PCI DSS Compliance Best Practices

Best Practices for PCI DSS Compliance

Since the introduction of the PCI Data Security Standard, more and more organizations that store, process, or transmit cardholder data are seeking compliance with the PCI DSS standard.

As time passed, the PCI DSS Standard matured and was accepted as a solid foundation within information security best practices.

See Also: PCI DSS Requirements Explained

There are still many organizations that are not fully compliant with the PCI DSS standard. However, organizations that are PCI compliant also know well that compliance is not a one-time process.

PCI compliance is an ongoing process, and organizations need to stay in compliance throughout the year rather than verify compliance. Only in this way can they effectively protect and secure customer data from potential breaches.

See Also: How to Prepare for a PCI DSS Audit

Note that the annual PCI DSS assessment is only an indicator of how well an organization has complied during the evaluation. It is not an indication of the time between the two assessments.

For an organization to consistently comply with PCI DSS requirements, it must have a formal security policy that works at all times and is in place throughout the year.

Below are some of the best practices an organization should adopt to effectively implement and maintain PCI DSS compliance:

Understand the real intent and scope of the PCI

Many merchants and service providers begin their PCI compliance efforts poorly because they often fail to understand what PCI compliance means. PCI DSS compliance is not a simple assessment or study that can be done in a matter of hours. Generally, PCI DSS compliance is about a change in security perspective, culture, and ideology.

See Also: What are the PCI Compliance Fines and Penalties?

Understanding today’s security issues, challenges, threats, and best practices businesses face requires genuine determination.

Besides, PCI compliance is an evaluation process that could require the acquisition of a large number of security tools or solutions and develop a wide variety of PCI policies.

The technical and documentation aspects of PCI compliance can be difficult and tiring, so keeping these situations in mind will allow you to manage the process more comfortably.

In conclusion, be warned that PCI compliance is not an easy process most of the time.

Determine Scope of PCI DSS Compliance

Before implementing PCI DSS in your organization, it is crucial to determine its scope. As a minimum, you will need to identify the infrastructure for storing, processing, and transmitting cardholder data and define all payment channels, locations, and data streams.

Most organizations will limit the implementation of PCI Controls to only the defined infrastructure, but attackers identify and exploit the organization’s weakest point to infiltrate the network. That’s why it’s crucial to determine your PCI scope, narrow it down if possible, and understand what you’re protecting.

To effectively ensure PCI DSS compliance, an end-to-end understanding of the processes involved in storing, processing, and transmitting payment card data is required. An organization must know how and where to access, transmit, and store cardholder data.

However, understanding and determining where card data is located is the biggest challenge for companies looking to comply with PCI-DSS.

Also, if the organization is PCI compliant, the assessments should review the changes and updates that affect the PCI scope and redefine the PCI scope according to the results.

Minimize PCI scope

It is crucial to minimize compliance coverage to streamline and speed up implementing PCI DSS requirements. By reducing PCI coverage, you can reduce the cost and effort required to be compliant.

Coverage can be reduced by minimizing the cardholder data environment (CDE). Note that everything related to the storage, processing, or transmission of cardholder data forms part of the CDE.

You can use network segmentation or tokenization methods to narrow the scope of the PCI.

Develop and implement effective policies.

The best way to start your compliance process with PCI DSS is to create policies that describe how your security works and how you restrict access to cardholder data. Note that implementing a PCI DSS compliance program is not something you can do gradually.

You should explain and specify all your processes with policies and procedures. Policies explain how to do everything and how to respond to problems. In this way, your employees will better understand your business model.

It is crucial to separate cardholder data from your regular business data.

By separating standard business data from cardholder data, you create a cardholder environment that only concerns cardholder data. Separating data of different attributes not only protects the data, but it also limits the scope of the PCI audit.

As soon as you interact with your customer’s card number, all cardholder data must be encrypted or masked. With the encryption or masking method, you can ensure the data’s security when it is not used.

Safeguarding sensitive cardholder data is an essential aspect of fully complying with PCI-DSS requirements and should be regularly addressed and checked along with all other provisions.

Being proactive in ensuring your organization follows the correct PCI-DSS requirements each year will save your company time and money when dealing with any compliance issue. The sense of security will make your customers happy. Also, because sensitive data is safe, you can keep your business competitive.

