• Animesh Gupta

PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard)

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of security standards designed to ensure that ALL companies that accept, process, store or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment.

The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) was launched on September 7, 2006 to manage the ongoing evolution of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) security standards with a focus on improving payment account security throughout the transaction process. The PCI DSS is administered and managed by the PCI SSC (www.pcisecuritystandards.org), an independent body that was created by the major payment card brands (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover and JCB.). It is important to note that the payment brands and acquirers are responsible for enforcing compliance, not the PCI council. A copy of the PCI DSS is available here

To whom does the PCI DSS apply?

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) applies to companies of any size that accept credit card payments. If your company intends to accept card payment, and store, process and transmit cardholder data, you need to host your data securely with a PCI compliant hosting provider.


PCI compliance is divided into four levels, based on the annual number of credit or debit card transactions a business processes. The classification level determines what an enterprise needs to do to remain compliant.

Level 1: Applies to merchants processing more than six million real-world credit or debit card transactions annually. Conducted by an authorized PCI auditor, they must undergo an internal audit once a year. In addition, once a quarter they must submit to a PCI scan by an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV).

Level 2: Applies to merchants processing between one and six million real-world credit or debit card transactions annually. They’re required to complete an assessment once a year using a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). Additionally, a quarterly PCI scan may be required.

Level 3: Applies to merchants processing between 20,000 and one million e-commerce transactions annually. They must complete a yearly assessment using the relevant SAQ. A quarterly PCI scan may also be required.

Level 4: Applies to merchants processing fewer than 20,000 e-commerce transactions annually, or those that process up to one million real-world transactions. A yearly assessment using the relevant SAQ must be completed and a quarterly PCI scan may be required.


The PCI SSC has outlined 12 requirements for handling cardholder data and maintaining a secure network. Distributed between six broader goals, all are necessary for an enterprise to become compliant.

Secure Network

1. A firewall configuration must be installed and maintained

2. System passwords must be original (not vendor-supplied)

Secure cardholder data

3. Stored cardholder data must be protected

4. Transmissions of cardholder data across public networks must be encrypted

Vulnerability management

5. Anti-virus software must be used and regularly updated

6. Secure systems and applications must be developed and maintained

Access Control

7. Cardholder data access must be restricted to a business need-to-know basis

8. Every person with computer access must be assigned a unique

9. Physical access to cardholder data must be restricted

Network monitoring and testing

10. Access to cardholder data and network resources must be tracked and monitored

11. Security systems and processes must be regularly tested

Information Security

12. A policy dealing with information security must be maintained


PCI certification ensures the security of card data at your business through a set of requirements established by the PCI SSC. These include a number of commonly known best practices, such as:

  • Installation of firewalls

  • Encryption of data transmissions

  • Use of anti-virus software

In addition, businesses must restrict access to cardholder data and monitor access to network resources.

PCI-compliant security provides a valuable asset that informs customers that your business is safe to transact with. Conversely, the cost of noncompliance, both in monetary and reputational terms, should be enough to convince any business owner to take data security seriously.

A data breach that reveals sensitive customer information is likely to have severe repercussions on an enterprise. A breach may result in fines from payment card issuers, lawsuits, diminished sales and a severely damaged reputation.

After experiencing a breach, a business may have to cease accepting credit card transactions, or be forced to pay higher subsequent charges than the initial cost of security compliance. The investment in PCI security procedures goes a long way toward ensuring that other aspects of your commerce are safe from malicious online actors.


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