Tips and Strategies for PCI DSS Compliance

General Tips for PCI DSS Compliance

The purpose of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) is to provide organizations that transmit, store, or process credit card information with a strict security framework and best practices.

PCI DSS consists of a set of technical and operational requirements that govern payment transactions. Organizations in the payment industry must ensure and maintain PCI DSS compliance. They may otherwise face the consequences of the increased risk of data breaches, brand reputation damage, hefty fines, and other penalties.

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

Maintaining a compatible PCI DSS network environment, such as ensuring PCI DSS compliance, can also be challenging. PCI DSS compliance is evaluated and approved on an annual basis. There are also daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly actions that must be taken to meet specific PCI DSS requirements.

See Also: Best Practices for PCI DSS Compliance

Below, we’ve compiled some general tips and strategies for getting started and maintaining PCI DSS compliance. The mentioned tips will help you eliminate unnecessary cardholder data storage and securely isolate the data you need. This way, it aims to encourage you to limit your scope in the PCI DSS compliance process.

For example, you can narrow your PCI DSS scope by eliminating cardholder data you don’t need or isolating sensitive data. Eliminating cardholder data will significantly reduce the number of requirements you have to deal with for compatibility.

See Also: How to Prepare for a PCI DSS Audit

Tips and strategies were created to help merchants and service providers address the most problematic issues within the 12 PCI DSS requirements and streamline PCI DSS compliance processes.

Below are tips that can be applied in a more holistic way to keep adaptation approaches together. These tips and strategies are indeed the core points of the PCI Data Security Standards.

Ultimately, PCI DSS controls’ primary purpose is to help you better protect your data from future inevitable attacks.

1. Understand the PCI DSS scope of your environment.

Determining your organization’s PCI DSS scope means identifying the people, processes, and technologies that affect or may affect cardholder data security.

All these items within the scope of PCI DSS are subject to PCI DSS requirements. Examples of system components that may be in scope for your environments are network devices, servers, applications, and workstations.

See Also: Scoping and Segmentation for PCI DSS

Understanding where credit card data enters your system and where it goes from here is critical to ensuring this data’s security. Build a data flow chart for all in-scope networks.

2. Understand what data should be protected.

The first step is to understand what qualifies as sensitive data that needs to be protected about PCI compliance. Remember that the type of information that should be used with caution is not only data such as credit card numbers, but also personally identifiable information that can be linked to an individual.

Then determine where such sensitive data is kept in your environment. Understand what happens to the information by analyzing exactly where customer information is going in your environment and how it does so.

You must identify and document how the information is transferred from the system to the system. So you can take steps to protect sensitive data every step of the way. Keep in mind that protecting sensitive data not only involves online systems but also what happens in an office environment, customer’s premises, or other locations.

3. Do not store sensitive data.

Not storing sensitive data is one of the best things you can do to help your business achieve PCI compliance. Looking at the systems you analyze as part of the PCI, consider whether information needs to be stored and stored at every point in the cycle.

If possible, take advantage of a system where you don’t have to store data after customers are charged in real-time.

Sensitive authentication data includes full magnetic stripe, equivalent chip data tracking content, card verification codes and values, PINs, and PIN blocks. After authorization, make sure you never store Sensitive Authentication Data.

While businesses are expected to store and protect necessary cardholder information such as customer name and account number, CVV data, usually three or four digit numbers on the back of the card, is not allowed to be stored.

Companies frequently ask their customers for CVV codes to help reduce fraud. Processing this information during a transaction is not a problem. However, PCI does not allow companies to store this data anywhere on your system, even if stored in encrypted form.

When there is an absolute need for sensitive data to be stored, access to that database should only be granted to those in need. Each of these team members must be given their unique credentials to use when logging in.

All company employees should also be informed of the importance of protecting cardholder data and the possible consequences the business may face.

If you retain appropriate, sensitive data, you must meet the encryption requirements by the technical guidelines outlined in Requirement 3 of PCI DSS. At a minimum, PCI DSS requires that PAN, including portable digital media, backup media, and logs, be made unreadable wherever it is stored.

4. Use network segmentation.

The amount of effort you need to do to ensure PCI DSS compliance depends on your scope of PCI DSS. PCI applies only to servers, network devices, and applications in your company that process, store, or transmit cardholder data. These components are considered within the scope of PCI DSS.

See Also: How to Reduce the PCI Scope for Easier Compliance

By separating components covered by the PCI DSS from the rest of your company, you reduce the risk of your customers’ credit card data being intercepted. Also, with this application, you reduce the scope of your PCI procedures. It means you will spend less time and money to achieve PCI compliance with network segmentation.

Network segmentation is done by separating, processing, or transmitting card data from non-card data systems, physically or virtually. Network segmentation is the most important means of reducing costs, time, and effort to ensure PCI DSS compliance. Network segmentation can be done through firewalls or physical gaps.

See Also: How is the PCI Network Segmentation Affecting the PCI Scope

Network segmentation is essentially the process of dividing a network into smaller subdivisions and limiting how they communicate with each other. For a system to be considered out of scope, the cardholder data environment must be isolated and not affected by a breach.

5.Test the effectiveness of your security controls

To ensure PCI DSS compliance, you must perform three different security tests in your environment. The tests you should perform are internal network vulnerability scanning, penetration testing, and ASV scanning.

See Also: What is a PCI Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV)?

