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PCI Compliance: What You Should Know

Aug 28, 2018 | Articles

The Payment Card Industry (PCI) is responsible for establishing and enforcing data security guidelines to keep banks, merchants and consumers safe from fraudulent abuse. If your organization captures, processes, stores, or transmits credit or debit card information of any kind, you’re expected to adhere to these data security standards.

This is true whether you run a for-profit business or a charitable foundation.

Although PCI compliance isn’t mandatory (in any legal sense), noncompliance means your organization will almost certainly face some or all of the following:

  • Having fraudulent activity infect your payment environment
  • Paying punitive fees — levied by banks and payment processors
  • Having your merchant account downgraded or permanently terminated
  • Losing hours of valuable time as you dispute fraudulent charges
  • Becoming embroiled in costly litigation and expensive legal fees
  • Losing consumer confidence in your ability to safeguard payment data

Even though compliance isn’t technically mandatory, there are compelling reasons why every business owner should take these PCI security standards seriously.

What exactly is PCI compliance — and how does it work?

Payment Card Industry Compliance in a Nutshell

The PCI compliance checklist includes 12 broad areas governing payment data and security.

Some of these are very intuitive and can be easily implemented with minimal effort. These payment security guidelines include:

  • Not using vendor-supplied default passwords and usernames
  • Keeping your hardware and software up to date with the latest patches and anti-virus protections
  • Restricting physical and digital access to cardholder data on a need-to-know basis
  • Equipping all employees with unique IDs and logins

Other aspects of the PCI compliance checklist are a bit more involved. Still, these can also be handled in-house with relatively limited technical knowledge.

For example, merchants should regularly test their security systems and processes.

In addition, you are expected to fill out a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) every year. This annual questionnaire includes a series of yes/no questions that can help you identify potential vulnerabilities in your payment environment.

The remaining items in the checklist are what give businesses the most trouble — especially smaller stakeholders lacking extensive IT and security resources.

These include:

  • Installing and maintaining firewall configurations to protect card-based payment data
  • Encrypting any payment data sent across open, unsecured networks
  • Creating and maintaining security policies for all of your employees, vendors and suppliers
  • Monitoring and tracking access to network resources and cardholder information
  • Developing and maintaining secure applications, programs and systems

Demystifying the PCI Certification Process

For the average business owner, many of the above steps may seem overwhelming. Some delay compliance for as long as possible. They simply have more important projects on their plate.

Yet rather than think about the costs involved with becoming PCI-compliant — it’s better to focus on the benefits received.

Remember that adhering to these data security standards can reduce payment fraud and help you avoid many of the fees, lawsuits and lost sales that often accompany data breaches.

Moreover, PCI compliance isn’t as complicated as it seems. Below are a few strategies to help make the process a little easier:

  • Working with an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV) can help you quickly identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in your payment environment. In fact, you often need certification from an ASV to become PCI-compliant.
  • Choosing the right payment provider can also make a world of difference. A PCI-compliant processor can provide the necessary infrastructure and security tools to get you up and running as quickly as possible.
  • Using additional fraud management tools can help reduce your PCI scope. Technologies such as tokenization, fraud filters, point-to-point encryption and hosted payment pages won’t necessarily make you PCI-compliant, but they can help limit your overall fraud exposure.

True PCI Compliance Is Ongoing — Not Static

Becoming PCI-compliant is only the starting point. You have to go through the recertification process every year. This is because as thieves continue to refine their methods, the security protocols used to prevent future attacks must also evolve.

Thus, true PCI compliance is an ongoing process and not a one-time fix.

However, if you choose the right payment processor, staying ahead of these changes becomes much easier.

To learn more about our unique approach to PCI compliance and data security, schedule a free consultation with our payment services team today.

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