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What is PCI DSS?

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

PCI DSS Compliance

This article covers the basics of PCI DSS compliance – what it is, why it is important, risks associated with non-compliance, objectives, and requirements, and best practices to help you maintain compliance.

What is PCI DSS?

A group of security requirements known as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) was established in 2004 by American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Discover Financial Services, and JCB International. The compliance program, which is overseen by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC), strives to protect credit and debit card transactions from fraud and data theft.

Although the PCI SSC lacks the legal right to enforce compliance, doing so is necessary for every company that handles credit or debit card transactions. Additionally, PCI certification is considered a vital framework for protecting sensitive data and information, allowing firms to establish trustworthy relationships with their clients.

What is the latest version of PCI DSS?

To safeguard account data, PCI DSS defines a baseline of technological and operational criteria. PCI DSS has undergone numerous updates as a result of feedback from the international payments sector.
On March 31, 2022, the PCI SSC released PCI DSS version 4.0, replacing version 3.2.1 in order to better handle growing dangers and technologies and offer creative solutions to counter new threats. PCI DSS compliance validation is performed by a qualified security assessor (QSA), by an internal security assessor (ISA), or by a self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ) for companies with modest volumes of cardholder data.

Why is PCI DSS important?

Protects against data breaches: By putting PCI DSS into practice, you can ensure that all the customer-engagement channels your company employs are secure. It entails evaluating your website and keeping it updated frequently to remediate any vulnerabilities that could expose your cardholder data.
Helps retain customer trust: Applying the PCI DSS standard shows your clients that you are protecting their credit card information from online fraud. Cyberattacks, such as credit card fraud, can have a detrimental impact on a company’s brand image including lost opportunities, loss of customer trust, and hefty fines.

Provides a security framework: Businesses can use PCI DSS as a baseline for security requirements and best practices. Additionally, it offers instructions on how to manage your client data. By adhering to PCI standards, you ensure international payment card data security. You will be better equipped to devise business security plans which can allow you to comply with other security regulations like HIPAA, SOX, GDPR, and others as you work to achieve PCI compliance.

Enforces data encryption and endpoint authentication: PCI DSS promotes the use of TLS/SSL, a cryptographic protocol that provides authentication and end-to-end data encryption between different endpoints, such as when a customer’s web browser connects to a merchant’s web server. By implementing TLS/SSL for payment processing, you ensure that cardholder data is encrypted while in transit and protected from man-in-the-middle attacks.

Four Levels of PCI DSS Compliance

Four Levels of PCI DSS Compliance

Level 1: Applies to businesses that process over six million actual credit or debit card transactions each year. They must go through an annual internal audit, conducted by a PCI-accredited auditor. Additionally, once every three months, they must submit a PCI scan by an approved scanning vendor (ASV).

Level 2: Pertains to businesses that annually handle between one and six million actual credit or debit card transactions. Once a year, they must complete an evaluation via a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). A quarterly PCI scan might also be necessary.

Level 3: Represents businesses handling 20,000–1,000,000 e-commerce transactions annually. It is mandatory for them to complete an annual evaluation using the SAQ. A PCI scan every quarter may also be necessary.

Level 4: Applies to businesses that process up to one million physical transactions yearly or fewer than 20,000 e-commerce transactions annually. It could be necessary to perform a quarterly PCI scan in addition to the mandatory annual examination using the SAQ.

How does PCI DSS Compliance help secure payment account information?

With the PCI DSS, there are four ongoing processes to securing payment account information:
Assess: Assessment entails identifying all locations where payment account data is stored, making a list of all IT resources and business operations related to payment processing, examining them for vulnerabilities that could expose payment account data, implementing the required controls in place or updating them, and going through a formal PCI DSS assessment.

Remediate: Remediation entails detecting and addressing any security control gaps, patching vulnerabilities, effectively eliminating unnecessary storage of payment information, and setting up secure business procedures.

Report: This involves providing the compliance-accepting entity (acquiring bank or payment brands) with compliance reports that include assessment and remediation documentation.

