RST Software
Editorial Team
Ross Krawczyk
Reviewed by a tech expert

Your PCI compliance checklist: 12 key PCI DSS requirements explained

Read this articles in:

While partaking in the never-resting world of digital commerce, where a click of the mouse can change so much, we often take for granted the unseen magic of online transactions. Think back to when you last booked some tickets on a whim or indulged in a late night shopping spree. Your fingers moved across the keyboard, and with each stroke, you inched closer to that coveted purchase. Little did you know, behind the scenes, a synergy of tech and security measures was in play, ensuring that your credit card information remained locked away from prying eyes.

This is a tale of trust, technology, and the safeguarding of precious data – welcome to the world of PCI compliance, where businesses, like skilled magicians, protect your financial secrets while delivering a one-click checkout experience that enchants us all.

Is PCI compliance required by law?

You might be wondering if PCI compliance is just a recommended best practice or a legal obligation. Well, the answer is: it's both. PCI compliance isn't just a set of guidelines that businesses can choose to follow or ignore at their discretion. Instead, it's a stringent standard that is legally mandated by all major credit card companies.

When businesses decide they want to accept credit card payments, they enter into agreements with the companies that provide them (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and others). Part of these agreements involves adhering to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). In essence, this means that if you handle credit card data, PCI compliance isn't really optional, it's a contractual obligation.

Failing to become PCI compliant can have serious consequences, including hefty fines, higher transaction fees, and even the suspension of your ability to accept credit card payments. These penalties can be crippling for businesses and severely damage their reputation.

Furthermore, various countries and regions have incorporated PCI DSS requirements into their own data protection laws and regulations. This means that non-compliance can also result in legal consequences beyond the terms set by the credit card providers.

So, in short, PCI compliance isn't just a good idea, it's in fact the law, and it's essential for businesses that handle credit card transactions to adhere to these standards diligently.

Basics of PCI compliance

Before we get to the more in-depth aspects of PCI DSS requirements, let's create a framework consisting of some of the fundamental concepts underpinning the idea of PCI compliance.

What is PCI DSS?

PCI DSS stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. It's a comprehensive set of principles designed to ensure the secure handling of credit card information by businesses that process, store, or transmit such data. The standard was jointly developed by major credit card companies like Visa, Mastercard, and American Express to create a unified approach to data security.

Who needs to comply to PCI DSS?

Any organization that accepts credit card payments, whether online or in-person, falls under the scope of PCI DSS. This includes e-commerce sites, retail stores, hotels, restaurants, and even service providers who handle credit card data on behalf of other businesses.

Why is PCI compliance so important?

PCI compliance is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it safeguards sensitive financial information, reducing the risk of data breaches and fraud. Secondly, it builds trust with customers, who expect their credit card data to be handled with extreme care. Finally, it ensures that businesses meet legal requirements and avoid potentially devastating financial penalties.

What are the key requirements?

The core of PCI DSS consists of 12 requirements (more on them in the next section), organized into six categories:

  • Building and maintaining a secure network and systems
  • Protecting cardholder data
  • Maintaining a vulnerability management program
  • Implementing strong access control measures
  • Regularly monitoring and testing networks
  • Maintaining an information security policy

How many PCI validation and compliance levels are there?

The level of PCI compliance your organization needs to achieve depends on factors such as transaction volume and the nature of your business. Compliance levels range from Level 1 (the highest) to Level 4 (the lowest). The higher the level, the more stringent the requirements you have to meet.

The 12 PCI DSS requirements

As a steward of credit card processing gateways and an aspiring champion of data security, it's absolutely necessary that you get familiar with the 12 core requirements of PCI DSS compliance. Each of them plays a vital role in creating a safe environment for you and your customers to conduct business online.

Requirement #1: Install and maintain a firewall configuration to protect cardholder data

The first line of defense is a tight firewall. Ensure that all systems are protected by it and that firewall configurations are securely maintained.

Requirement #2: Do not use vendor-supplied defaults for system passwords and other security parameters

Cybercriminals often target default settings. Change the provided passwords and security parameters to unique values in order to thwart potential attacks.

Requirement #3: Protect cardholder data

The encryption of cardholder data during transmission and storage is at the heart of PCI DSS. Implement data encryption best practices to prevent any breaches.

Requirement #4: Encrypt transmission of cardholder data across open, public networks

Whenever cardholder data crosses unsecured networks, it must be encrypted. Use strong encryption protocols to shield the information from unauthorized access.

Requirement #5: Use and regularly update anti-virus software

Guard against malware by implementing anti-virus software, keeping it up-to-date, and performing regular scans.

