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PCI DSS: Are you taking payment security seriously?

What is the PCI DSS?

The PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) is administered by the PCI SSC (Security Standards Council) to decrease payment card fraud across the Internet and increase payment card data security. Organizations that accept, store, transmit or process cardholder data must comply with the PCI DSS. While not federally mandated in the United States, PCI DSS is mandated by the Payment Card Industry Security Standard council. The council is comprised of major credit card bands and is an industry standard. Some states have even incorporated the standard into their laws.

  • If you are a merchant, the PCI DSS applies to you. Even if you have subcontracted all PCI DSS activities to a third party, you are still responsible for ensuring all contracted parties comply with the Standard.
  • If you are a service provider, including a software developer, the PCI DSS applies to you if you process, transmit or store cardholder data, or your activities affect the security of the cardholder data as it is being processed, transmitted or stored.

For advice and guidance on the PCI DSS or to find out more about our cost-effective solutions, get in touch with one of our experts today.

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Why is compliance important?

The cardholder data that you store can be stolen from many places:

  • Compromised card reader
  • Filed paper records 
  • Cardholder data stored in databases
  • Rogue access to your business’s wireless or wired network
  • Concealed camera recording the entry of authentication data

If implemented correctly, the PCI DSS can help organizations secure cardholder data. It provides a baseline set of security requirements, which lets organizations know what action they should take. One of the key benefits of the PCI DSS is that it provides a detailed action plan that can be applied to companies of any size or type that use any method of processing or storing payment card data.

To find out more about the PCI DSS and why compliance is important, download our free brochure: The PCI DSS: Challenge or Opportunity? 


Penalties for non-compliance with the PCI DSS

The breach or theft of cardholder data affects consumer confidence that results in the loss of business. Any merchant that breaches the PCI DSS could face serious consequences, including fines, litigation and reputational damage. The implications can be far-reaching and include:

  • Fraud losses
  • Loss of customer confidence
  • Diminished sales
  • Cost of reissuing new payment cards
  • Higher subsequent costs of compliance
  • Legal costs, settlements and judgments
  • Fines and penalties
  • Termination of ability to accept payment cards
  • Lost jobs 

Payment data – a target for attack

Payment card data is the prime target in attacks against commercial environments. 

Indeed, the 2018 Trustwave Global Security Report identified that threat actors targeted payment card data in most incidents, with card-track (magnetic stripe) data making up nearly 23% of events, and CNP (card-not-present) data, which is mostly used in e-commerce transactions, comprising almost 20%.

Criminal hackers want your cardholder data. By obtaining the PAN (primary account number) and sensitive authentication data, an attacker can impersonate the cardholder, use the card, and steal the cardholder’s identity. Following guidance in the PCI DSS helps keep your cyber defences primed against attacks aimed at stealing cardholder data.


The PCI DSS

Payment security is important for every merchant, financial institution or other organization that stores, processes or transmits cardholder data.

The PCI DSS specifies 12 requirements that are organized into six control objectives. 

Build and Maintain a Secure Network

  1. Install and maintain a firewall configuration to protect cardholder data
  2. Do not use vendor-supplied defaults for system passwords and other security parameters

Protect Cardholder Data

  1. Protect stored cardholder data
  2. Encrypt transmission of cardholder data across open, public networks

Maintain a Vulnerability Management Program

  1. Use and regularly update anti-virus software or programs
  2. Develop and maintain secure systems and applications

Implement Strong Access Control Measures

  1. Restrict access to cardholder data by business need-to-know
  2. Assign a unique ID to each person with computer access
  3. Restrict physical access to cardholder data

Regularly Monitor and Test Networks

  1. Track and monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data
  2. Regularly test security systems and processes

Maintain an Information Security Policy

  1. Maintain a policy that addresses information security for employees and contractors

The exact PCI DSS compliance requirements vary depending on the annual number of card transactions processed by your organization.


Assessing the security of your cardholder data

The three-step process to achieve compliance typically involves:

  1. PCI DSS Gap Analysis: Usually the first step clients take to understand their compliance status. It provides a detailed comparison of what their business is currently doing against what it should be doing to comply with the PCI DSS.
  2. PCI DSS Remediation: A comprehensive plan for fixing vulnerabilities and eliminating the storage of cardholder data unless necessary to fully comply with the relevant PCI DSS requirements.
  3. PCI DSS Audit: Review your cardholder data environment and the risks you need to manage. This provides evidence that your controls are in place and working effectively.

For organizations that process more than six million card transactions annually

Large organizations must have an external audit performed by a QSA (Qualified Security Assessor) and submit an RoC (Report on Compliance) to their acquiring banks to prove their compliance each year. Your assessor will:

  • Validate the scope of the assessment
  • Review all documentation and technical information provided
  • Determine whether the Standard has been met
  • Provide support and guidance during the compliance process
  • Be onsite for the duration of the assessment as required
  • Adhere to the PCI DSS assessment procedures
  • Evaluate compensating controls
  • Produce the final RoC

To find out more about external audits for large organizations, download our free green paper: PCI Audit Success in Nine Essential Steps.


For organizations that process fewer than six million card transactions annually

Most small merchants can use a self-validation tool to assess their level of cardholder data security. 

The SAQ (self-assessment questionnaire) includes a series of yes-or-no questions for each of the applicable PCI DSS requirements. There are nine different questionnaires available to meet different merchant environments.

Regardless of how many transactions you process, you will also be required to run internal and external network vulnerability scans at least quarterly and after any significant change in the network.

To find out more about self-assessment questionnaire for smaller organizations, download our free green paper: The PCI DSS and its SAQs.


Watch our free introductory webinar to the PCI DSS

For further information and a better understanding of the PCI DSS, why not listen to our free webinar? You’ll get expert advice from our QSA, who’ll explain how the PCI DSS applies to your organization.

The webinar covers:

  • What is the PCI DSS?
  • An introduction to the 12 requirements.
  • How to define your PCI DSS compliance level.
  • Your PCI validation requirements. 
  • Why it is important to comply. 
  • The penalties for non-compliance.

Download now


Discover our range of PCI DSS products and services

IT Governance provides services to support you at each stage of your organization’s PCI DSS compliance project. Whether you need to conduct a gap analysis, reduce the scope of your cardholder data environment, conduct a risk assessment or test the security of your systems and processes for vulnerabilities, we can help. View our range of products and services to find out more about what we can do.

PCI DSS products and services 


Speak to an expert

For more information about the PCI DSS and what your organization needs for compliance, please get in touch with one of our experts, who will be able to advise you further.