PCI Compliance: Definition, Overview and Benefits

Payment card industry (PCI) compliance is the global security standard for organizations that accept consumer credit card payments. PCI compliance entails a variety of best practices, security measures and benchmarks to help you manage how you collect and store information while processing transactions. Let’s break down what you need to know about PCI compliance, its primary benefits, and how your organization can streamline the process of achieving PCI compliance.

What Is PCI Compliance?

Credit card companies require payment card industry compliance to help improve the security of transactions.

PCI compliance is the technical and operational requirements your business needs to follow to protect consumer credit card data. It’s a comprehensive set of policies ranging from regular system upkeep to clearly delineated user permissions.

The PCI Security Standards Council develops and manages compliance standards to help organizations fortify their security systems and prioritize consumer data protection.

PCI compliance requirements include:

  • Security against malicious software
  • Routine network maintenance
  • Cardholder data encryption
  • Restricted internal access to sensitive data

PCI Credit Card Compliance Overview

PCI compliance may seem challenging if you are unfamiliar with the terminology or the latest cybersecurity best practices. But you don’t have to do it alone. You can achieve compliance and minimize risk by partnering with a trusted, experienced payment service provider. (List of approved QSA) Still, it is valuable for your business to grasp the fundamentals of PCI compliance. Here is an overview to get a better understanding:

  • It’s a continuous exercise: PCI compliance is an ongoing process that your organization should review yearly.
  • Your payment methods have an impact: The type of payment services you offer can affect the amount of work you need to do to remain compliant.
  • There’s variation in requirements: Your compliance requirements depend on the size of your organization and the number of card payments you process annually.
  • Your transaction count matters: PCI compliance rules sort businesses into four groups. Level one merchants have the most requirements to meet because they process over six million annual transactions across channels. Smaller organizations will have fewer transactions and fewer rules to follow.
  • Merchant account providers may add requirements: To accept credit card payments, you need a merchant account and service provider. If you have a merchant account, your payment service provider should have PCI compliance-related requirements included in the terms and conditions of your agreement.

6 Primary Goals of PCI Compliance

The principles that guide the 12 PCI requirements can be summarized in six main goals:

  • Build and maintain a secure network and systems: Use strong passwords, firewalls, and/or software security technology to protect your network from hackers.
  • Protect account data: Keep your customers’ data safer with encryption, tokenization, and other ways to disguise sensitive information.
  • Maintain a vulnerability management program: Establish a vulnerability management program that helps protect your organization from malware.
  • Implement strong access control measures: Restrict which employees can access cardholder information. ensure limited users have access in-person and online.
  • Regularly monitor and test networks: Test your networks regularly and track who is accessing cardholder data.
  • Maintain an information security policy: Your staff must be familiar with internal procedures and regulations in dealing with cardholder data.

12 Requirements for PCI Compliance

The PCI Security Standards Council provides 12 requirements for businesses to be compliant. Here is an overview of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) requirements:

Goal: Build and Maintain a Secure Network and Systems

  • Install and maintain network security controls: Install and update a network security device or software defined technologies that check traffic entering and exiting your network, identifying, and blocking potential cyber threats. Test your networks and control connections to untrusted networks.
  • Apply secure configurations to all system components: You must define and implement processes and mechanisms that ensure the configuration and management of system components are secured. For instance you may do this by changing vendor-supplied, generic passwords and settings, removing or restricting functionality where necessary, encrypting access or enabling only essential services.

Goal: Protect Account Data

  • Safeguard stored account data: Protect payment data. Implement policies for disposing of cardholder data, avoid storing sensitive data and limit what you keep, which should be strictly what is necessary for the needs of the business.
  • Protect cardholder data with strong cryptography during transmission over open, public networks: Do not send unprotected account numbers (PAN) and sensitive personal information by any end user communication technology. Instead, use strong cryptography.

Goal: Maintain a Vulnerability Management Program

  • Protect all systems and networks from malicious software: Put mechanisms and processes in place to protect your networks and systems from malicious software and malware. Equip your staff with mechanisms to protect them from phishing attacks.
  • Develop and maintain secure systems and software: Spend time reviewing vulnerabilities and risks, then implement processes and systems to provide protection, including following secure development and coding practices.

