Progressive Payment Solutions

What is PCI compliance?

What is PCI compliance

Being PCI compliant protects your business and your customers in more ways than one. Find out what it means and how you can make sure your business meets these standards.

Stop and think for a moment how important the information is on each one of your customer’s credit cards: it contains everything needed to access and withdraw funds from their account.

Now think about how that person hands that information over to a merchant several times a day.

How did sharing such important financial information become an everyday occurrence? To put it simply: because it’s safe to do so. It’s safe thanks to regulations in place to protect that information. 

PCI compliance is one of the most important sets of security standards to protect credit card information.

We’ll take a look at what PCI compliance means, what makes up those standards, and why you should absolutely make sure you meet these requirements when you accept payments. 

What does PCI compliance mean?

Let’s start with what PCI stands for: PCI is an acronym for Payment Card Industry. The payment card industry is made up of payment card brands, which include American Express, Visa, Mastercard, and Discover. 

These card brands want consumers and businesses to safely use their cards. This is the point of PCI compliance: to make sure anyone who accepts payment using these cards has the right security measures in place.

PCI DSS is the technical name for PCI Compliance standards. PCI DSS stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards. These are 12 general standards and over 200 sub-requirements that every merchant who accepts cards needs to meet

Technically, the Federal Trade Commission makes sure there are requirements and protections for consumers to prevent fraud from taking place.

However, these standards are more directly developed by both the PCI Standards Council, the Card Association Network, and the National Automated Clearing House (NACHA).

What exactly are they?

What are the requirements to be PCI compliant?

According to the Nilson Report, nearly a billion credit card transactions occur each day. You read that right: billion, with a “b”.  

To secure each transaction, major security standards are required to legally accept card payments. 

Here’s the 12 major requirements to be PCI compliant:

  1. Use and maintain a data-protecting firewall

Blocking potential intruders before they can get into a payment system is a logical first point of protection. This is exactly what a firewall is designed to do.

  1. Change passwords and other security parameters on hardware and systems

Hardware and systems used to accept payments usually come with generic passwords and parameters to make them easy to set up. 

But before a vendor begins accepting payments, they need to change these generic passwords to more secure ones. If they don’t, intruders can gain access to financial information. 

That’s why changing these passwords is essential on payment equipment such as POS systems, routers, and modems.

  1. Protect cardholder data

Two-level data encryption is required to be PCI compliant. The first level of encryption is for card data stored in a system. In order to access this data, encryption keys are used. For extra security via a second level of encryption, these keys themselves are also encrypted.

  1. Encrypt transmitted data

As this valuable data is sent to complete the payment transaction process, it too must be encrypted. 

  1. Use and regularly update an antivirus system

Any device that interacts with personal account information must have an up-to-date antivirus system monitoring and protecting it. 

  1. Update systems and applications

An attacker can bypass antivirus software if there’s an unpatched flaw in a system or application. That’s why these must be regularly updated to meet PCI DSS.

  1. Restrict who can access data

Only executives, staff, and necessary third-parties who require access to financial data should be given it. This list of parties with access should be documented and kept up to date.

  1. Assign a unique ID to each person with access

Each person given access to financial information needs to have their own identifiable ID and password that only they use. This will simplify and speed up investigating any fraudulent acts. 

  1. Restrict physical access to data

Any financial data—whether it’s written, entered, or typed—must be kept in a secure, locked physical location. 

  1.  Create and maintain a data access log

Anytime someone accesses cardholder or financial data, it needs to be logged. This record keeping creates accountability and transparency for everyone with access.

  1. Regularly analyze and test system vulnerabilities

To make sure everything is up to date and functions correctly, test the entire system to avoid any real-world data breaches.

  1.  Document policies and systems

All people, systems, hardware, and software connected with processing financial information needs to be documented. This includes employees, equipment, storage locations, and software involved.

You might feel overwhelmed by the thought of having to implement all of these procedures and systems to meet PCI DSS. You may even be wondering if it’s worth it. Find out below why the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences. 

What are the benefits of being PCI compliant?

The saying “better safe than sorry” is an understatement when it comes to being PCI compliant. After all, things can go horribly wrong in just a second from not having the right standards in place.

Below are just some of the benefits of being PCI compliant:

  • A major reduction in fraudulent financial activity, theft, and data breaches
  • Peace of mind knowing that you did your part to prevent a data breach of someone’s personal or financial information
  • Increased trust from customers and clients who do business with you. This leads to improved relationships and repeat business
  • Clearly established systems that allow for easy solutions to potential payment problems

What if I’m not PCI compliant?

Despite the benefits listed above, some still may avoid PCI compliance. They may not think it’s worth the time and effort required. 

However, these groups of people likely haven’t considered the downsides. 

  • A hefty fine of between $5,000 and $100,000.
  • Having to pay fees from data breaches. These can lead to other fines, legal action, and fees.
  • Your business suffering a damaged reputation from compromising other people’s sensitive information.

Hopefully, weighing both the pros and cons of PCI compliance has you ready to get on board to meeting PCI DSS. Find out how to do that below.

How do I become PCI compliant?

There’s two ways to make sure you’re PCI compliant: do it yourself, or team up with a processor that can help you. We’ll address how to do it yourself first.

Becoming PCI compliant yourself: To begin becoming PCI compliant yourself, you need to first put the steps above in place. Once you do that, you’ll need to fill out an assessment questionnaire. This will help you understand what compliance level you’re at, which depends on your amount of card transactions. 

Different levels have different compliance validation requirements. So once you know your level, you’ll need to implement any changes necessary to meet those requirements.

After all the security protocols are in place, you need to have a PCI DSS Approved Scanning Vendor complete a passing vulnerability scan. After that, you’ll be ready to submit an “Attestation of Compliance”, which will be the final step (assuming your system passes).

Get the help of a payment processor: As always, a complicated task is much easier when you team up with someone who understands and works with the system. This is especially the case to meet PCI DSS. 

Your payment processor can help you meet all the requirements simply and affordably. So when you’re shopping around for the right processor, make sure they can help you become PCI compliant.


Making credit card payments secure around the world requires there to be high security standards. Those standards are in place to protect the consumer, the merchant, and all the financial entities involved.

Fortunately, your business can meet those high standards. The hard part is implementing them on your own. But remember that every effort to become PCI compliant is worth it—for you, for your customers, and for your business.

Ready to become PCI compliant? Then contact PPS today. 

A PPS customer agent is ready to answer any questions you have. PPS also offers the latest in systems, equipment, and anything else you need to meet these stringent security standards. In other words: we make it easy to become PCI compliant.

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