PCI DSS Compliance: The 12 Requirements You Need to Consider

Image showing a dark figure standing menacingly in a dark tunnel.
Credit card thieves are out to get you!

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) comprises 12 compliance requirements created by the PCI Security Standards Council. This standard ensures that all companies that accept credit cards do so in a secure manner. 

The United States doesn’t federally enforce the PCI DSS, but some states have similar laws. Compliance with the PCI DSS may shield your business from legal action. This all varies based on your location, as well as federal and local laws. This standard and its requirements can help you have a more secure payment network and save you from legal trouble down the road if your payment data gets compromised.

In this article, I’ll teach you about the PCI DSS, its 12 compliance requirements, and why it’s important for your business to implement. So, let’s get started with what the PCI DSS is and to whom it applies. 

What Is the PCI DSS and Who Does It Apply To?

As I explained above, the PCI DSS is a security standard for credit card payments. It was created to increase security surrounding payment systems in businesses. It was launched in 2007 by the PCI Security Standards Council, an independent council formed by the major credit card brands: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, and JCB. 

The rules and regulations of the PCI DSS apply to any organization that accepts, transmits, or stores any cardholder data, regardless of business size or number of transactions. However, as I mentioned previously, the PCI DSS isn’t federally enforced in the United States. However, some state laws refer to it. 

You may be asking how you can comply with the PCI DSS and what are its 12 compliance requirements? Read on to find out.

The 12 PCI DSS Compliance Requirements

The following are the 12 PCI DSS compliance requirements, what they do, and how they protect cardholder data. Compliance with these 12 requirements is absolutely essential if you want to ensure your company gets certified. 

Prepare and Configure your System

1. Have a Firewall in Place

Install and maintain a hardware and software firewall. You should configure this firewall to protect cardholder data. Additionally, your firewall should have strict rules for what traffic may enter and exit. 

2. Secure Configurations for All Systems

You shouldn’t use out-of-the-box configurations for system passwords and other security parameters. Instead, you should implement proper system configuration management. 

Encrypt and Protect your Customer’s data

3. Protect Stored Cardholder Account Data

To ensure the protection of the account data, make sure you encrypt the data and that you have strict control of the database.

4. Encrypt Cardholder Data in Transmission 

It’s important to note that cardholder data can get used anywhere, which means that this data traverses open or public networks. This is why you must make sure that your cardholders’ data is fully encrypted. You also need to remember where this data transmitted to and from, and who received it. Don’t rely on older SSL and early TLS to provide adequate protection. 

5. Use Antivirus Software

Remember to invest in reputable antivirus software. Make sure to keep this antivirus up to date at all times. Also, consider getting malware protection, either as separate software or something packaged with your antivirus.

Maintain and Restrict Access to Customer Data

6. Maintain Secure Systems and Applications

Your internal systems must be up to date and well-maintained. Critical systems and software should get patched on a regular basis

7. Restrict Access to Cardholder Data

Individuals should have access to cardholder data only on a business need-to-know basis. Remember to note down who has access to this data. An access control system is usually required to monitor logins and monitor the system, so keep that in mind. 

8. Assign Unique IDs

Consider assigning unique IDs to everyone and make sure you update your system access passwords regularly. It’s also a good idea to implement multi-factor authentication for all your systems.

9. Restrict Physical Access to Cardholder Data

It’s important to continuously monitor your POS terminals. You should make sure physical access to areas containing servers or computers remain locked and controlled. Keep your employees up-to-date and train them on best security practices.

Test, Configure, and Document your System 

10. Configure Monitoring and Alerting Software

System components and cardholder data should have logging and alerting software configured so you can track who accessed the data and when they accessed it. You’ll also need to create log management and log management system rules for this

11. Test Your Security systems 

You should regularly test your systems. You should know your environment. It’s important for you to run vulnerability scans each quarter and conduct penetration tests

12. Document Your Information Security Policy

Everything about your systems and security processes must be documented. You should create an incident response plan, as well as a risk assessment process. Have them in place in case any trouble arises.

Now that you know the 12 requirements, it’s time to take the next step and get certified as PCI DSS compliant. 

Even buying a cup of coffee could make you vulnerable to a hack! (source: Unsplash)

How to Become PCI DSS Compliant

Once you’ve become compliant with all 12 requirements, you can then follow the next 5 steps to become fully PCI DSS certified. The certification process is pretty straightforward, but you may want a third party to come and inspect your work and validate you in the process. It helps! Let’s dive into the 5 steps for you to get fully certified:

  1. Review all the compliance standards to see where your business falls and how PCI’s general standards describe your business.
  2. Take a self-assessment questionnaire. Once you’ve completed the questionnaire, you’ll be able to see what you’re missing and what you need to fix before moving on to the next step. 
  3. Find a data tokenization provider. They can tokenize your customer’s data to keep it more secure when transmitting it. 
  4. Complete a formal application. Once all your tech in place and configured properly, you’re ready to fill out a formal attestation of compliance. You may also want to hire a qualified security assessor to review your systems and write up a report to validate your systems. 
  5. File your paperwork with the credit card companies and banks. Once you’ve done this, you’ll get certified! Now you’re ready to roll!

Congratulations! You did it! You set your business up for success and prioritized the security of your client’s credit card data as a non-negotiable item. Now, let’s wrap up!

The Bottom Line

If you’re working with customer payment data, then it’s in your best interest to get compliant. This is because you, as a business owner, want to protect your customer’s data and your company’s reputation. Also, in the event of a cyberattack, you’ll get shielded from a lot of the legal trouble that might come your way, if you weren’t compliant. 

To sum it up, you learned what PCI DSS is, what its 12 requirements are, and how to satisfy those requirements. I also explained how to apply to become formally certified. Basically, the PCI DSS aims to protect cardholders’ data. You must have best practices in place to ensure no one can compromise your users’ card information. I hope this article helped you out, feel free to refer back to it in the future as needed.

Do you have more questions about the PCI DSS and its 12 compliance requirements? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below. 


What is PCI DSS?

PCI DSS stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. A group of credit card companies assembled it in an effort to protect consumers’ data and to also reduce the number of attacks by putting safeguards in place. 

Who founded the PCI DSS?

The founders are American Express, Discover Financial Services, JCB, Mastercard, and Visa. They came together to enact a system of requirements that would better protect the consumer. Compliance with this standard may not be a legal requirement everywhere, but it’s best to implement the PCI DSS principles in your operations.

What is cardholder data?

According to the PCI DSS, the following is cardholder sensitive data: PAN, cardholder name, service code, and expiration date. It can also include track data from the magnetic stripe or equivalent data on the chip, CAV2/CVC2/CVV2/CID/CVN2, and PIN/PIN block.

Who must comply?

Anyone who takes credit card payments must comply with the PCI DSS. However, you must be aware of your local/state/federal laws and regulations that could affect the applicability of PCI DSS requirements. 

What is the definition of “merchant” according to PCI DSS?

For the purposes of the PCI DSS, a merchant is any entity that accepts payment cards bearing the logo of a PCI SSC Participating Payment Brand (Visa, Mastercard, AMEX, etc.) as payment for goods and/or services. All merchants should comply with this standard. Otherwise, they may be putting your cardholder data at risk.


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