PCI Compliance

Data security has been a major concern for many consumers when it comes to conducting online transactions. To date, there have been over 11 billion compromised consumer records due to security breaches going all the way back to 2005. To address this, an independent body called the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council was created to develop security standards for companies that deal with credit card information. To be PCI compliant means to adhere to the standards set by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council and provide consumers and banks with effective security for their online transactions. 

How did the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council begin?

The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council was a joint effort by major credit card companies Visa, Mastercard, Discover, JCB, and American Express. Before the Council’s creation, these companies had their own set of security standards. To address the growing number of data breaches, the five companies banded together and created the Council to provide consumers with higher protection in the digital age. They based it on their own security policies, which were fairly similar to one another.

The importance of PCI compliance

PCI compliance, as mentioned, aims to reduce the risk of data breaches. The main purpose of the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council is to minimize the risk of data loss for credit and debit cards. It provides banks, merchants, and consumers increased protection against cyberattacks, and it holds financial institutions and organizations that handle credit card data to a higher standard. Additionally, consumers and business owners enjoy peace of mind knowing their data is secure and well-protected.

What PCI DSS compliance entails

To be Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) compliant, there are three main things that organizations handling credit card data must be capable of doing:

  • Handle the way credit card data comes in from consumers

When consumers use their credit or debit cards to make a purchase or share their information in any way, the receiving organization must ensure that their details are very well-protected and transmitted through safe channels. 

  • Ensure data is stored securely

Secure data storage is detailed in the PCI standard’s 12 requirements. This involves using encryption techniques, constantly monitoring access logs, and ensuring that data is not easily accessible to any unauthorized parties.  

  • Ensure security measures and controls are active and operational 

Constant security checks are necessary to always ensure that security controls are in place. These may include regular questionnaires, vulnerability checks through acquiring the services of external organizations, and audits by third parties.

Companies must take stock of the systems they have in place and assess their card handling procedures, information technology base, and company operations. By doing so, they can discover potential flaws in their system and work towards fulfilling the requirements to become PCI DSS compliant.

The 12 requirements for being PCI DSS compliant

The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council developed a total of 12 main requirements, 78 base requirements, and roughly 400 test procedures under the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards. The guidelines developed by the Council are considered the best practices when it comes to security. These are the 12 main requirements:

  • Use of firewalls to secure data
  • Protection using strong passwords
  • Protection of cardholders’ data
  • Use of encryption techniques on transmitted cardholder data to maximize security
  • Use of antivirus software to prevent virus attacks
  • Updated software and maintenance of security systems
  • Prevent external parties from accessing cardholders’ data and information
  • Assignment of unique codes or IDs to those who are authorized to access data
  • Prevention of easy physical access to cardholder data
  • Development of an access logging system and continuous monitoring of this system
  • Regular testing of security system
  • Creation of a followable and documented policy 

The most recent iteration of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards came out in May 2018, and it’s known as version 3.2.1. These comprise the 12 steps which organizations that handle credit card data must follow to be PCI compliant and uphold consumer and business security. 

By being PCI compliant, a business can show its consumers how they uphold the safety of their private data and boost their brand’s reputation.