What Is PCI DSS Compliance

Written by Web Hosting Expert

July 13, 2022
What Is PCI DSS Compliance

Online retail is an ever-expanding world with over two billion online shoppers. Out of the five billion Internet users, 75% shop online at least once per month. Of all online orders, 58% are made from mobile devices, while 39% are desktop orders. And as you probably know, online shopping is done with credit or debit card payments.

This is where PCI DSS compliance comes in to protect the consumers while they shop online. And seeing as online shopping is massive, with eCommerce sales amounting to $5.5 trillion in 2022, PCI DSS compliance is especially important for eCommerce websites.

What Is PCI DSS Compliance?

PCI DSS stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. It's a set of requirements and standards that were put in place to make debit and credit card transactions more secure and to protect debit or credit card information.

The PCI DSS compliance was created in 2004 by Visa, MasterCard, Discover Financial Services, JCB International, and American Express. It's governed and enforced by the PCI Security Standards Council, which is an independent board that provides resources to keep all cardholder information safe.

The PCI Security Standards Council or PCI SSC cannot legally compel retailers to comply. However, PCI certification is widely regarded as the most effective way to protect sensitive data and information, allowing businesses to develop long-term, respected relations with clients.

How Does PCI Compliance Work?

How Does PCI Compliance Work

PCI compliance is a set of requirements that businesses that handle cardholder data must include in their frameworks. Those requirements cover different processes and practices that businesses must apply to secure card information. Being PCI DSS compliant is an ongoing process that has three steps:

  • Assessing
    This step includes identifying and making an inventory list of assets and processes related to handling cardholder data and analyzing those processes to find vulnerabilities if there are any
  • Repairing
    This includes fixing vulnerabilities if there are any
  • Reporting
    This involves documenting the assessment process, and any repairing that was made to fix vulnerabilities, and these compliance reports are sent to banks or the credit card company you work with

PCI DSS compliance can be different for specific businesses based on their activities. In general, however, there are five core principles that all businesses must comply with to remain PCI compliant:

  • Continuously reducing the vulnerable attack surface

  • Incorporate PCI DSS in day-to-day operations

  • Constant monitoring for suspicious activities

  • Perform environment penetration tests regularly

  • Consulting an expert to confirm PCI DSS compliance

Why PCI Compliance Is Important

As mentioned, being PCI compliant is not mandated by law. However, it is mandated and enforced by the PCI SSC and most major card processing companies like Visa and MasterCard. So, if you want to work with any of the major credit card companies, you must be PCI compliant.

Being PCI compliant is a good look for your business as well because it tells customers that you will go out of your way to protect their card information, keep it safe, and ensure that it isn't misused. Other reasons why PCI compliance is important are:

  • It helps build trust between you and your customers.

  • It boosts your reputation as a trustworthy business.

  • It helps in preventing data breaches and subsequent customer loss.

  • It helps businesses assess and limit their exposure to potential financial losses when working with credit card processing companies.

  • Companies that do not comply with PCI may face financial penalties by the PCI SSC.

Who Do PCI DSS Requirements Apply To

Who Do PCI DSS Requirements Apply To

All companies and service providers that have access to or process cardholder data have to be PCI compliant. Also, all companies that connect to or can impact the security of a customer's CDE have to comply with PCI DSS. Basically, all of the following businesses must be PCI DSS compliant:

  • Manufacturers

  • Software developers

  • Merchants

  • Credit card processing companies

  • Any other company or website that stores, processes, or transmits cardholder data

So, even if you have a small business that doesn't generate a lot of website traffic, you must be PCI compliant if you accept credit or debit card payments.