Goal: Implement Strong Access Control Measures

  • Restrict access to cardholder data by business need-to-know: Restrict cardholder data to only users who need to use the information to complete transactions. Define access roles, privileges and controls so only authorized users can access data.
  • Identify users and authenticate access to system components: Authenticate users and document policies, and see that each user has unique, identifying credentials. For a production environment where you have account data stored Multi Factor Authentication must be implemented.
  •  Restrict physical access to cardholder data: Mechanisms to restrict access to cardholder data must be in place. For instance point-of-sale devices must be protected from tampering or non-authorized substitution.

Goal: Regularly Monitor and Test Networks

  • Log and monitor all access to system components and cardholder data: Ensure your system has an audit trail, and leverage time-stamped tracking tools. These tools can show you when employees access data and help you review logs and identify suspicious activity.
  • Test security of systems and networks regularly: Test and catalog wireless access points. Schedule frequent security vulnerability assessments and proactively monitor traffic.

Goal: Maintain an Information Security Policy

  • Support information security with organizational policies and programs: Establish, publish, and share your company’s information security policy. Explicitly state rules for technologies, key responsibilities, and best practices. Give new employees the policy once signed on. Consider that education on security awareness must be an ongoing activity.

Payment service providers help you manage PCI compliance, making the 12 requirements and six goals simple for you to oversee. Robust platforms will have many of the rules built-in, automating the process. The bottom line is that you do not have to go at it alone.

Note on PCI DSS V4.0

March 2024 marks the beginning of PCI DSS version 4.0 application. Full implementation of PCI 4.0 requirements is effective March 2025.   The latest version of the standard includes many changes that you can check here. A summary of some of the reasons for the changes comprise:

  • Evolution of security needs: As threats evolve, security practices must evolve as well. That is why PCI DSS V4.0 includes requirements for multi factor authentication, password updates and e-commerce and anti-phishing.
  • Security promotion as a continuous process: To face ever changing malicious conducts you need to keep a recurring, well defined and strong policy and processes.
  • Increase flexibility to achieve security objectives: Your organization may adopt an innovative or different approach to achieve some objectives, while maintaining strict controls and processes and keeping the security objectives at the core of your planning and execution.

Enhance procedures and validation methods: Achieve transparency and granularity by designing for clear validation and aligned reports.


How to Achieve PCI Compliance

To become PCI compliant, you need to meet the requirements, do an assessment and complete a security scan:

  • Meet the requirements: Your organization must comply with the PCI Security Council’s rules and any amendments to provisions and sub-requirements.
  • Complete an evaluation: Your organization should complete an assessment showing your security systems and measures to safeguard consumer information. Smaller organizations may complete a self-assessment. Larger enterprises must use third-party auditors to assist.
  • Perform a security scan: Your organization must scan the network you use to process payments. The scan is highly specialized and technical, and it benefits from expert assistance from an independent firm.

Becoming PCI Compliant

For PCI compliance, your organization must undergo a rigorous annual assessment. Although the requirements are universal, your business may need to adhere to additional rules and undergo more stringent checks. Depending on the size of your organization and the amount of transactions you process annually, you will fall into four main categories:

  • Level one organizations: If you process more than six million Visa payments annually across various channels, you fall into level one. You will have the most robust assessments and rules you must adhere to.
  • Level two organizations: Level two organizations complete between one and six million Visa transactions yearly.
  • Level three organizations: If you process between 20 thousand and one million Visa payments every year, you fall into level three.
  • Level four organizations: Level four organizations process under 20 thousand Visa transactions each year.

PCI Security Standards Council may move organizations that have received a cyber attack resulting in data loss into a higher validation level—regardless of the yearly transaction amounts.

What Are the Benefits of Credit Card PCI Compliance?

Your organization benefits from continuously evaluating and maintaining your security systems and addressing gaps. Other benefits of being PCI compliant include:

  • Minimizing the risk of data breaches
  • Protecting cardholder data
  • Reducing the risk of consumer identity theft
  • Identifying, monitoring and addressing security vulnerabilities
  • Decreasing the risk of paying fines associated with data breaches
  • Safeguarding your organization’s reputation
  • Keeping customers happy and confident when transacting with you

Frequently Asked Credit Card Compliance Questions

Have more questions? Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) answered.

