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February 22, 2024
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 min read

How to Become PCI DSS Compliant ?

Discover the key requirements to become PCI DSS compliant. Learn practical tips, understand the 12 essential checklists, and protect cardholder data with Strac.

How to Become PCI DSS Compliant ?
Calendar Icon White
February 22, 2024
Clock Icon
 min read

How to Become PCI DSS Compliant ?

Discover the key requirements to become PCI DSS compliant. Learn practical tips, understand the 12 essential checklists, and protect cardholder data with Strac.



  • The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is essential for ensuring transactional security and building customer trust.
  • There are 12 key components of the PCI DSS checklist, including data encryption, access control, and firewall settings.
  • Beyond just ticking off a checklist, one should meet the PCI Security Standards Council's requirements of continuous monitoring and network scans.
  • Strac's DLP solution enhances PCI DSS compliance efforts through features like continuous monitoring, high-accuracy data detection, and proactive data scanning.

With every business going digital, online transactions are no longer an exception but a norm. This shift has brought the security of cardholder data into sharp focus, making the compliance for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) a necessity. 

Whether you're a small online retailer or a large corporation, this guide provides a structured approach to becoming PCI DSS compliant. With our practical checklist in hand, you'll take on each requirement, ensuring your business is secured against any kind of breaches. Let’s begin.

The Fundamentals of PCI Compliance

PCI DSS compliance refers to adhering to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, a set of guidelines and security measures designed to protect cardholder data. The first step towards securing online transactions and safeguarding cardholder data is understanding "What is PCI Compliant standard".

Developed by the PCI Security Standards Council, these standards apply to all entities that store, process, or transmit credit card information. The primary goal of PCI DSS security requirements is to protect cardholder data from breaches and fraud. Its compliance ensures that sensitive information is encrypted, access is controlled, and monitoring systems are in place to detect and respond to security incidents.

The 12 key PCI DSS Security Requirements

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) establishes a set of 12 key PCI DSS checklist that are crucial for any business handling cardholder data.

  1. Installing and maintaining firewalls: Firewalls serve as a fundamental barrier, controlling the incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules.
  2. Changing vendor-supplied default passwords: Default passwords and security settings provided by vendors are often common knowledge and can be easily exploited.
  3. Protecting stored cardholder data: It's crucial to safeguard stored cardholder data using encryption, truncation, redaction, or other effective methods. This step ensures that sensitive data is secure even if a system breach occurs.
  4. Encrypting data across open networks: When transmitting cardholder data over open, public networks, encryption protects the data from interception and unauthorized access.
  5. Regularly updating antivirus software: Deploying and updating antivirus regularly on all systems protects against malware and other cyber threats that could compromise cardholder data.
  6. Developing secure systems and processes: This involves creating and maintaining secure applications and network systems, including regular updates and patches to address known vulnerabilities.
  7. Restricting access to data on a need-to-know basis: Limiting the access to cardholder data to those employees whose jobs require it allows for minimimal data exposure.
  8. Assigning unique user IDs: Every individual with computer access should have a unique ID to ensure that actions on critical data and systems can be accurately traced.
  9. Restricting physical access to cardholder data: Implement physical access controls to protect systems and environments where cardholder data is stored. This includes using surveillance cameras, access control mechanisms, and visitor logs.
  10. Tracking and monitoring network access and data: These mechanisms are necessary for detecting and responding to anomalies in network and data usage, including maintaining audit trails and using automated monitoring tools.
  11. Regularly testing systems and processes: Regular testing of security systems and processes ensure the effectiveness to identify any vulnerabilities. This includes conducting penetration tests and vulnerability scans.
  12. Maintaining a robust information security policy: Regularly reviewing the information security policy sets the foundation for security practices within an organization. It should be communicated to all employees, ensuring that everyone understands their role for being PCI DSS compliant.

The Roadmap to Become PCI Compliant

The journey of how to become PCI compliant requires more than checking checklists. Here are the steps that businesses need to take.

  • Step 1: Meet the requirements set by the PCI security standards council
  • Step 2: Conduct detailed assessment of business systems and practices
  • Step 3: Perform network scans
  • Step 4: Identifying the compliance levels

Step 1: Meet the requirements set by the PCI security standards council

The initial step in PCI DSS compliance involves the understanding of the requirements established by the PCI Security Standards Council. These 12 requirements encompass a range of security measures and protocols designed to safeguard cardholder data.

Step 2: Conduct detailed assessment of business systems and practices

A crucial part of becoming PCI DSS compliant is ensuring that security measures are effectively integrated within a business's systems and practices. This involves an assessment of the current security posture of your business, identifying areas where cardholder data is processed, stored, and transmitted, and evaluating the effectiveness of existing security controls.