PCI DSS Compliance Levels

PCI DSS compliance has four different levels. The levels are based on how many credit or debit card transactions one business processes. The level you're on tells you what you need to do to remain compliant. The compliance levels are as follows:

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

More than 6 million transactions per year

From 1 to 6 million transactions per year

From 20 000 to 1 million transactions per year

Less than 20 000 transactions per year

  • Level 1
    Pertains to merchants that process more than 6 million real-world credit or debit card transactions per year. These merchants have to undergo an internal audit performed by a PCI-authorized auditor once a year. Also, they have to submit a PCI scan done by an Approved Scanning Vendor or ASV four times a year
  • Level 2
    Pertains to merchants that process from 1 to 6 million real-world credit or debit card transactions per year. Merchants in this level have to complete one assessment per year by filling out a Self-Assessment Questionnaire or SAQ. They also might have to perform PCI scans four times a year
  • Level 3
    Pertains to merchants that process from 20 000 to 1 million real-world credit or debit card transactions per year. These merchants have to complete one assessment per year by doing a Self-Assessment Questionnaire, and they also might have to perform PCI scans four times a year
  • Level 4
    Pertains to merchants that process less than 20 000 eCommerce credit or debit card transactions per year or up to 1 million real-world transactions. These merchants have to complete the appropriate Self-Assessment Questionnaire or SAQ once a year, and they might also need to perform PCI scans four times a year

12 PCI DSS Compliance Requirements

PCI DSS compliance consists of 12 requirements that are part of six commanding goals. The PCI SSC requires all merchants and businesses to complete the following requirements to be PCI DSS compliant:

Goal 1: Create and maintain a secure network

  • 1. Use firewalls
    All merchants must install and maintain firewalls to protect and block access to cardholders' data. PCI DSS requires that merchants have firewalls because they are an effective and efficient way to protect data from getting hacked.

  • 2. Strong passwords
    All merchants must have original passwords and not ones that are supplied by vendors. Also, it is recommended that the passwords are changed often.

Goal 2: Cardholder data must be protected

  • 3. Use encryption
    All cardholder data must be encrypted. Also, encryption keys should be further encrypted. PCI DSS compliance requires encryption to be incorporated into the system with an encryption key. Also, all businesses have to have Primary Account Numbers or PAN and update them regularly.

  • 4. Encrypted transmissions
    All cardholder data needs to be encrypted when transmitted to public networks or sent to known locations like payment processors. Additionally, merchants cannot send cardholder data to unknown locations.

Goal 3: Manage vulnerability

  • 5. Install and maintain antivirus
    All merchants must install antivirus software to prevent computers from malware and potential credit or debit card data theft. All merchants must have antivirus software on all devices that process or store credit or debit card data.

  • 6. Update software
    Antivirus software and firewalls must be updated regularly and properly. Also, all other software needs to be up to date, especially for devices that interact with cardholder data.

Goal 4: Have strong access control

  • 7. Restrict cardholder data access
    Aall merchants must limit the sharing of cardholder data and should be given only to relevant parties. So, employees, contractors, executives, etc. who do not need the data should not have access to it.

  • 8. Use unique IDs
    All parties that have access to cardholder data should have a unique ID and strong password in order to access the data so that the data is less vulnerable.

  • 9. Limited physical access
    ll merchants must store cardholder data in secure and protected locations. The location where the data is kept should have logs of anyone who enters it and should be under lock and key.

Goal 5: Networks have to be monitored and tested regularly

  • 10. Implement access logs
    All merchants should document any activities regarding cardholder data. All merchants should keep records of where the data comes from, who accesses it, and how often it is accessed.

  • 11. Conduct regular testing of security systems and processes
    All merchants must perform regular scanning and testing for vulnerabilities so that any issues can be fixed in a quick and timely manner.

Goal 6: Information security policy

  • 12. Keep records of policies
    All merchants need to document their business' inventory, logs regarding cardholder data, where the data comes from, how and where it's stored, and how the data is used after the point of sale.

