test system and network security regularly:
  • Regularly assess system components to adapt to changing threats.
  • Keep systems and networks secure through regular testing and monitoring.
  1. Support Information Security (IS) with organizational policies and programs:
  • Implement information security policies to protect payment card data.
  • Promote a firm safety policy within your organization.

Other Compliance Considerations

Any point-of-sale technology (including websites), line-busting technology, or WLAN used to store, process, or transmit payment card data falls under the compliance requirement. If a business chooses to outsource its PCI DSS compliance to a third party, the merchant is responsible for oversight and vendor management to ensure continuous compliance with the standard.

E-commerce merchants must use PCI DSS-validated third parties if they outsource payment processing. They must also ensure that cardholder data remains on their systems or premises without electronic storage, processing, or transmission.

Merchants who only use imprint machines with no electronic cardholder data storage or who use standalone dial-out terminals with no electronic cardholder data storage should also consider PCI DSS compliance.

Merchants using standalone, PTS-approved terminals connecting to a payment processor using an IP address must review their compliance requirements.

In cases where the merchant manually enters individual transactions on a keyboard into an internet-based terminal solution, the business needs to review the PCI DSS-validated third party for compliance.

If a merchant uses a payment system connected to the internet with no electronic cardholder data stored, they must meet PCI standards.

Merchants using hardware payment terminals included in and managed by a validated PCI SSC-listed P2PE solution must be compliant and ensure their vendor is compliant.

ZenGRC Can Help You Maintain PCI Compliance

If all this seems a bit overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. Ensuring PCI DSS compliance can be intricate but manageable with the right tools and guidance. 

ZenGRC takes the worry out of this complex task with color-coded dashboards, unlimited self-audits, audit trail documentation, and more. Contact us today for your free demonstration.