PCI Compliance: Definition, Overview and Benefits

Payment card industry (PCI) compliance is the 12 security standards your organization should adhere to when accepting consumer credit card payments. PCI compliance includes various best practices, security measures and benchmarks to help you manage how you collect and store information while processing transactions.

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 credit card data provided by consumers when making payments to you.

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

PCI Credit Card Compliance Overview

PCI compliance may frustrate you if you are unfamiliar with the requirements and terminology or feel unacquainted with the latest cybersecurity best practices. You can achieve compliance and minimize risk by partnering with a trusted, experienced payment service provider. 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 an annual exercise: PCI compliance is an ongoing process that your organization should review yearly.
  • There’s variation in requirements: Your compliance requirements depend on the size of your organization and the number of card payments you process annually.
  • The amount of transactions 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.
  • Your payment methods can have an impact: The type of payment services you offer can affect the amount of work you need to do to remain compliant.
  • Merchant account providers may include 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.

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:

  1. Use and maintain a firewall: Install and update a network security device that checks traffic entering and exiting your network, identifying and blocking potential cyber threats. Test your networks and restrict connections to untrusted networks.
  2. Safeguard stored cardholder data: Protect any stored data. Implement policies for disposing of cardholder data, avoid storing sensitive data and limit what you keep.
  3. Update default passwords and security measures: Change vendor-supplied, generic passwords and settings. Remove or restrict functionality where necessary, encrypt access and enable only essential services.
  4. Use and update antivirus software: Perform regular antivirus scans and track results. Update your software with the latest releases and verify that the software continues to function.
  5. Encrypt cardholder data when transmitting it: Don’t send unprotected account numbers and sensitive personal information by email, instant messaging, chat or any other end user communication technology.
  6. Keep data on a need-to-use basis: 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.
  7. Develop and implement security processes and systems: Spend time reviewing vulnerabilities and risks, then implement processes and systems to provide protection.
  8. Routinely check security systems: Test and catalog wireless access points. Schedule quarterly security vulnerability assessments and proactively monitor traffic.
  9. Create and maintain an information security policy: Establish, publish and share your company’s information security policy yearly or more. Explicitly state rules for technologies, key responsibilities and best practices. Give new employees the policy once signed on.
  10. Implement user IDs for everyone with computer access: Authenticate users, document policies and see that each user has unique, identifying credentials.
  11. Monitor and restrict access to cardholder data: Restrict physical access to data. Use cameras and security systems to see who is in sensitive business areas and who works with systems housing cardholder data.
  12. Track who accesses cardholder data and networks: 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.

6 Primary Goals of PCI Compliance

The 12 PCI requirements may seem lengthy and like a lot to achieve. The principles behind the requirements can be summarized in six main goals:

  • Establish and maintain a secure network: Use strong passwords, firewalls and security technology to protect your network from hackers.
  • Safeguard cardholder data: Keep your customers’ data safer with encryption, tokenization and other ways to disguise sensitive information.
  • Monitor and manage system vulnerabilities: Establish a vulnerability management program that helps protect your organization from malware.
  • Implement access control measures: Restrict which employees can access cardholder information. Ensure limited users have access in-person and online.
  • Check and monitor your networks: Test your networks regularly and track who is accessing cardholder data.
  • Create a formal information security policy: Your staff must be familiar with internal procedures and regulations in dealing with cardholder data.

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 don’t have to go at it alone.

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. How Do I Get PCI Compliance?

You get PCI compliance by completing a self-assessment questionnaire or hiring third-party auditors to complete the assessment. Once you hold a completed questionnaire, you must do a professional vulnerability scan and possess evidence of the scan by a PCI Security Standards Council-approved vendor, like CSG Forte. The final step is to submit all documentation and evidence to the PCI Security Standards Council.

3. Is PCI Compliance Required by Law?

There are currently no laws and regulations making PCI compliance mandatory. PCI compliance is, however, binding through court precedent, meaning courts must follow the decisions of higher courts that fall under the same jurisdiction.

4. What Is the Meaning of PCI Compliance?

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.

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

Examples of some PCI violations and data breaches include:

  • Warner Music Group (WMG) breach: Hackers united to form the group Magecart. Magecart targeted WMG in 2020. The group targeted online card payments and skimming consumer data from third-party software. Magecart exposed and exploited WMG customers’ personal and financial data. The company reported the breach and assisted impacted customers with a year’s free identity monitoring.
  • Equifax breach: In 2017, Equifax admitted to suffering a significant data breach. The breach put an estimated 143 million Americans at risk for identify theft.
  • First American Financial Corporation breach: In 2019, a design defect on the financial corporation’s website led to 885 million records being exposed. A user reported the exposed files and the company quickly took action, but information like bank account numbers, social security numbers and wire transactions were accessible to anyone.

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

Although the technical aspects of completing the PCI assessment may be beyond your scope to 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.

Contact our team for help achieving PCI compliance and get the support you need to make processing payments frictionless.