1. Who Must Be PCI Compliant?

If your organization accepts, transmits or stores cardholders’ personal data, you must be PCI compliant.

2. What Does PCI Compliance Mean?

PCI compliance means that your organization meets the various security requirements that the PCI Security Standards Council provides. Meeting this compliance means the way your organization accepts, transmits and stores data is safe, private and secure according to the PCI mandate.

3. Is PCI Compliance Required by Law?

PCI Security Standard Council monitors the implementation of standards. PCI SSC standard is at the discretion of organizations that manage compliance programs, such as a payment brand, acquirer, or other entities.

4. How Do I Become PCI Compliant?

PCI compliance is achieved by completing a self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ) or hiring an approved vendor third-party auditor to complete the assessment, CSG Partners with Aperia, a QSA Approved Vendor. Upon completing the self- assessment questionnaire, and vulnerability scan (if applicable), submit all documentation and evidence to your payment processor (CSG Forte).

5. What Are Examples of PCI Compliance and Data Breaches?

When there are large PCI violations and data breaches it is often newsworthy. The sheer volume of the data and the high profile of the companies involved make these events prominent in the public eye, harming brands’ reputations and exposing millions of consumers to theft and identity fraud. However, it’s key to remember that cybercriminals target companies of all sizes and industries and no business is immune.

6. What Can My Business Do to Simplify Becoming PCI Compliant?

Although the technical aspects of completing the PCI assessment may be beyond the scope of what you can do yourself, your organization can take steps to make the process easier. Focusing on data hygiene is a good example. Here is a PCI compliance checklist:

  • Ensure your organization uses strong passwords and has strict protocols to enforce this.
  • Keep your software updated.
  • Only store the data you need.
  • Be wary of links—encourage employees to think twice before clicking on suspicious links.
  • Explain to employees the importance of protecting consumer data and the implications of not doing so.

Meet PCI Requirements With CSG Forte

Boost your payment security and protect customers’ sensitive data with CSG Forte’s secure payment solutions. Leverage the industry’s highest security standards with a platform with built-in PCI compliance mandates. CSG Forte provides:

  • Secure payments: Keep your consumer data safe with every transaction with CSG Forte’s advanced technology standards and protocols.
  • Tokenization: Leverage randomly generated tokens with no intrinsic value to replace cards, automated clearing house (ACH) networks and other sensitive data. Tokenization helps your organization safeguard against digital security breaches.
  • End-to-end encryption: Using PCI-validated end-to-end encryption, you can disguise credit card data during transmission. The encryption ensures card data is valueless if intercepted.
  • Hosted payment pages: Make sure your organization never stores data in your system using hosted payment pages (HPPs) or external checkout pages. CSG’s platform enables you to provide secure checkouts that won’t require you to manage and collect sensitive data during transactions. Third-party checkout is the easiest, most popular and safest way to accept online payments.
  • Adherence to compliance standards: Benefit from adhering to the most robust, reliable and up-to-date compliance programs. CSG’s security and compliance experts focus on delivering solutions in compliance with various mandates. We hold ISO 27001:2013 certification and maintain PCI DSS v3.2.1 compliance and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance. We deliver SSAE 18 / ISAE 3402 SOC 1 Type II reports to ensure your organization’s credibility, accuracy and system security in safeguarding consumer data.

Streamline Your PCI Compliance Requirements

Protect your consumer’s data and prioritize security by leveraging CSG Forte’s award-winning payment platform. Our easy-to-integrate and navigate solution streamlines your payments, helping you process your transactions in one place.

Meet PCI compliance requirements with our built-in functionalities and tools, simplifying secure transactions. Build consumer trust and have peace of mind knowing your payment systems are robust and leveraging the latest security technology.

For over two decades and counting, CSG Forte has been helping thousands of government, insurance, telecom and other industry merchants optimize security, scale their business and process omnichannel payments efficiently.

For help achieving PCI compliance and get the support you need to make processing payments frictionless you can contact our team: whether if you are  a new merchant or an existing merchant.