Step 3: Perform network scans

Network scans are conducted to detect vulnerabilities in your network, including unsecured ports, outdated software, misconfigured firewalls, and other potential security weaknesses. These scans help in identifying areas that require strengthening to protect against cyber attacks.

Step 4: Identifying the compliance levels

Businesses fall into different levels of compliance based on the volume of transactions they process. These levels determine the specific requirements and assessment procedures that a business must follow.

  • Level 1: Businesses that process more than 6 million transactions annually are categorized as Level 1. This level demands the most rigorous compliance measures, including an annual Report on Compliance (ROC) conducted by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) or an internal auditor, and a quarterly network scan by an Approved Scan Vendor (ASV).
  • Level 2: For businesses processing between 1 and 6 million transactions annually, Level 2 compliance applies.
  • Level 3: Level 3 targets businesses that handle 20,000 to 1 million e-commerce transactions per year. 
  • Level 4: This level is for businesses processing fewer than 20,000 e-commerce transactions or up to 1 million total transactions annually.

A business that suffers a breach may be escalated to a higher compliance level by the card networks.

The Ecosystem of PCI Compliance

Understanding the roles and responsibilities of each group within the PCI DSS ecosystem is crucial to become PCI DSS compliant.

  • Card networks: Card networks such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and others are fundamental to the PCI compliance landscape. Each network may have its own set of specific compliance requirements and guidelines that align with the overarching standards set by the PCI Security Standards Council. 
  • The PCI Security Standards Council: The PCI SSC is the governing body that develops, enhances, and promotes the PCI DSS. The council provides the framework for developing a payment card data security process, including prevention, detection, and appropriate reaction to security incidents.
  • Merchant account providers and payment service providers: These providers function as intermediaries between businesses and card networks. They not only facilitate the ability of businesses to accept card payments but also act as administrators of PCI compliance.
  • Business owners: It is the responsibility of business owners to ensure that their business meets the PCI DSS requirements set forth by the card networks and the PCI SSC. This involves implementing the necessary security measures, conducting regular assessments and audits, and maintaining an ongoing commitment to protecting cardholder data.

Practical Tips for Achieving PCI DSS Compliance

Here are some essential tips that can guide businesses to achieve PCI DSS compliance:

1. Practicing good data hygiene

The foundation of data security starts with good data hygiene practices. You should know exactly what data you have, where it is stored, and how it is used. Regularly review and clean your data storage to ensure that only necessary cardholder data is retained.

2. Keeping software updated

Ensure that all systems, including point-of-sale (POS) systems, payment gateways, and other software that interact with cardholder data, are regularly updated with the latest security patches and updates.

3. Storing only essential data

Limit the storage of cardholder data to what is absolutely necessary for business operations. It's crucial to mask credit card number details and avoid storing sensitive data elements like full magnetic stripe data, CVV2 numbers, or PIN data, as storing these can increase compliance requirements and security risks.

4. Educating employees on data protection

Regular training and education of employees on the importance of data security, recognizing phishing attempts, and proper handling of cardholder data are vital. Create a culture of security awareness within the organization to protect against data breaches.

5. Using validated payment software and card readers

Ensure that all payment software and hardware used in your business are validated for PCI DSS compliance. Using validated payment solutions helps in safeguarding transaction data right from the point of entry, reducing the risk of data compromise.

How does Strac help you stay PCI DSS compliant?

Strac is a SaaS and endpoint DLP solution that helps businesses stay PCI DSS compliant with its modern features:

  • Continuous monitoring and instant alerts: Real-time monitoring and instant alerting of any unauthorized activities or data movements keep businesses ahead in their security efforts.
  • High accuracy in data detection: Strac employs sophisticated machine learning models to achieve high accuracy in identifying sensitive data.
  • Proactive data scanning: Strac actively scans for sensitive information, ensuring thorough protection and management of critical data. This proactive scanning is key to identifying and safeguarding essential data elements.
  • Intelligent data redaction: The advanced redaction capabilities are a standout feature for redacting sensitive details in shared documents for preventing unintended data exposure.
  • Securing data in transit: Ensuring the safety of data during transmission, Strac encrypts information moving across various networks. This encryption is vital for protecting data against potential interceptions.
  • Granular access control: The platform allows for detailed access management, ensuring that only authorized individuals can access sensitive information. This level of control is essential for minimizing the risk of data breaches.
  • Integration with multiple platforms: The solution's compatibility with various platforms, including SaaS, Cloud, and endpoint environments such as Zendesk, Slack, and Office 365, ensures coverage and protection across all business operations.

Book a free 30-min meet to learn more about securing transactions and customer data.

Founder, Strac. ex-Amazon Payments Infrastructure (Widget, API, Security) Builder for 11 years.

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