Role-based access controls make PCI compliance much more comfortable.

The main advantage of role-based access control is that it reduces the total number of rules to follow. In other words, it is much more efficient to create access rights only for roles.

An example of role-based access control is that your HR department does not have access to cardholder data, but your system administrators have access to cardholder data.

Set security alerts for anything that could endanger your cardholder data environment.

Attackers won’t usually go through your front door and try to steal your data. Attackers often conduct their attacks secretly, and in ways, you don’t know. Even if there are things you believe are unimportant to watch, the smallest detail will help preserve your cardholder environment and take action quickly.

Perform scans and tests as early as possible.

Companies that need to perform a quarterly scan should use an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV). Your organization needs to pass scans and tests without any failed vulnerabilities.

Similarly, penetration testing performed annually or after significant changes for some companies is also among PCI requirements.

Completing your scans early in the quarter allows you to catch new vulnerabilities or issues and gives your team enough time to fix it. In this way, by compressing scans and tests to the last moment, you will be free from additional workload and stress.

Never overlook any issues that arise during security tests.

You must take immediate action to identify problems and their causes. This way, you can solve problems without growing or harming your environment. After you find and fix the issues, be sure to retest the system to ensure everything is working as intended. Record and retain all documents generated during the process for future security audits or risk assessments.

Monitor networks and systems for authorized and unauthorized changes during maintenance and high traffic periods.

In some cases, even the best security measures and techniques to detect attacks aren’t helpful. When a new malware emerges, it takes less than five minutes to infect a machine anywhere in the world.

For this reason, monitoring your network more carefully, especially during periods of distraction such as maintenance and high traffic, will protect you from dangers.

Make regular risk assessments.

PCI DSS emphasizes the importance of conducting risk assessments to understand the likelihood and extent of damages from different risks and to assess the need for additional data protection measures.

You should periodically review your security situation to find areas of focus, prioritize, and reduce risks to an acceptable level. If you don’t have a risk assessment process yet, define a risk assessment methodology that might be appropriate for your organization, assign roles and responsibilities, and allocate resources.

Remember that people are often the weakest link in any security strategy.

It is essential for businesses not to ignore the human element in PCI DSS compliance. While security software and devices can significantly improve overall security, they can use it much more effectively when employees fully understand their needs.

When a knowledgeable employee is aware of his purpose, he will be less inclined to seek ways to circumvent security measures. All businesses need to invest in employee training specific to the industry in which they operate to ensure they understand the importance of PCI DSS and the threats and consequences of non-compliance.

Each individual involved in the processing of cardholder data must be aware of the PCI DSS requirements. For this purpose, regular training should be given to existing employees as well as new employees.

Periodically evaluate your third-party service providers.

If any element of your outsourcing activities involves a third party that stores, processes, or transmits cardholder data, such service providers must also be PCI DSS compliant. Also, to protect cardholder data, you should make sure that third-party service providers’ security controls are valid.

However, you must follow a formalized and structured plan to evaluate your third-party service providers’ security checks. In this way, you can regularly review the security and compliance of your service providers.

Apply multi-layer security defense system

A multi-layered security defense system helps you achieve a higher level of protection because if one defense mechanism fails, the attack can be stopped by the next layer.

Using different security solutions and strategies for different layers will be positive for your overall security architecture. Because if similar security solutions and techniques are used in each layer, jeopardizing one of the solutions means threatening the entire architecture’s security.

For detailed information, you can review the PCI SSC Information supplement: Best Practices for Maintaining PCI DSS Compliance

Surkay Baykara
Surkay Baykarahttps://www.pcidssguide.com
A passionate Senior Information Security Consultant working at Cyberwise. Over the past 15+ years my professional career has included several positions beginning as a developer and IT administrator, working my way up to a senior Technical Performance Consultant before joining Biznet back in 2015. I had several different roles at Cyberwise, including Penetration Tester and PCI DSS QSA. In my job as a QSA, I found my passion and worked closely with the Audit and Compliance team. I've been working inside InfoSec for over 15 years, coming from a highly technical background. I have earned several certifications during my professional career including; CEH, CISA, CISSP, and PCI QSA.

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