May 13

What is PCI Compliance?

Consumers are now using cards more often to pay, and businesses must adapt to this preference. Here's everything you need to know about PCI compliance.

According to statistics, around 189 million Americans have at least one credit card. Additionally, in recent years, there has been significant growth in online shopping, particularly with brick-and-mortar retailers shifting to online stores.

As a business owner, you have the responsibility to ensure that your customers can purchase in a safe and secure virtual environment. You also have to make sure that all their data is used, managed, and kept responsibly.

We understand that this might sound like a daunting task. To help you, we’re exploring further what PCI compliance is and why it’s important for your business.

What is PCI Compliance?

Payment Card Industry compliance (also called PCI compliance) is a set of data security standards that are designed to ensure that businesses that accept, process, store, and transmit credit card information do so in a secure environment. It provides the framework for companies to develop a complete payment card data security process — from prevention and detection to response and reaction to security incidents. Ultimately, this process helps keep customers’ personal and card data safe at all times.

Launched on September 7, 2006, PCI compliance aims to manage PCI security standards and improve payment account security throughout the transaction process. This is administered and managed by the PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC), an independent body created by most major payment card brands like American Express, Discover, JCB, MasterCard, and Visa. It must be noted that these payment brands and acquirers are the parties responsible for enforcing PCI compliance, not the PCI SSC itself.

To determine if your business is PCI compliant, the PCI SSC provides tools and resources to help ensure the security of cardholder information at all times. This includes:

  • Self-assessment questionnaires to assist companies in validating how secure their systems and practices are, which should be completed every year.
  • PIN Transaction Security (PTS) requirements and a list of approved PIN transaction devices.
  • Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA-DSS) and a list of Validated Payment Applications to ensure the development of secure payment applications.
A male customer entering his credit card details on his smartphone

The Levels of PCI Compliance

PCI compliance requirements are standard for all, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of assessment. Rather, it can vary depending on certain factors, such as the number of credit card transactions you have.

A business can fall into one of these levels:

  • Level 1: Merchants that process more than six million card transactions in a year or have had a cybersecurity incident that led to data loss.
  • Level 2: Merchants that process one million to six million card transactions per year.
  • Level 3: Merchants that process 20,000 to one million online card transactions in a year. 
  • Level 4: Merchants that process less than 20,000 online card transactions or up to one million total transactions.

Generally, small businesses can be categorized under Level 4 and are required to perform a self-assessment. On the other hand, larger businesses would need to employ third-party auditors to ensure they comply with industry standards.

How to Remain PCI Compliant

While complying with PCI requirements sounds like it might be incredibly overwhelming, there are some ways to ensure you keep up with the standards a little more seamlessly.

  1. Use and maintain firewalls: These help block the unauthorized access of unknown external entities, such as hackers or malicious software, to your private data. 
  2. Use password protection: Maintain a device/password inventory for your modems, POS, routers, and other third-party products. Implement basic precautions like using complex passwords and regularly changing them. 
  3. Protect cardholder data: Ensure that card data is encrypted. Conduct regular maintenance and scanning of primary account numbers (PAN) that ensure that no unencrypted data exists in your systems. Also, when sending cardholder data, it should always be encrypted. 
  4. Have antivirus software in place: Install antivirus software for all devices that interact with and/or store PAN, which should be regularly patched and updated. 
  5. Maintain unique ID access: Cardholder data should only be accessed by individuals who need to know the information. Roles that don’t need this sensitive data should be documented and regularly updated. Those who can access it should have unique credentials and identification for access, creating less risk and quicker response times should data be compromised.

More importantly, a robust POS system can make PCI compliance easier on your end. For example, using a POS system that brings together payment processing, check services, and card readers can minimize security and cybersecurity risks.

A customer paying via card at a POS system

The Value of PCI Compliance to Your Business

With the task of ensuring customers’ safety and security when conducting card transactions being of utmost importance, PCI compliance is becoming a crucial part of your business. With the right tools and resources, you’re well on your way to ensuring this holds true.

According to PCI SSC, being PCI compliant offers a lot of benefits to your business. These include:

  • Becoming better aware of and prepared to comply with additional industry regulations.
  • Having secure systems, so customers can be assured that their sensitive payment card information is kept and managed well. This then leads to customer trust and confidence.
  • Improving your reputation and relationship with acquirers and payment brands, which are crucial partners to your business.
  • Preventing security breaches and payment card data theft, which means you contribute to a global payment card data security solution.
  • Setting a high standard of IT infrastructure efficiency for your company.

As a business owner, you have the great responsibility of ensuring safe, secure, and smooth payment card transactions for all your customers. That’s why you must get familiarized with and implement PCI compliance requirements. It’s also crucial that you regularly do self-assessments, as well as conduct checks of your processes and systems.

Ready to scale your business by going digital while remaining PCI compliant? Let True POS help you. Our robust point of sale system can help you streamline and simplify your operations. Get started with a free quote today!

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