What is PCI Compliance?

By Fortra's Digital Defense

These days, companies are continually falling prey to attacks from thieves who get past their cyber security measures and steal consumer and financial data. They target system vulnerabilities to acquire the information they seek, which is usually cardholder data.

Until 2004, there were no set regulations or standards for merchants and vendors to follow for preventing cardholder theft. Major credit card providers, including Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, created the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council (SSC). The council issued specific security procedures called the Data Security Standards (DSS). Any organization that uses a payment provider’s services must adhere to these standards to prevent or minimize the threat of lost credit card data.


What is PCI Compliance?

Because the PCI DSS is the industry standard, compliance is mandatory for the benefit of both merchants and customers. The buyer can take action against the seller if the latter loses the former’s sensitive information, meaning the seller must ensure their networks are secure at all times.

Not adhering to PCI compliance can result in significant problems. The credit card companies will stop allowing the business to process credit payments by using their facilities. The providers can fine the merchant’s bank between $5,000 to $100,000 each month if they experience a data breach.


An Overview of PCI SSC Data Security Standards

The PCI DSS includes a specific set of technical and operational guidelines and rules that an organization must follow when they store and process cardholder data. Though the DSS maps out the requirements for manufacturers and software developers, merchants are the weakest link in the chain, and they require separate rules to protect sensitive consumer data.

The PCI standards include:

  • PCI DSS: The PCI DSS is for anyone who accepts, stores, transmits, or processes payment cards. Compliance is mandatory, and it covers both operational and technical systems.
  • PCI PED: PIN Entry Device Security Requirements are for manufacturers who make card payment devices for retailers, merchants, or any business that uses a POS system for payment.
  • PA-DSS: The Payment Application Data Security Standard is a set of rules for software developers and anyone who integrates applications that transmit, store, or process card payments to settle or authorize a purchase. It also regulates the sale, distribution, and licensing of these applications to a third party.


Requirements for PCI DSS Compliance

Any company that interacts with cardholder data must be within PCI compliance at all times. Below are the essential compliance parameters.

Use and Maintain Firewalls and Anti-Virus Protection

You must secure your systems and networks by installing a firewall from a trusted source and keeping it up to date. The purpose of this security software is to monitor traffic into your network and stop unauthorized users from accessing the system. Properly configuring and maintaining the firewall rules is useful for protecting payment card data.

Anti-virus and malware protection is also necessary. It’s another type of software and one of the PCI DSS requirements. Viruses and malware can enter the organization’s network through emails and fake websites and create vulnerabilities hackers can exploit to access unauthorized information.

Including and maintaining anti-virus software will protect the system against attacks. PCI also advises companies to put systems in place to reduce employees’ online activities that could introduce malicious software into the network.

Proper Password Protections

Payment system vendors often provide passwords to their equipment, but no one should use them after the initial system setup. These codes are generic, and hackers can easily guess them with sophisticated password cracking software like Dictionary and Brute Force. All passwords for the system must be unique, using special characters, upper- and lowercase letters, and numbers, preferably arranged in a way that cannot be guessed or easily remembered.

Protect Cardholder Data

Organizations will immediately be within PCI DSS compliance if they do not store their customers’ card data. If they do retain the information, they must implement a schedule to dispose of the data safely.

Encrypt Transmitted Data

Whenever a merchant transmits data, the information must be encrypted to ensure digital data confidentiality when an organization transmits it over open networks. The encryption requires trusted keys and certifications to access the information, making it less vulnerable to unauthorized access. This PCI DSS requirement only applies if the company stores cardholder data.

Properly Updated Software

Installing protective software is not enough. Whenever you use software to protect systems against vulnerabilities, you must also maintain it by ensuring that the latest edition protects the security network.

Technology is always evolving, so updates are necessary. Not only do they make the software easier to use, but they also patch security holes.

Restrict Data and Physical Access

One way systems become vulnerable to cyber attacks is by giving too much access to people who don’t require it. Businesses must limit who has access to sensitive data and restrict it only to users who need the data for their tasks. Restrict physical access to data by ensuring that all servers, networks, and workstations require codes or other security strategies for a user to obtain access.

Unique IDs for Access

Even if workers or contractors are authorized to access consumer data, PCI DSS recommends that organizations provide unique IDs for each user. Using unique IDs allows the merchant to quickly find anyone who overstepped their boundaries if a problem occurs. The IDs make it easier to trace the actions of responsible parties as opposed to when workers on any level are using the same codes or user names.

Create and Maintain Access Logs

In addition to unique IDs, organizations should create access logs that record every instance of a security breach. Records within the database should contain all pertinent information about the situation and be readily available without compounding system vulnerabilities.

Scan and Test for Vulnerabilities

Penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are necessary to be within PCI DSS compliance. A company must regularly scan and test their system’s flaws with the assistance of security professionals who have a thorough understanding of compliance testing.

A vulnerability scan and penetration testing do not provide the same functions. A scan is an automated test performed by a scanning vendor that uncovers vulnerabilities within servers, networks, and systems.

Compliance PCI penetration testing takes a vulnerability scan further. A cybersecurity professional will attempt to exploit any weaknesses they discover using the same manual techniques a hacker would use. Such PCI compliance testing provides clients with a better understanding of each flaw’s real-world level of risk to the organization.

The payment card industry requires organizations to confirm the effectiveness of their segmentation controls at least twice a year to find and rectify any weakness in their systems that could compromise payment card industry data security. A qualified independent security agent must perform security testing. The test may be necessary more often if there are changes to the system or a breach.

Document Policies

In addition to a bi-yearly test and scan to maintain PCI compliance, one should also complete a yearly Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). This tool is for service providers and businesses who don’t complete on-site assessments to meet the industry data security standard. SAQs vary by company and situation, but completing them will ensure that all relevant parties comply with PCI.

Another way to fall within PCI guidelines is through documented security policies. The payment card industry security standards include mandates for forms, procedures, policies, and procedures that must be in place. The IT department can craft a security policy using an approved template to save time.

PCI compliance is a requirement for any organization that transmits or processes credit payments to protect sensitive consumer data. PCI DSS regulations protect payment services and organizations against cybersecurity threats.

Protect your digital assets and take advantage of our services today by calling Digital Defense to speak with one of our helpful team members.

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