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Understanding PCI DSS: A Guide to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard

Understanding PCI DSS: A Guide to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard

Blog Article Published: 02/26/2024

Originally published by BARR Advisory.

Written by Kyle Cohlmia.


According to a report by The Ascent, credit card fraud remained the most common type of identity theft in 2023. In today’s digital age, where online transactions have become an integral part of our daily lives, the security of payment card information is essential. That’s why the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) exists—a crucial framework for protecting sensitive data.

No matter the size of your organization, if you store, process, or transmit credit card information, you’ll want to comply with the PCI DSS in order to avoid hefty fines, and most importantly, keep your customer’s information secure. Let’s dive into the intricacies of PCI DSS, exploring its significance, requirements, the impact it has on businesses, and what to expect when achieving compliance.


What is PCI DSS?

PCI DSS is a set of security standards established to safeguard payment card information and prevent unauthorized access. Developed by major credit card companies, including Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, the standard aims to create a secure environment for processing, storing, and transmitting cardholder data.

PCI DSS compliance involves three main components:

  • Handling customer credit card data securely from start to finish. More specifically, making sure that sensitive card details are collected and transmitted appropriately.
  • Storing data securely as outlined by the 12 security domains of the PCI DSS standard, such as encryption, ongoing monitoring, and security testing of access to cardholder data.
  • Validating that required security controls are in place on an annual basis. This can include security questionnaires, external vulnerability scanning services, and third-party audits.


Key Components of PCI DSS

PCI DSS includes 12 major requirements that your organization can use as a roadmap to compliance.

  1. Install and maintain a firewall
  2. Eliminate vendor default setting
  3. Protect stored cardholder data
  4. Encrypt payment data transmission
  5. Update antivirus software regularly
  6. Deploy security systems and applications
  7. Restrict cardholder data as necessary
  8. Assign user access identification
  9. Track and monitor network access
  10. Ongoing systems and process testing
  11. Create and maintain an infosec policy

In 2022, the framework released PCI DSS 4.0—updated from the previous version, PCI DSS 3.2. While the 12 primary PCI DSS requirements will continue to be the core foundation for securing cardholder data under the PCI DSS framework, these requirements have been updated, restructured, and new requirements have been added to offer guidance on how security controls should be used.


Why PCI DSS Matters

PCI DSS is a framework which serves as a baseline of protection for consumers. There are many benefits to adhering to the standard:

  • Build customer and stakeholder trust: Compliance with PCI DSS instills confidence among customers and stakeholders, assuring them that their payment information is handled securely.
  • Achieve legal compliance: Many jurisdictions require businesses to comply with PCI DSS as part of legal regulations related to data protection.
  • Avoidance of financial loss: Non-compliance can lead to data breaches, resulting in financial losses, legal repercussions, and damage to a company’s reputation.
  • Maintain global acceptance: PCI DSS is recognized globally, making it essential for businesses that operate on an international scale.


Achieving PCI DSS Compliance—What to Expect During Your Engagement

Implementing PCI DSS requirements doesn’t have to be complex. Take a look at the five essential steps to achieving PCI DSS compliance.

  1. Scope definition: Clearly define and document the scope of your cardholder data environment (CDE) to identify where cardholder data is processed, transmitted, and stored.
  2. Assessment of compliance: Conduct a self-assessment, readiness assessment, and engage a qualified security assessor (QSA) to evaluate your organization’s compliance with PCI DSS requirements.
  3. Remediation: Address any vulnerabilities or non-compliance issues identified during the assessment. Implement necessary security measures and controls.
  4. Validation: Complete the necessary documentation and submit compliance reports to the required parties for official validation.
  5. Ongoing monitoring and updates: Implement continuous monitoring of security controls, conduct regular security testing, and update security measures to address emerging threats.

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