Benefits of PCI DSS Compliance

Benefits of PCI DSS Compliance

There are a plethora of benefits that come from being PCI DSS compliant. It might seem like a lot at first, but with the right tools like encryption, firewalls, payments solutions, etc., it becomes easier for businesses to be and remain compliant. PCI DSS compliance can be quite beneficial, and here's why:

  • It builds trust
    Being PCI DSS compliant builds trust between your company and customers as it ensures them that they can trust you with their credit or debit card data.
  • Protects against data breaches
    PCI DSS compliant means that companies are harder to attack because of the required firewalls, anti-virus software, etc. Also, PCI DSS compliant companies become less valuable to hackers because the companies cannot retain cardholder details which means that hackers will not find what they're looking for, even if they successfully hack the company.
  • Enables you to work with major credit card companies
    As mentioned, PCI DSS compliance was introduced by the leading credit card companies, which demand that their merchant be PCI DSS compliant to use their services.
  • Enhanced security
    To be PCI DSS compliant, you must have top-notch security, which also benefits you as a merchant as your business will be less vulnerable to attacks. This will decrease the possibility of data breaches, which will, in turn, build up your credibility and reputation.

PCI Compliance Challenges

PCI DSS compliance can seem like an unreachable goal at first. Sometimes, even the largest companies have difficulty remaining compliant. Moreover, smaller businesses can also struggle with meeting all the requirements and installing top-notch security, especially when the business is new.

However, not complying with PCI DSS can cause damages to your business that you may never recover from. Here are some potential challenges that might occur if you are not PCI DSS compliant:

  • Your business will be more vulnerable to data breaches.

  • Customers could lose their confidence and trust and go to a competitor.

  • Without the required security by PCI DSS, your business could be subject to cyber-attacks more frequently, which can severely damage your reputation.

  • You could face monetary fees for being non-compliant.

  • You may not be able to work with the biggest credit card companies because you do not meet their security standards.

PCI Mobile Payment Acceptance Security Guidelines for Merchants as End-Users

The PCI SSC introduced the PCI Mobile Payment Acceptance Security Guidelines for Merchants as End-Users in 2013 to inform merchants of the risks of transmitting cardholder data via mobile devices.

These guidelines summarised the most significant risks that mobile payment transactions could bring. Some of them refer to account data entering the device, account data stored in the device, and account data leaving the device.

Additionally, these guidelines provided recommendations for what measures merchants should implement to secure the mobile devices that are used for payments and how to secure the hardware and software of said devices.

PCI DSS Versions

  • PCI DSS 2.0
    Is the second version of the PCI DSS that was created in 2011. It provided more clear language and explanations to clarify the 12 requirements, reinforced thorough scoping before an assessment, discussed more effective log management, and broadened validation requirements for vulnerability assessment.
  • PCI DSS 3.0
    Is the third version of PCI DSS that introduced new requirements, one of which was regarding methodology-based testing to verify the appropriate separation of the merchant CDE from the underlying IT infrastructure.
  • PCI DSS 3.2
    Was introduced in 2016 and included clarifications and explanations regarding the old, new, or evolving requirements and provided additional guidance for merchants. It also offered protection against existing card exploits, discussed new exploits, and provided more clarity regarding the implanting and maintaining of PCI DSS controls.


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The Bottom Line

PCI DSS compliance is crucial for all merchants and companies that want to work with the biggest credit card companies. Compliance with PCI DSS also brings many other benefits, like lasting and trusting relationships with customers, good credibility in your industry, enhanced security for your company, etc.

On the other hand, not being PCI DSS compliant can cause significant damage to your reputation and business overall. Those damages can be in the form of monetary fees, inability to work with the biggest credit card companies, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

What security is proved by the data host?

Your host will provide firewalls, antivirus and encryption as standard.

Is security concerned with social networking software?

Security and safety are a concern for every user and software company. This is also true when it comes to social networking applications, especially given the fact that a lot of people share information with the service.

Does my ecommerce store need to be PCI compliant?

Yes, if you’re going to be accepting payments via credit and debit card you’ll need to meet PCI regulations.

Why should I get an SSL certificate?

You need an SSL certificate to convey trust to users, prevent attackers, verify ownership of your website, and keep your user data secure.

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