Requirement #6: Develop and maintain secure systems and applications

Continuously update and patch your systems and applications to address vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers.

Requirement #7: Restrict access to cardholder data on a business need-to-know basis

Limit access to cardholder information to only those employees whose job requires it. Implement strong role-based access control (RBAC) measures to enforce this principle.

Requirement #8: Identify and authenticate access to system components

Use unique IDs and strong authentication methods for anyone accessing cardholder data or critical systems.

Requirement #9: Restrict physical access to cardholder data

Secure physical access points to cardholder details, including servers and data storage facilities. Only the strictly authorized personnel should be allowed entry.

Requirement #10: Track and monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data

Implement comprehensive logging and monitoring to detect and respond to suspicious activities and potential security breaches.

Requirement #11: Regularly test security systems and processes

Consistently evaluate security measures you have in place through vulnerability scanning and penetration testing to identify and rectify weaknesses.

Requirement #12: Maintain a policy that addresses information security for all personnel

Develop and enforce a security policy that educates employees about their responsibilities in maintaining data security and the most common (at the very least) vectors of attacks.

What’s new in PCI DSS v4.0?

In March 2022, the PCI Security Standards Council introduced PCI DSS standard version 4.0, marking a significant step forward in safeguarding sensitive cardholder data. Designed to replace its predecessor, this latest iteration responds to evolving threats and introduces innovative strategies to combat new challenges.

Version 4.0 has been shaped by the insights of 200+ businesses that contributed 6,000+ pieces of feedback over the last couple of years. This collaborative effort ensures that the standard remains relevant and effective in today's dynamic payment security landscape, which has seen notable shifts due to the pandemic. These shifts include an upsurge in online transactions, increased usage of point-of-sale (POS) devices, and the growing storage of cardholder data on cloud platforms.

While the core 12 PCI DSS requirements remain intact, version 4.0 introduces a restructured approach. It places a stronger emphasis on security objectives, providing guidance on how security controls should be applied.

Key changes in PCI DSS v4.0 include:

  • Enhancing flexibility and offering additional methods for maintaining payment security.
  • Promoting security as an ongoing, continuous process rather than a one-time compliance check.
  • Enhancing payment validation methods and procedures to keep pace with industry advancements.
  • Ensuring that the latest standard remains aligned with the ever-evolving security needs of the payment industry.

In an important change from the previous prescriptive compliance approach, PCI DSS 4.0 introduces the concept of customized implementation. It allows organizations to tailor security controls to their specific needs, streamlining implementation procedures and facilitating alignment with the requirements.

These changes collectively reinforce the PCI DSS framework, adapting it to the evolving payment landscape and empowering organizations to bolster their cardholder data security in a more versatile and responsive manner.

How to become PCI-compliant

Step 1: Know your requirements

Before you start your PCI compliance journey, it's crucial that you understand which specific set of requirements applies to your organization. PCI compliance levels are determined primarily by the volume of credit card transactions processed annually. There are four levels, each with its own specific criteria:

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Applies to merchants with — More than 6 million Visa or Mastercard transactions annually

— Data breach experience

— Deemed “Level 1” by any card association (Visa, Mastercard, etc.)
— 1 to 6 million transactions annually — 20,000 to 1 million online transactions annually

— Fewer than 1 million total transactions annually
— Fewer than 20,000 online transactions annually

— Up to 1 million total transactions annually
Requirements — Annual Report on Compliance (ROC) by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) or an internal auditor, if signed by an officer of the company

— Quarterly network scan by Approved Scan Vendor (ASV)

— Attestation of Compliance (AOC) for Onsite Assessments
— Annual PCI DSS Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ)

— Quarterly network scan by Approved Scan Vendor (ASV)

— Attestation of Compliance (AOC)
— Annual PCI DSS Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ)

— Quarterly network scan by Approved Scan Vendor (ASV)

— Attestation of Compliance (AOC)
— Annual PCI DSS Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ)

— Quarterly network scan by Approved Scan Vendor (ASV)

— Attestation of Compliance (AOC)

Step 1.5 (for PCI compliance level 2 to 4): Know your SAQ type

Once you've determined your PCI compliance level, the next crucial step is to identify the appropriate Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) type that aligns with your business model. These SAQ types help tailor the compliance process to your specific circumstances:

SAQ A: Designed for card-not-present merchants, typically engaged in e-commerce or mail/telephone order sales. SAQ A is suitable if you've outsourced all cardholder data functions to PCI DSS validated third-party service providers and have no electronic cardholder data storage on your premises.

SAQ A-EP: Targeted at e-commerce merchants who outsource payment processing to third-party providers but retain control over the payment page. To qualify, your website must not directly receive cardholder data, yet it can impact transaction security, with no electronic cardholder data storage.

