What is PCI Compliance?

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) refers to a combination of requirements that make sure all companies that store, process, or transmit credit card information provide an environment for their customers' data that is safe and secure. 

But what is PCI DSS, exactly? It may sound burdensome, but it is composed of helpful rules and guidelines that keep sellers and their customers safer from attackers. It was first introduced as an official regulation on September 7, 2006, as a measure to enhance the security of accounts through all stages of credit card transactions.

PCI DSS is managed by a body of officials created by American Express, Discover, JCB, Mastercard, and Visa. These entities take on the responsibility of enforcing compliance regulations.

Improving the data security of card payment systems is the job of the PCI Security Standards Council, also known as the SSC. They make available standards and materials that incorporate tools, measurements, frameworks, and resources to support organizations as they endeavor to uphold cardholder information security. The council uses PCI DSS as a framework for creating comprehensive payment card security processes that allow for the detection and prevention of and response to security issues.

This article will delve into why it is important to be PCI-compliant, as well as how to achieve adequate PCI compliance in your organization. It will also dig into the costs, how to validate your compliance, and the penalties for not following these regulations.

Why Is It Important To Be PCI-Compliant?

It is important to be PCI-compliant because businesses that store and save customer credit card data may expose their customers to fraudulent attacks and banks to potentially large losses if they do not take the proper precautions.

If you maintain PCI DSS compliance, you can also check off a few other essential regulatory boxes. Namely, you can maintain conformity to privacy and security laws such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

According to a recent study performed by Verizon, 86% of breaches occur because the hackers are seeking financial gain. Hackers see your data as a potential source of income, and so it is urgent to cut off their access by implementing PCI compliance measures.

How Do You Become PCI-Compliant?

PCI compliance involves 12 distinct requirements, all of which are designed to enhance security. They are as follows:

Install a Firewall and Maintain It

A firewall can prevent access to your network by unknown or foreign actors trying to gain unauthorized access to data. In many network security programs, a firewall is the first measure taken to block hackers. Because they are so effective in preventing hackers and others from accessing sensitive data, firewalls are a necessity for a merchant or company that needs to obtain PCI DSS compliance.

Initiate Strong Password Protections

Much of the infrastructure for an organization that accepts card payments comes with generic passwords that are easy to figure out. These include modems, routers, point-of-sale (POS) systems, and other products. If a business does not take the proper steps to make passwords more secure, their system may have one—or several—easy points of access. 

To be compliant when it comes to establishing strong passwords or other secure access measures, an organization has to maintain a list of all software and devices that need authentication. It is also essential that passwords are not easy to guess by hackers.

Protect the Data of Cardholders

To achieve PCI DSS compliance, an organization has to ensure twofold protection of cardholder data. The card data has to be encrypted using specific algorithms. The encryptions are then instituted using encryption keys, which are also encrypted. Then, the primary account numbers need to be regularly maintained and scanned to make sure that all data continues to be encrypted.

Encrypt Data That Gets Transmitted

All cardholder data gets transmitted across several channels that could be accessed by hackers. To keep the data safe, it has to be encrypted. This way, even if a hacker finds a way to intercept it, they would have to go through the laborious task of decrypting it before they can use it. In addition, account numbers cannot be transmitted to destinations unless they have been verified as legitimate.

Install and Maintain Antivirus Software

It is always a good idea to use antivirus software, but it is a requirement for any device that stores or interacts with primary account numbers. To make sure the software maintains its viability, it should be updated and patched on a regular basis. Further, an organization's POS provider should use antivirus software if it is not possible for the business to directly install it on certain devices.

Update Your Software

Both antivirus software and firewalls require regular updates. A business must update all software they run. In most cases, the software can execute automatic updates, which serves as an additional layer of protection. It is particularly important for devices that interact with customer data to have these updates in place.

Restrict Access to Data

Cardholder data should be seen only by those who absolutely need to know. Anyone who does not need to access the data to do their jobs should not be able to see it or use it. Anyone who does gain access should have their names and access privileges recorded, and these records should be kept up to date.

Establish Unique IDs for Those with Access

Anyone given access to cardholder data must be issued unique identification and credentials to gain access. For example, an organization would be out of compliance if several employees used the same login credentials to access a system or device. If each person maintains a unique ID and credentials, it is easier to figure out where a breach originated from.

Physical Access Needs to be Limited

Cardholder data should be maintained in a secure place. Whether data is typed out physically or stored on a hard drive or another device, it needs to be kept inside a secure drawer, cabinet, or room. In addition to limiting access, the organization must keep a log of whenever the data is accessed to maintain compliance.

Establish and Maintain Access Logs

Anytime someone accesses the primary account numbers of cardholders, the activity should be logged. To remain in compliance, you need to document the flow of data and how often people need access.

Scan and Perform Tests to Identify Vulnerabilities

To make sure the system is in compliance, you have to scan it for vulnerabilities. Perform tests to make sure it can do what it is supposed to do. If a long time goes by without an attack, it may be hard to know if the system is working unless it is properly checked.

Document your Policies

Documenting your policies involves more than just writing them down. You also must maintain an inventory of software and equipment, as well as a list of employees who interact with the data. You have to document how information flows into your organization and how it is stored and used.

What Is the Cost of Being PCI-compliant?

While the cost of attaining PCI compliance varies depending on what you already have in place, the cost of not being compliant is considerable. The cost of noncompliance is best determined by calculating the cost of a security breach.

How To Validate PCI Compliance

The validation process you go through depends on the credit card companies that you use. Each one has its own processes for validating compliance. Once you know the requirements, you can validate through the use of two methods: 

  1. Complete your own PCI Self-Assessment Questionnaire, also known as an SAQ.
  2. Hire a certified PCI Quality Security Assessor or QSA.

Penalties for PCI Compliance Violations

Although fines are not published for the public, they can be steep. They tend to be between $5,000 and $100,000 for each month you are out of compliance. This holds true for both on-premises and cloud systems, like those housed in Amazon Web Services (AWS).

How Fortinet Can Help

Fortinet has several tools to help you maintain PCI DSS compliance, as well as other regulatory measures.

  1. FortiCASB organizes and aggregates security information from several application programming interfaces (APIs) and cloud services, combining them into compliance reports and dashboards that you can share with people and institutions that need to be kept in the loop.
  2. FortiSIEM gives you a wide view of how compliant your overall system is, regardless of whether it is based in the cloud or on-premises. It collects and organizes data from your security tools, whether they are Fortinet or non-Fortinet measures, and then creates reports about your compliance with only a click.
  3. FortiAnalyzer gets logs from different elements of the Fortinet Security Fabric. The reports are prebuilt and designed according to regulations like PCI DSS, making tracking compliance easier. FortiAnalyzer also enables you to produce real-time reports that show how you are conforming to PCI DSS standards.
  4. FortiManager empowers you to see, approve, and audit changes to your policy from one location. FortiManager also automates the processes needed to facilitate compliance.