What Is PCI Compliance?
The Payment Card Industry (PCI) develops, implements, and maintains Data Security Standards (DSS) for all businesses that accept, process, and send card payments. Non-compliance with DSS can result in fines and sanctions against the company because it puts the cardholder's data at risk.

Card payment is a very convenient payment method. The card can be used offline and online, a payment takes less than a minute, money lands in the recipient's account very quickly, and the risk of mistake is minimal. However, on the way from a payer to a payee, cardholder data can be vulnerable.

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard protects cardholder data from unauthorized use. It is not a law, but it is obligatory for those merchants who plan to develop their businesses and accept card payments.

Importance Of PCI Compliance for Businesses That Accept Credit Card Payments

While businesses and governments strive to reduce the processing time and cost for payment, card payments have become the golden standard in the payment industry. It is a quick and convenient payment method, it is error-prone, and it shapes the modern PCI as it is. So, all the participants want to make card payments as secure as it is possible.

PCI data security standard is 200 line-item requirements for all agencies, companies, and organizations that accept, store, and transmit card and cardholder data. The main aims of PCI standards are:

  • Reduce the risk of card data leakage
  • Set up the industry standards that all agencies should follow
  • Help the agencies set up security measures and policies to prevent physical and network-based attacks
  • Boost the cardholder's confidence in the reliability of card payments
  • Improve general operational effectiveness
  • Reduce the data breach-related costs

Understanding PCI Compliance

Security Standards Council Requirements

The main aim of PCI Security Standards is to protect the card and cardholder data within the payment system and on the way between payer and payee.

The organization that sets up these standards is called PCI Security Standards Council. Here is the main standards list.

  • Install, set up, and maintain a secure network configuration and protective software
  • Encrypt the card data while transferred across the open networks
  • Protect card data that is stored in the company
  • Educate the staff and contractors to train them following information security policies
  • Complete regular PCI compliance checkups and report to PCI Security Standards Council

A full list of the requirements can be found on the PCI Security Council Standards website.

Levels Of PCI Compliance

The level of PCI compliance for businesses depends on the transaction number per year. The threshold numbers are the following:

  1. Level 1: 6+ M transactions per year
  2. Level 2: 1-6M annual transaction volume
  3. Level 3: 20K – 1M transactions
  4. Level 4: up to 20% per year.

Level 1 is the strictest, each next level is milder, and merchants have fewer requirements for their PCI compliance. However, even for small businesses, it is obligatory to comply because non-compliance can result in fines. If a merchant allows unauthorized access to cardholder data, it is responsible for card reissue. Other negative consequences are also possible.

Here are the main requirements for the strictest Level 1.

  • Annual Report of Compliance (RoC) issued and verified by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA)
  • Quarterly network scan by an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV);
  • Completion of an Attestation of Compliance (AOC) form.

For lower levels, the requirement is milder; for example, RoC can be replaced with self-assessment. Nevertheless, every year a business should make a compliance check and complete an AOC form at least.

Identifying and Managing Risks

PCI-related risks are not irresistible. A business can mitigate most of them using standard security protocols, policies, and measures.

Common security risks

There are several PCI-related security risks that are common for many businesses. Business owners and security specialists should be aware of the following threats.

Viruses and malware

Specialized pieces of software can infect the system, block or slow down its work, and steal cardholder data. To mitigate the risk, organizations should install, maintain and update the antivirus software.

Weak passwords

The corporate network settings should require a strong password to enter the network combined with multi-factor authorization. Otherwise, it can be hacked. Also, users should change a password from time to time, and a security system should automatically require the password update. To mitigate this risk, organizations should set up a password policy that requires strong password use and regular update.

Physical security

Unfortunately, a significant number of cardholder data thefts occur on the physical level: criminals steal a computer that can access this data or physically access the computer in the company office. To mitigate this risk, it is necessary to implement physical security measures, such as physical access control, and regularly monitor and log access to systems and devices.

Third-party risks

Third-party vendors or service providers may have access to cardholder data, making them potential sources of risk. To mitigate this risk, organizations should conduct due diligence on third-party providers and implement contracts with reliable partners, like Corytech, that comply with the PCI DSS standards and use high-level security protocols and policies.

To mitigate PCI-related security risks, organizations should create, implement and follow security measures, policies, and protocols. Regular security audits and updates can help identify and address potential PCI-related and other risks.

Why it's important to identify and manage risks

A company's vulnerability to common security risks can have numerous negative consequences, from payment system fines to business bankruptcy. The main risk for every online merchant is unauthorized access to cardholders' data. Even the break of the company's business-vulnerable information is not that critical, and a company can survive it, often with minor losses. However, the leak of cardholder information can harm thousands of people, and a merchant risks facing numerous lawsuits and closing the business.

So, unauthorized access to cardholder data is the top but not the only risk on the list. Using malware, the criminal can access the company's sensitive data. The smartest solution can steal the data and sell it on the black market. However, malware often blocks the system's work, and unblocking requires many IT department efforts or payment to hackers. There is also a financial and general business risk.

To avoid these risks, a business should monitor, identify and manage the risks. Managing risks involves implementing appropriate security controls, monitoring potential security incidents, and taking action to prevent or mitigate any threats to payment card data. This can include implementing firewalls, encryption, and access controls and ensuring that systems and applications are up-to-date with the latest security patches.