You can perform internal network vulnerability and penetration tests using your local resources. However, you must perform ASV tests on a PCI certified ASV. If you use local resources, this individual must be aware of security testing procedures and not be directly involved in PCI DSS’s overall assessment.

See Also: PCI Vulnerability Scan Requirements

Organizations that process payment card information should regularly scan and test their systems. Unfortunately, many organizations get the impression that screening and testing are two expressions that mean the same thing. Scanning and testing are not the same; they are different activities with their own needs and goals.

You must perform ASV scans as early as possible. Note that your organization will need to send “clean” scans. Clean ASV scans mean there are no vulnerabilities in the tests, and the scans are approved by both you and your ASV.

Often, organizations prefer to run their first few scans a little earlier than the quarter ends so that vulnerabilities or problems found can be fixed and rescanned on time.

Penetration tests are done in much more detail than vulnerability scans. It is designed not only to identify weaknesses in an organization’s system architecture but also to exploit them.

See Also: PCI Penetration Test Requirements

Penetration tests show precisely how a cybercriminal can infiltrate systems and what information they can access. Organizations with this knowledge can determine how adequate security controls are and which areas to improve.

Penetration tests can affect your running systems. For this reason, you may need to do the test outside of working hours or inform the relevant people about the test in advance. You will need to work with a qualified professional, as the penetration test must be performed by someone who has qualified skills and adheres to ethical standards.

6. Documentation is a requirement for PCI compliance.

Documented guidelines are vital for existing and new employees. They are a point of reference for going back and solving problems over and over again. Being proactive and following written directions is much easier and more effective than tracking violations or fixing vulnerabilities.

See Also: PCI DSS Policy and Procedure Documentation

Documentation plays an essential role in the compliance program for PCI DSS. It should provide practical operational guidelines for anyone working with payment card data and support all applicable PCI requirements.

Documenting your policies and procedures is essential as it helps employees understand what has been done and what needs to be done. The documentation also simplifies the PCI process and provides a basis for safety education materials. By creating your policies, you reinforce your safety and intention to train employees.

The documentation requirement applies to all your PCI processes. There is also documentation for file integrity monitoring, patching, wireless intrusion prevention systems, and internal or external scans.

Most businesses often view change control and documented retrofit standards as hard work. As a result, many businesses rarely document, even if they follow security checks.

One way to simplify the PCI DSS Compliance documentation is to create a PCI email user or active PCI directory account and add reminders to the calendar to ensure that the necessary security actions are not forgotten.

Evidence from the completion of PCI compliance tasks can then be stored in this account. Automatic reminders are an easy and free solution to help your employees keep an eye on compliance with PCI throughout the year and give you all the evidence you need for assessments.

7. Train your employees regularly.

You can invest in the latest information security tools and systems, but you will be wasting your money if your employees don’t know how to protect their credit card information.

Often, your employees are your first line of defense against fraud. That’s why it is essential to thoroughly educate your employees on how to adequately protect cardholder data to protect your business from fraud and data breaches. Because if employees do not know or understand what is expected of them, they are likely to risk risking cardholder data regardless of other security measures applied.

See Also: Implementing a Security Awareness Program

All employees in a company must take responsibility for the data they process. When everyone who touches cardholder data understands how to manage it, your organization will have a more secure environment.

Organize training for your employees on how to protect customer information and credit card data. Ensure they know your policies on data security and the situations you will encounter when they fail to comply with PCI standards.

Security awareness training is a must, especially for your employees who interact with payment card data, but organizing safety awareness training for all levels will increase your security maturity level. Your program must be formal, continuous, and comprehensive so that all personnel understands your company’s security policies and data security principles and best practices.

8. Make sure your customers and service providers are also compatible or work with PCI compliance.

Compliance with PCI DSS also provides a solid foundation for an enterprise security strategy and helps you identify ways to increase your customers’ IT infrastructures’ overall efficiency.

To ensure that PCI compliance is appropriately addressed and your and your customers’ data is protected from potential breaches, choose a provider that meets the PCI compliance standards.

If your customers are not compatible, it can lead to unintended harmful consequences for them and you. If a customer experiences a data breach, it has the potential to damage their business by incurring fines, lost revenue, or loss of customer trust.

Any bad scenario can cause your customer to lose faith in you as a service provider. Other negative consequences include lawsuits, insurance claims, canceled accounts, and payment card issuer penalties.

9. Form a dedicated team to ensure PCI compliance.

Bear in mind that PCI compliance is not a one-time event. As data flows and customer touchpoints evolve, it is an ongoing process to keep your business compliant.

Some credit card brands may require you to submit quarterly or annual reports or perform an annual on-site assessment to ensure ongoing compliance, mainly if you process more than 6 million transactions each year.

Managing PCI compliance throughout the year often requires cross-departmental support and collaboration. If this is not already there, it may be useful to create a dedicated team internally to maintain compliance properly.

10. Apply the QSA Rotation.

PCI SSC continually seeks to raise the basic standard of quality within the evaluator community. Recently, the leading Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) rotation has been brought up as best practice to improve assessments’ quality.

To help ensure the highest quality of assessments, PCI SSC encourages organizations to review, implement, and explore it.

In this way, you can get different perspectives on your security and compliance by having your annual audits performed by different QSAs.

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

Surkay Baykara
Surkay Baykara
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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