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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 (Payment Card Industry 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.


Who needs to comply with the PCI DSS?

The PCI DSS applies to any organization (regardless of size or number of transactions) that accepts, stores, transmits or processes cardholder data.

  • 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.

Speak to a PCI DSS expert

We provide services to support you at each stage of your organisation’s PCI DSS compliance project. Call our team on 0333 800 7000, or request a call back using the form below. Our experts are ready and waiting with practical advice.

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Why is PCI DSS compliance important?

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

According to Javelin Strategy & Researchs' 2019 Identity Fraud Study, in 2018, payment card financial fraud totalled $14.7 billion in the US. The study also notes that criminals are beginning to focus on different financial accounts, such as loyalty and rewards programs as well retirement accounts.

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

  • Compromized card readers
  • Filed paper records
  • Cardholder data stored in databases
  • Rogue access to your organization’s wireless or wired network; and
  • Concealed cameras 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 that lets organizations know what action they should take.

A key benefit of the Standard is the detailed action plan it provides – this can be applied to organizations of any size or type that use any method of processing or storing payment card data.


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 judgements
  • 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 2019 Trustwave Global Security Report identified that threat actors targeted payment card data in most incidents, with CNP (card-not-present) data making up nearly 25% of events, and card-track (magnetic stripe) data comprising 11%.

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 12 PCI DSS requirements

The PCI DSS specifies 12 requirements that are organized into 6 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 number of card transactions processed annually by your organization.

To find out more about the 12 requirements, read our dedicated information page>>

Assessing the security of your cardholder data

Many organizations use a three-step process to achieve PCI DSS compliance:

  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 6 million card transactions annually

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

The QSA 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 6 million card transactions annually

Most small merchants can use an SAQ (self-assessment questionnaire), consisting of yes–no questions, to assess their level of cardholder data security. 

There are nine different questionnaires available to meet different merchant environments; most organizations would not need to complete all nine.

Regardless of how many transactions you process, you must also run internal and external network vulnerability scans at least quarterly and after any significant changes in the network.

To find out more about the SAQ for smaller organisations, download our free green paper: The PCI DSS and its SAQs >>

Discover our range of bestselling PCI DSS products and services

IT Governance provides services to support you at each stage of your organisation’s PCI DSS compliance project. Whether you need to conduct a gap analysis, reduce the scope of your CDE, conduct a risk assessment, or test the security of your systems and processes for vulnerabilities, we can help.

View our range of bestselling products and services to find out more about what we can do.

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