What Startups Should Know About PCI DSS

Whether you own an eCommerce store or a new brick and mortar enterprise, you’ll probably handle customer payment information regularly. Payment data contains lots of sensitive records that need to be kept safe. For example, a single credit card transaction may reflect a person’s name, address, location, and purchasing history. If this information were to end up in the wrong hands, your business would suffer from significant consequences. This is why complying with PCI DSS standards can help you avoid operational setbacks.

60% of companies that fall victim to data breaches aren’t able to recover. By following the guidelines set in place for handling payment data under PCI, you can avoid data hacks and ensure the longevity of your startup.

Understanding PCI DSS Compliance

PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) is a set of data security standards there were put in place by payment processing companies. These guidelines stipulate how various stakeholders should handle payment information- and it aims to protect businesses and customers from experiencing data breaches.

PCI compliance is required for any company that collects, processes, stores, or distributes credit card payments. It is a robust list of over 250 individual requirements and 12 objectives. Some of the general requirements of PCI include:

  • Meeting the compliance requirements for the specific category that your business falls under
  • Filling in a self-assessment questionnaire to determine where your business currently stands with regards to being compliant
  • Having secure applications that process payment data
  • Having your systems audited by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) to determine compliance   

Which Level Do You Fall Under?

Being PCI compliant will depend on the specific category under which your business falls. There are four different levels of compliance, determined by the number of transactions you process within a year. Level 1 applies to any company that handles more than 6 million transactions annually. It has the highest number of requirements because of the volume and the potential risk of breaches. Furthermore, any business that experiences a security breach will need to remain compliant under level 1. 

Level 2 of PCI compliance covers enterprises that process 1-6 million credit card transactions every year. Level 3 is for 20,000-1 million transactions and level 4 covers under 20,000 annual transactions. Each level has specific compliance guidelines. For example, Level 1 requires an independent security assessment to be carried out every year. Companies under level 1 are also expected to implement continuous scans that ensure compliance is adhered to at all times.

Level 2 compliance requires your business to fill out a self-assessment questionnaire and carry out regular scans to determine where you stand when it comes to PCI guidelines.  Level III and V have less stringent measures, but businesses within these levels still need to have firewalls in place, install security software, and actively monitor their networks.

Developing A Plan For Remaining Compliant

Because payment processing is a critical part of any business, remaining compliant with PCI DSS will help you avoid potential data breaches. However, many companies struggle to maintain compliance because of poor planning. This is particularly the case for startups, because being new to the industry may cause your company to forget or overlook critical compliance requirements.

Developing a plan for meeting compliance standards will help you avoid a data breach. Here’s how you can get started.    

1. Continuous compliance is critical

PCI compliance isn’t a one and done task that you can complete and forget about. Consider PCI as a recurrent process, one that you should pay attention to regularly. In the same way, you may analyze sales and forecast future performance, make sure you pay similar attention to payment processing data.  

2. Tailor compliance requirements to your business

PCI compliance will vary based on the number of transactions you process in a year. Therefore, you may need to tailor your operations to fall in line with your specific compliance guidelines. Consider the type of business you’re running, how many workers you have, and your current environment. These factors will help you develop workflows that make compliance more achievable.

3. Have resources in place for achieving compliance

Finally, don’t forget to set aside resources for maintaining PCI compliance. Carry out an audit of your current systems, hardware, and manpower to determine where gaps exist. You can then channel resources to address the most deficient areas as you go along.