What Is PCI Certification & How Do You Get Certified?

12 May, 2021
5 min read
Terri Miller, Director of Business Operations
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What you'll learn

  • What does PCI compliance stand for?
  • Why should you complete PCI certification and how to become PCI compliant?
Who is Required to be PCI Compliant?
What are the Requirements to Get PCI Certification?
What are the Benefits of Having a PCI Certification?
How to Become PCI Compliant?
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What is PCI Certification?

PCI certification or PCI-DSS stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard; it is a set of guidelines and frameworks that ensures end-to-end security for card payments. For every organization that stores or processes or transmits sensitive customer credit card information, it is essential for them to become PCI compliant. 

PCI-DSS compliance is regulated and maintained by PCI Security Standards Council(PCI SSC) – an independent council formed by Visa, MasterCard, American Express.   

What is the Purpose of PCI Compliance?

The purpose of PCI compliance is to reduce the possibilities of debit and credit card data theft. Credit card payments are often associated with the risk of fraudulent activities. For example, in the early 1900s, organizations failed to store card data securely; cardholder data was often stored in a desktop system without any proper encryption – incidents like these questioned the security of card payments.  

To avoid such questionable payment processing practices, PCI compliance was enforced to secure card payment processes.  

Who is Required to be PCI Compliant?

  • Any organization that deals with sensitive cardholder information such as credit card number, cardholder name, expiration date, and security code must be PCI compliant. The credit card compliance needs to be verified and renewed every year.
  • PCI-DSS compliance applies to every organization, irrespective of their revenue, size, and industry. This means that every merchant organization needs to be PCI compliant. 

Based on the monthly card transaction volumes, businesses can be divided into four different categories:

PCI-DSS levels

Each level corresponds to a specific difficulty in compliance maintenance. However, PCI compliance is applicable for everyone; it doesn’t overlook small-medium-sized businesses or large enterprises.

Is PCI Compliance Required by Law?

PCI-DSS is not a legal requirement; it is a best practice standard created by the PCI SSC. So, PCI cannot be enforced legally, but the consequences of being non-compliant could be problematic for any organization. Let us understand the aftermath of not being PCI compliant. 

What are the Consequences of Not Being PCI Compliant?

Being PCI non-compliant leaves you with a broad spectrum of risks; in case there is a data breach, your business can suffer heavy losses:

  • Monthly Fines and Data Breach

If a business is not PCI compliant, it can encounter monthly fines up to $100k per month by PCI SSC. Moreover, in case of a possible data breach, the organization suffers additional security costs and forensic investigation expenses that unearth the reasons behind the data breach.   

  • Impact on Reputation and Revenue

The reputation of an organization is hampered if they face a data breach being PCI non-compliant. The end customer might file a lawsuit against the merchant organization, which might lead to your customers never trusting you again. As a result of a high range of penalties and low customer satisfaction, you might foresee a dip in revenue. 

What are the Requirements to Get PCI Certification?

According to PCI SSC, every merchant organization should satisfy the following set of technical criteria to become PCI compliant:

Goals PCI-DSS Requirement List
How to build and maintain a secure network
  • Install and maintain a firewall configuration to protect cardholder data
  • Do not use vendor-supplied defaults for system passwords and other security parameters
How to protect the cardholder’s data
  • Protect the stored cardholder data
  • Encrypt the transmission of cardholder data across open and public networks
How to maintain a vulnerability management program
  • Use and regularly update anti-virus software or programs
  • Develop and maintain secure systems and applications
How to implement strong access control measures
  • Restrict access to cardholder data by business need to know
  • Assign a unique ID to each person with computer access
  • Restrict physical access to cardholder data
How to regularly monitor and test networks
  • Track and monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data
  • Regularly test security systems and processes
How to maintain an information security policy
  • Maintain a policy that addresses information security for all personnel

What are the Benefits of Having a PCI Certification?

Having a PCI certification is similar to a safety shield. It positively impacts your brand reputation, customers, and your cash flow

Benefits of becoming PCI compliant

How to Become PCI Compliant?

To complete PCI certification, any merchant organization can follow this 5-step process:

Step1: Analyze your PCI level

You have to analyze your PCI level; as per records, businesses can range within levels 1-4 based on their monthly card transaction volumes. 

Step2: Fill Out the Self-Assessment Questionnaire

Based on your PCI level, the next step is to fill out a self-assessment questionnaire. These questionnaires are a series of yes-or-no questions built to determine how closely your business meets PCI Data Security Standard requirements.

Step3: Build & Maintain a Secure Environment to Protect Card Data

This step involves installing a ‘firewall’ to prevent any unauthorized access. As mentioned in the 12-point criteria, it is essential to build a strong password cadence program for your employees. Organizations also choose to store sensitive card information with the help of data tokenization in a secure web portal.

Step4: Complete a Formal Attestation of Compliance

The formal Attestation of Compliance is a social proof document reflecting successful results of the compliance assessment from the merchant’s end. 

Step5: Fill the Paperwork with Credit Card Companies

How long does a PCI certification take?

A PCI certification or a credit card compliance certification process might get completed between a day or two weeks. It depends on how fast a merchant organization can meet all the five steps of PCI certification.  

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