In the aftermath of recent cybercrime incidents, consumers are becoming increasingly cautious when it comes to their personal information. As a result, businesses that handle sensitive customer data are being held to higher standards when it comes to protecting this information. These security standards are known as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). If you handle credit card information — even if your business doesn’t actually process payments — you have to abide by these rules. Failure to do so can have serious consequences… If you own or operate a business that handles sensitive customer data (i.e., anything from social security numbers to bank account information), you need to be aware of PCI DSS and its implications on your company.
What is PCI DSS?
The PCI DSS is a set of 12 requirements designed to protect payment card information from unauthorized access and misuse. It was developed by the PCI Security Standards Council, which is made up of 10 major card brands and hundreds of participating merchants. The Council publishes the PCI DSS and re-evaluates it every 3 years, so it is important to stay up-to-date. The Council also publishes a list of approved security providers that can help you achieve compliance with the PCI DSS. This list is known as the PCI Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) list. Most organizations that handle cardholder data are required to comply with the PCI DSS. This includes credit card processors, service providers, and software companies that store or transmit cardholder data. Even organizations that don’t process payments directly themselves must comply with the PCI DSS.
Why Is PCI DSS Important?
First, the PCI DSS is required by law. If you handle credit card information, you must comply with the PCI DSS. If you don’t, you’ll be liable for significant fines. Card brands can impose fines of up to $100,000 for each cardholder whose information is misused as a result of an insecure system. In addition to the fines you’ll face if you don’t comply with the PCI DSS, customers are increasingly sensitive to data privacy issues. When data breaches occur — particularly at large companies — consumers worry about the security of their own information. If you don’t have a PCI DSS-compliant system, customers may be less likely to do business with you.
The Problem With PCI DSS Violation
The PCI DSS is clear about the consequences of violations: it’s either achieve compliance or you’ll face fines. But what happens if you’re not PCI-compliant and don’t know it? The problem is that you may be unaware that you’re violating PCI DSS. Compliance isn’t as simple as installing an antivirus product and setting it to run a scan every day. It requires an ongoing, company-wide effort that includes everything from the systems you use to manage your data to the security of your office. If you’re not aware that you’re in violation of PCI DSS, you can’t take action to fix the problem. This can lead to serious consequences. If you’re not in compliance and your customers are aware, they may stop using your services. If a data breach occurs, you’ll face additional fines. If a cybercriminal steals data from your servers, you’ll face significant reputational damage.
How to Avoid Violating PCI DSS
There are several steps you can take to help avoid violating the PCI DSS and the consequences that go along with it:
- Investigate Your Company - Before you even start to address the PCI DSS compliance requirements, it’s important to investigate your company’s current state. Conducting a PCI DSS assessment is the best way to do this. Investigating your company will give you a better understanding of your current state, which will make it easier to prioritize your PCI DSS compliance efforts.
- Protect Sensitive Data - The PCI DSS is designed to protect credit card information, but it also applies to social security numbers and other sensitive data as well. Protecting this information from unauthorized access is critical to preventing a data breach and complying with PCI DSS.
- Implement a PCI DSS-Compliant System - Once you know where your company stands, it’s time to implement a PCI DSS-compliant system. This may include updating your hardware, changing your software, and improving your employee training.
- Stay Up-to-Date on PCI DSS Compliance - Finally, it’s important to stay up-to-date on PCI DSS compliance. Continue monitoring your systems and checking with your QSA to make sure your business remains in compliance.
The PCI DSS is an important standard that helps protect sensitive customer data and minimize the risk of data breaches. If you handle credit card information, you must comply with the PCI DSS. The PCI DSS is designed to be flexible, so it doesn’t make sense to panic if you can’t implement a specific requirement immediately within your company. However, it’s important to get started on compliance as soon as possible, and to make compliance a company-wide effort.