SAQ B: Suited for brick-and-mortar or mail/telephone order merchants using regular terminals connected via dial-up phone lines or imprint machines.

SAQ B-IP: Applicable to brick-and-mortar or mail/telephone order merchants using terminals connected via IP (Ethernet cables) to routers or modems, excluding e-commerce or Secure Card Reader (SCR) users.

SAQ C-VT: For merchants manually entering each transaction through an internet-based virtual terminal provided by a PCI DSS validated third-party service provider, with no electronic cardholder data storage.

SAQ C: Intended for merchants with internet-connected payment application systems (e.g., point-of-sale) and no electronic cardholder data storage.

SAQ P2PE-HW: Suited for those solely using hardware payment terminals managed through a validated, PCI SSC-listed P2PE solution, with no electronic cardholder data storage.

SAQ D: For merchants and service providers not fitting into the above descriptions, this SAQ is versatile and encompasses various scenarios.

Step 2: Map your data flows

Mapping your data flows is a critical aspect of aligning with PCI security standards. This step involves identifying and documenting how cardholder data moves through your organization. By comprehensively understanding these data flows, you can pinpoint potential vulnerabilities and develop effective security measures.

Step 3: Check security controls and protocols

Thoroughly assess and validate your security controls and protocols against PCI security standards. This involves implementing the necessary measures to protect cardholder data, including encryption, role-based access controls (RBAC), and vulnerability management. Regularly auditing and testing these controls ensures ongoing compliance and data protection.

Step 4: Monitor and maintain

As previously stated, achieving PCI compliance isn't a one-time effort, it's an ongoing commitment. Monitoring and maintaining your security measures and protocols are crucial for long-term compliance. Continuously assess your systems, conduct security audits, and stay updated on emerging threats to adapt and evolve in accordance with PCI security standards.

Best practices for becoming PCI-compliant

As we approach the end of our exploration of PCI compliance, you're now in possession of valuable insights into the complexities of safeguarding cardholder data. Achieving and maintaining PCI compliance isn’t just about meeting requirements, but more so, establishing a culture of strong data security practices within your organization. To help you on this ongoing journey, we've compiled a set of actionable best practices that extend beyond compliance checkboxes. They form a roadmap for bolstering your data security defenses and fostering trust among customers.

  1. Practice good data hygiene: Minimize data collection and retention to reduce the scope of cardholder information you hold.
  2. Take the paperwork seriously: Document compliance processes meticulously for audits and reporting purposes.
  3. Use a firewall: Implement a robust firewall to protect network perimeters.
  4. Buy an enterprise antivirus software: Invest in enterprise-grade protection against malicious software.
  5. Implement strict network security measures: Configure network security settings to limit exposure to threats.
  6. Protect your passwords: Enforce strong password policies and employ multi-factor authentication.
  7. Follow data encryption procedures: Encrypt sensitive cardholder information during transmission and storage.
  8. Secure cardholder information: Implement physical and logical security standards to safeguard cardholder data.
  9. Always update your software: Regularly apply patches and updates to maintain a secure software environment.
  10. Implement role-based access control (RBAC): Manage access to systems and data based on employee roles and responsibilities.
  11. Monitor and log physical access: Keep track of physical entry to data storage and processing areas.
  12. Regularly test for vulnerabilities: Conduct vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to identify and address weaknesses.

Achieving PCI compliance through secure software development

The 12 key PCI DSS requirements discussed here serve as the foundation for safeguarding sensitive cardholder data and streamlining your checkout process. At RST Software, we specialize in SaaS development services, MVP development services, and DevOps services, all aimed at improving the security of your business from the start.

We understand that compliance is more than following a checklist. If you're ready to fortify your systems, implement role-based access control, and secure cardholder information, contact us today. Let's embark on a journey toward PCI DSS certifications, making sure your software solutions remain resilient in the face of evolving threats. Your data security journey starts now.

People also ask

No items found.
Want more posts from the author?
Read more

Want to read more?


Mastering B2B ecommerce development: practical guide for B2B businesses

Unlock B2B ecommerce success: Your practical guide to mastering development for B2B businesses. Expert insights and strategies for growth.

Headless commerce unveiled: the essential 2024 guide

Unlock the future of e-commerce with this essential guide to headless commerce in 2024. Stay ahead in the digital landscape.

How to create a freelance marketplace like Upwork?

Discover the step-by-step process to build a successful freelance marketplace akin to Upwork. Unlock the potential of your platform.
No results found.
There are no results with this criteria. Try changing your search.