Maintain and monitor: This process involves ensuring security measures are implemented to protect the payment environment and that the sensitive account data continues to operate efficiently throughout the year. In order to help maintain continued protection, these “business as usual” procedures should be instituted as part of an entity’s overall security strategy.

12 Requirements for PCI DSS Compliance

Goals Requirements
Build and Maintain a Secure Network and Systems 1. Install and maintain properly configured firewalls.
2. Configure passwords and maintain inventory of all systems, hardening/configuration procedures.
Protect Cardholder Data 3. Secure at-rest cardholder data by implementing industry-accepted encryption algorithms and strong PCI DSS encryption key management processes.
4. Encrypt cardholder data when transmitted across open public networks.
Maintain a Vulnerability Management Program 5. Update anti-virus and anti-malware programs regularly.
6. Implement measures to identify risks of security vulnerabilities and deploy critical patches regularly.
Implement Strong Access Control Measures 7. Enforce strong role-based access control (RBAC) to restrict unauthorized access to cardholder data.
8. Assign complex unique identifiers and passwords to trace known user activities and maintain accountability.
9. Enforce physical access controls to cardholder data.
Regularly Monitor and Test Networks 10. Implement strict log management and create audit trails.
11. Conduct file monitoring, vulnerability tests, and penetration scans regularly to detect anomalous activities if any.
Maintain an Information Security Policy 12. Schedule periodic risk assessments, and maintain organization-wide security policy for all employees, vendors, contractors, and other relevant parties.

Risks associated with PCI DSS Non-Compliance

The serious repercussions of PCI DSS non-compliance include:

  • Insurance claims, account cancellations, lawsuits, heavy penalties, and government fines
  • Compromised data adversely impacting customers, businesses, and financial institutions
  • Tarnishing your brand image and impairing your ability to conduct business successfully
  • Lower share prices for public firms as well as catastrophic losses in sales, connections, and community status

Best Practices to Achieve PCI DSS Compliance

Data transparency: Knowing exactly where your data is stored and where it’s transmitted is critical in the age of compliance, not only with PCI DSS but also with data protection standards like the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Employee training: Businesses must not overlook the human factor when ensuring PCI DSS compliance. While software such as DLP, ARM, or antivirus can significantly boost security, it is far more effective when employees know its purpose. The relevance of PCI DSS and the repercussions of non-compliance must be clearly communicated to employees through industry-specific training, which businesses must invest in.

Maintain and audit logs: Organizations must maintain records of all their security policies and processes, risk assessments, and security incidents to comply with PCI DSS. Strong documentation enables businesses to demonstrate compliance and aids CIOs and security professionals in making educated decisions about upcoming security measures.

Restrict access to cardholder data: Access control keeps confidential information such as customers’ financial information and intellectual property from falling into the wrong hands. It’s a core component of zero-trust security frameworks, which use various mechanisms to continuously verify network, application, and data access. With Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), access is granted based on defined business functions rather than the individual user’s identity. The goal is to provide users with access only to sensitive data deemed necessary for their roles within the organization. This widely used method is based on a combination of role assignments, authorizations, and permissions.

Efficient management of digital certificates and cryptographic keys: To achieve and maintain PCI DSS compliance, PKI and digital certificates are essential. Digital Certificates are backed by cryptography and are used to protect data, maintain the privacy and security of communications, and build trust between communicating parties. However, certificates must be properly secured and maintained to ensure PCI compliance. PCI DSS stipulates that strong cryptography must be implemented, which includes using industry-recognized protocols with proper key strengths and key management.

Conclusion

PCI DSS compliance has become increasingly relevant with the rise of digital payments. Protecting cardholder data wherever it is processed, stored, or transmitted is the aim of PCI DSS. The primary account number (PAN), which is printed on the front of credit and debit cards, as well as other cardholder account data, must be protected using the security procedures and controls mandated by PCI DSS.

Security, encryption, and authentication are crucial while processing digital payments. Compared to in-store card payments, the likelihood of fraud is far higher with online digital payments. Therefore, businesses must implement efficient security measures to detect fraud and ensure card validation and authentication. Overall, PCI SCC and PCI DSS compliance are helping to ensure safer digital payment experiences for all consumers.

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