The Key Steps to Achieving PCI DSS Compliance

As the use of physical cash continues to decline and we move closer to the exclusively digital movement of money, maintaining the integrity of payment cards and protecting against payment card data from cyber criminals has never been more important. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), established and enforced by the PCI Security Standards Council, plays a critical role in ensuring the security of payment card transactions, and PCI DSS compliance is crucial for the success of any organisation that takes card payments.  Failure to comply with the Standard can result in severe consequences, including substantial fines and the revocation of an organisation’s ability to process card payments. The following blog will outline some key steps that can be taken by organisations hoping to achieve PCI compliance.

Create a Security Policy

For businesses that handle credit card data, the development of a comprehensive security policy is imperative. This policy serves as a blueprint for safeguarding systems, detailing the information security responsibilities of staff, contractors, and partners with access to sensitive credit card data. It should also describe your approach to key PCI requirements, including vulnerability management programs, encryption standards, and robust key management processes.

Businesses should also implement a segregation strategy for payment processing systems, isolating them from other operations to minimise vulnerabilities and potential data loss in the event of a breach. For instance, if an e-commerce store currently shares servers for email and non-payment-related activities, a sensible step would be to relocate the payment system to a dedicated server fortified with firewalls and security software.

Business owners are advised to enforce role-based access controls, tailoring access to cardholder data only when necessary. Additionally, the encryption of data at rest is recommended whenever feasible, reducing the likelihood of breaches and increasing the complexity for malicious actors attempting to exploit stolen information. These proactive measures collectively contribute to a robust and compliant security posture, mitigating the risks associated with handling sensitive credit card data.

Ensuring that every member of your staff comprehends the intricacies of PCI compliance and is equipped to handle credit card information responsibly is crucial for safeguarding the security of your business. This not only mitigates the risks of data breaches and fraud but also contributes to building a reputable image for your organization while safeguarding its interests.

Conduct Employee Training

Conducting regular training sessions throughout the year serves as an excellent method for educating employees on PCI compliance. These sessions provide a platform to discuss strategies for securing cardholder data, underscore the significance of adhering to protocols, and create an environment where employees can ask questions, offer their insights, and actively participate in the learning process.

Empowering employees to take individual responsibility for protecting credit card data is key. This can range from simple reminders to use robust passwords and avoid storing sensitive authentication data on personal devices, to more comprehensive training on recognising and reporting suspicious activities to the security team.

Regardless of the nature or size of your business, ensuring that all employees understand the consequences of non-compliance is critical. Failure to adhere to established protocols could lead to substantial financial penalties and impact your ability to accept payment cards in the future.

Monitoring your Network

To remain PCI compliant, you must vigilantly monitor your network activity detect any unauthorized access to sensitive information. Unauthorised users may exploit vulnerabilities by manipulating network devices such as switches and routers. Therefore, businesses are required to routinely back up these settings and actively monitor for any unauthorised alterations. Utilising services like Network Configuration Manager, which can automatically identify and restore previous configuration settings, is extremely useful for meeting this requirement.

The PCI DSS mandates that organisations meticulously log network activities, maintaining daily records for annual review. While reviewing logs line by line can be a time-consuming task, many companies streamline the process through automated solutions. These solutions monitor activities, promptly notify administrators about potential breaches, and accelerate the identification of security incidents.

Installing a firewall is an effective method for safeguarding networks, preventing unauthorised access to sensitive information, and blocking phishing attempts. Some payment processors even make firewall installation a requirement for PCI compliance.

Updating Systems

To achieve and maintain PCI compliance, it’s important that you map systems, network connections, and applications interacting with card data across your organisation, which typically requires collaboration with cybersecurity and IT teams. Prioritise areas requiring attention, whether it involves upgrading to more secure hardware, updating outdated software, or implementing additional firewalls and antivirus programs.

Integrating payment processing into a point-of-sale (POS) system is a practical strategy to simplify PCI compliance and reduce the risk of data breaches. These systems, known for their security and low-maintenance attributes, often provide built-in support for payment card industry requirements. However, it’s essential to note that having a POS system doesn’t negate the necessity for regular updates to operating systems and application software. The PCI Council prohibits the use of unsupported OSes, apps, or platforms, emphasising the importance of continually upgrading wherever possible.

Small businesses often face budget constraints as they prioritize growth over information security. Striking a balance between security needs and budget becomes crucial to ensure compliance without hindering organisational growth or innovation.

Final Thoughts

Protecting cardholder data is paramount, considering the potential ramifications of compromised data, including lost sales, damage to customer trust and brand image, and legal repercussions such as lawsuits from customers and payment networks, noncompliance fines, and canceled card accounts.  Complying to the PCI DSS is the most effective means of ensuring you maintain payment card security and avoid the considerable consequences associated with card data breaches.  While it may take some time and effort to become compliant, the benefits of doing so make this effort worthwhile for any organisation.  If you need guidance and support to become PCI DSS compliant, receiving consultancy from a trustworthy service provider like URM can be extremely beneficial.