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A Complete Overview of PCI in Payments

A Complete Overview of PCI in Payments

Credit card fraud is a widespread issue that affects millions of people globally each year. The amount of credit card fraud is difficult to quantify as many instances go unreported or are not disclosed publicly. According to statistics, less than 1% of credit card thefts are solved yearly.

According to recent estimates, the amount of global credit card fraud losses reached approximately $35 billion annually in 2022. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fields nearly 400,000 reports of credit card fraud per year in the USA, making it one of the most common kinds of fraud.

Financial institutions and credit card companies are continually working to develop new security measures and technologies to combat credit card fraud and protect consumers. PCI DSS is one of the primary standards that is used to combat fraud.

What is PCI (Payment Card Industry)?

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 PCI DSS was developed by major credit card brands, including Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, to protect against credit card fraud and data breaches. You can read more about PCI on the official PCI website.

The PCI DSS standards are comprised of 12 requirements that cover a range of security areas that merchants are obligated to maintain:

  1. Build and Maintain a Secure Network: This requirement covers the installation and maintenance of firewalls and secure network configurations.

  2. Protect Cardholder Data: This requirement is the protection of sensitive credit card information, including encryption and secure storage of any data.

  3. Maintain a Vulnerability Management Program: This requirement covers the identification and mitigation of security vulnerabilities through regular software updates and security scans.

  4. Implement Strong Access Control Measures: This requirement is the implementation of strong authentication and access control measures to prevent unauthorized access to credit card information.

  5. Regularly Monitor and Test Networks: This requirement is the regular monitoring and testing of networks to detect and prevent security breaches.

  6. Maintain an Information Security Policy: This requirement covers the development and implementation of a comprehensive information security policy.

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is reviewed and updated by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) annually. Changes to the standard may be made more frequently as needed to address evolving security threats and technologies. Consumer technology and online shopping trends are changing quickly, so standards need to remain up to date to keep security high.  Organizations are expected to keep up with the latest version of PCI DSS and implement the necessary changes to their systems in order to maintain compliance.

The history of PCI

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) has a rich history dating back to the early 2000s. It was created in response to the growing threat of credit card fraud and data breaches and has since become a critical component of secure credit card processing.

The PCI DSS standard was first introduced in 2004 by five major credit card brands: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, and JCB. The goal of PCI DSS was to create a set of security standards that would help protect against credit card fraud and data breaches. The initial version of PCI DSS was based on existing security standards and best practices, and was designed to be a flexible, scalable, and globally applicable security standard.

Over the years, PCI DSS has evolved to keep pace with the changing threat landscape and advancements in technology. In 2006, PCI DSS was updated to include additional requirements for software development and network security, and in 2010, it was updated to include additional requirements for mobile payment security.

Today, PCI DSS is widely recognized as the global standard for secure credit card processing, and is used by businesses of all sizes, from small retailers to large multinational corporations. Compliance with PCI DSS is mandatory for all companies that accept, process, store, or transmit credit card information, and failure to comply can result in significant fines and damage to a business’s reputation.

The pros and cons of PCI

Overall, we can say that the security standards of PCI help the industry. They help prevent fraud. Period. However, it does come with some effort. Here are some of the pros and cons of PCI DSS compliance:

The pros and benefits that come with PCI:

  1. Improved security: PCI DSS helps companies to secure sensitive data, reduce the risk of data breaches, and protect against fraud.
  2. Enhanced reputation: Companies that are PCI DSS compliant are seen as more trustworthy, which can help to attract and retain customers.
  3. Increased customer confidence: Customers are more likely to trust companies that are PCI DSS compliant, which can increase their confidence in the security of their personal information.
  4. Compliance with industry standards: PCI DSS is a widely recognized standard that is supported by the major credit card companies, so compliance can help companies to stay current with industry best practices.

The cons or complications that come with PCI:

  1. Cost: Implementing and maintaining PCI DSS compliance can be expensive, especially for small businesses.
  2. Time-consuming: The process of becoming PCI DSS compliant can be time-consuming, requiring companies to dedicate significant resources to the effort.
  3. Complexity: The PCI DSS standards can be complex, making it difficult for companies to understand and implement them.
  4. Ongoing maintenance: PCI DSS compliance is an ongoing process that requires companies to regularly assess and update their security measures to stay in compliance.

PCI DSS compliance provides numerous benefits for companies, including improved security, enhanced reputation, increased customer confidence, and compliance with industry standards. However, it also comes with some challenges, such as cost, time, complexity, and ongoing maintenance. 

What merchants need to do to stay PCI compliant

To stay PCI DSS compliant, a merchant needs to follow the below steps. We also have another article on things that small businesses need to know about PCI.

  1. Assess your compliance: Determine what level of compliance you need to achieve, and assess your current security measures to see where you need to make improvements. There is a self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ) that merchants will need to complete.

  2. Secure your networks: Implement firewalls, secure remote access, and encrypt sensitive information to protect your networks from unauthorized access.

  3. Protect cardholder data: Store and process cardholder data securely, and limit access to this information to only those who need it.

  4. Maintain a vulnerability management program: Regularly scan your systems for vulnerabilities and patch them promptly to reduce the risk of data breaches.

  5. Implement strong access controls: Use multi-factor authentication, password policies, and access controls to limit who has access to sensitive information.

  6. Regularly monitor and test security systems: Regularly monitor your systems for security incidents and test your security measures to identify and address vulnerabilities.

  7. Maintain an information security policy: Develop and implement a comprehensive information security policy that outlines your security measures and procedures.

  8. Report security incidents: Report any security incidents to the relevant authorities promptly, and take steps to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

  9. Regularly assess your compliance: Regularly assess your compliance with the PCI DSS standards and make any necessary updates to your security measures to maintain compliance.

By following these steps, you can ensure that you are meeting the requirements of the PCI DSS and protecting sensitive information from unauthorized access and theft.


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