If your business or organisation takes payment by card or handles customers' financial information, you need to make sure that you are PCI DSS compliant. It doesn't matter if you head up a worldwide retail giant or are a sole trader with strictly local customer base: once you decide to accept cards such as Visa or Mastercard, the rules of PCI DSS apply to you.
PCI DSS, or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards, is the universal mandate for any organisation that processes card transactions or deals with customer card details. There are twelve core requirements for PCI DSS compliance, and the process of achieving them may well seem daunting.
There are other obligations, too, with yearly on-site audits for the largest traders classed as Level One, and Self-Assessment Questionnaires for the other tiers, in addition to essential system scans and evidenced commitment to your organisation's data security. With that in mind, it's important to remember why PCI DSS compliance was created in the first place, and why it still plays such an essential role today.
Why PCI DSS was born
Back in the early days of the twenty-first century, the new boom in internet shopping was great news for retailers and other businesses which had already made the transition to trading online. Unfortunately, the new field of e-commerce also proved to be great news for criminals who were quick to exploit the web for fraudulent gain.
The answer to this threat came in the form of a set of standards intended to maximise the security of online financial transactions, with Visa spearheading the campaign with the creation of a Cardholder Information Security Program (CISP). Other credit card providers followed suit, with Mastercard, American Express and others all launching their own security protocols before long.
Naturally, with many businesses accepting more than one card, brands were quickly faced with a logistical and administrative nightmare as they had to satisfy the varying security requirements of each and every card provider. This confusion led to the independent PCI SSC (Payment Card Institute Security Standards Council) being set up, and the first PCI DSS universal compliance requirements were created.
How PCI DSS compliance benefits you
Fraud is bad news for everyone. Whilst individuals may get their money back eventually, the stark facts from UK Finance show that the criminals who profit from stolen data go on to fund other illegal activities that harm our society at large, from drug dealing to people trafficking and even terrorism. For the business owner, card fraud can cost significant sums through chargebacks from payment processing institutions. There are substantial fines if PCI DSS has not been adhered to, as well as other damages that are harder to quantify, such as reputational harm. It, therefore, makes sense to ensure that your business is fully compliant, and the following reasons emphasise this.
PCI DSS compliance protects you
In the first instance, as we have already mentioned, being compliant ensures that you can avoid the chargebacks or fees associated with fraud. Part of becoming PCI DSS compliant involves making sure that firewalls and encryption measures are in place, alongside prohibiting the storing of customers' card details and other sensitive data, and all of this serves as a great approach to your overall cyber security.
In completing the twelve requirements for compliance, you will find it necessary to examine the security framework that you have in place and address any potential weak areas. The larger Level One merchants may also benefit from the findings of the inspecting Qualified Security Assessor during their annual visit.
PCI DSS compliance protects your clientele
By being fully compliant, you can reassure your clients or customers that you are a safe enterprise, and that their valuable data is secure from criminals. This, in turn, leads to increased brand loyalty, and reputational benefits will surely follow. Being recognised as a reliable, safe business is an increasingly valuable commodity for those trading in a digital age, and, conversely, being known as a company that has suffered a data breach can cause reputational damage from which many may never recover financially.
The UK economy annually sees thefts by fraud in excess of a billion pounds, and the frequency of attempted data breaches shows little sign of abating. By being proactive in your organisation's defence against these data breaches, you can minimise your risk of becoming a victim. Following the PCI DSS requirements provides an excellent framework for examining your business' security practices, and thereby ensuring that you have a comprehensive set of security measures in place.
With many applications and services now available to help you achieve PCI DSS compliance, from tokenisation systems that remove the need to store customer financial data, through to automated telephone payment processing systems that similarly remove your need to handle cardholder information, it has never been easier to integrate secure systems into your everyday processes. Simply put, being PCI DSS compliant is the right thing to do for our society, your customers, and your business.