So, a business must identify and manage security risks to avoid direct losses and maintain customer trust. However, it must also ensure ongoing compliance with the PCI DSS. These standards are obligatory for all businesses that process, store, and transmit payment card data. Non-compliance can result in growing security risks, legal actions, and monthly penalties. Credit card companies like Visa or Mastercard can take a penalty ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 per month for PCI Non-Compliance.

Implementing PCI Compliance Solutions

The problem of PCI security is as old as the digital payment itself, and the market offers multiple solutions to help protect businesses from security threats. Each solution works separately on a specific security level, so a business should consider combining several products for the best result.

Available PCI compliance solutions


A firewall is a software or hardware that monitors network access attempts and blocks unauthorized incoming and outgoing connections. A firewall can be a part of a complex solution or separate software or hardware. It is a golden network security standard, a simple but reliable solution. A system administrator can set up a firewall to allow connections only to secure apps. However, any firewall is 100% secure.

Security Event Manager is a software that monitors all system events logs, finds unusual and non-typical events, distinguishes harmful and innocent activities, and reacts to the "red flags" according to the protocols and settings. In payments, the transaction declines because of the non-secure user location result from SEM work. However, the difference between legal and harmful activities is not that clear, so SEM should not be the sole security measure.

Data Security Posture Management

DPSM platforms control the automatic data mapping process and define potential vulnerable and sensitive data, including shadow data that often slip under the radar. Then this information is used for security resource optimization.

Network Security Protocols

Network security protocols should secure the data inside the organization and protect it from illegitimate attempts to reach sensitive and vulnerable data. A business should choose one of the existing protocols with data encryption. While encrypted, data is converted into a secret code that can be stored or transmitted without unauthorized access. Encryption can be implemented through software, hardware, or cloud-based services.

Protecting the business by implementing PCI compliance solutions

As we can conclude from the abovementioned, a business cannot limit itself to just one security solution. The security system in the company should be complex, well-laned, and flawlessly integrated into the business processes. To achieve this, a business should follow these three steps:

  • Audit the existing security measures, policies, and protocols; define the weaknesses and vulnerabilities;
  • Develop a road map for a security system upgrade, including the list of the necessary software and hardware, staff education, and business security policies;
  • Implement all road map steps with detailed monitoring and control at each stage.

To meet the PCI Data Security Standard, a business can hire a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) or an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV). These certified specialists can conduct a risk assessment and create and implement the most effective PCI compliance solutions.

Overall, by implementing these PCI compliance solutions and best practices, businesses can help protect themselves from security threats and ensure ongoing compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Maintaining Compliance

Reviewing and updating security measures is crucial because the Internet lives its own life. New technologies and solutions arrive non-stop, criminal minds look for new vulnerabilities in the existing protocols, and the security landscape is changing. This evolution is crucial for PCI compliance: without regular reviews and updates a business does not know about the new security threats, cannot recognize the gaps and weaknesses in the infrastructure, and fix them in a timely and correct manner.

Each organization can schedule the security review and update according to its internal policies. However, when it comes to PCI compliance, all businesses are required to re-certify annually. Each year a business should complete a PCI validation form and wait for results, which depend on many factors, including the implementation of the latest security practices and standards.

Stay informed about changes in PCI standards

To stay informed about the news and changes in PCI standards and best practices, businesses should follow the PCI Security Standards Council informational resources and other businesses that implement best practices and follow the latest trends. Here are a few methods to stay informed:

  • Subscribe to PCI DSS newsletters and a blog – once a week, they publish the latest in industry news, expert insights, dedicated information security content & online events.
  • Attend specialized training and workshops — PCI DSS offers free training for employees to be conducted on hire and annually, as well as additional training for security specialists;
  • Work with experts: Qualified Security Assessors (QSA) can evaluate the PCI compliance in the organization and provide guidance and support on meeting the compliance requirements.
  • Follow industry news: many professional blogs and news feeds publish the latest industry updates and best practice examples.

A business that stays informed about the recent trends in the security landscape, updates and reviews security measures in the organization can protect itself from security breaks and improve trustworthy relationships with the customers.

PCI Compliance FAQ

To whom does the PCI DSS apply?

The PCI DSS is obligatory for any organization or company that works with card and cardholder data accepts, stores, and transmits it. Any merchant that accepts payments by card must comply with PCI data security standards.

Where to find the current PCI DSS?

A website https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/, the official website of the PCI Security Standards Council, offers a Resources section with a Document Library and other documents regarding the latest/current PCI DSS. Also, the websites published information about upcoming events and training, industry news, and additional helpful information.

If a business only accepts credit cards over the phone, does PCI DSS still apply to that business?

Any business that accepts credit cards must comply with PCI DSS. If a business accepts credit cards by phone only, it remains the subject of PCI standards and should follow the general rules.

What's Next?

Only very small businesses can consider PCI compliance to be optional. A business should implement security measures even for the lowest PCI-compliant level, below 20,000 transactions per year. Non-compliance means putting the cardholder data in the risk zone; it can result in payment system fines and other negative consequences.

One of the essential security measures is avoiding a third-party risk. It means cooperation with reliable partners that meet PCI DSS requirements and cases about cardholder data security.

Corytech, the innovative fully-featured platform, invests in the security system to protect cardholder information. Since the start of its work, Corytech does not register the cardholder data leakage due to the issues on the Corytech side. For those businesses that put client security on top, Corytech can become a reliable partner. Request a demo to see how Corytech can help your business.

Vyacheslav Bondarenko
Co-founder of Corytech