four levels of PCI compliance

Comprehensive Guide to the Four Levels of PCI Compliance

Your business will fall under one of the four levels of PCI compliance if you accept credit card payments. The PCI standards ensure businesses will protect all customer data without risking possible losses. The work is about preventing data breaches and other issues where customers may not trust businesses with their card data.

The rules you’ll follow to attain PCI compliance will vary depending on your level. Every card-handling business will meet one of four levels of PCI compliance.

You can tell which level you fall under, surrounding how many transactions you complete. However, some businesses that have been in trouble may also require extended PCI compliance needs. Here’s how these four compare and what you must complete for each level.

Understanding PCI Compliance Levels and Their Importance

Understanding PCI Compliance Levels and Their Importance

PCI compliance levels determine the depth of review and reporting a business must conduct regarding its PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) procedures. This includes whether a business must share these reports with its acquiring bank.

But what’s an acquiring bank?

It’s a bank authorized by payment networks to manage and process merchant transactions. Moreover, this bank ensures that its merchants follow the PCI standards. Sometimes, these banks delegate this monitoring task to the business’s payment service provider.

Four levels of PCI compliance

Level 1

Level 1 businesses will process at least six million transactions annually through all channels. Any business that has had a data breach in the past will also be a Level 1 entity, regardless of its size. Such entities will be high-risk parties that need extra monitoring and reviews to ensure the company can meet PCI standards.

Level 1 businesses must undergo these annual efforts:

  • A business must have an approved scanning vendor complete a network scan each quarter.
  • An in-person third-party audit is necessary to help confirm your PCI compliance. The third-party team will check your system and identify possible flaws or issues.
  • Penetration tests will review possible security openings and other threats in the business.
  • An internal scan of current operating systems and practices is also necessary. This work can include reviewing all hardware and software used to review customer data and protect it from outside parties.
  • An Attestation of Compliance is necessary for all Level 1 businesses.

Level 2

Businesses with one to six million transactions over all channels yearly will reach the Level 2 PCI compliance tier. A business that handles anything from 50,000 to two million American Express transactions or up to a million JCB transactions for international customers will also reach Level 2.

Level 2 businesses must follow a few points for work:

  • An annual self-assessment questionnaire is necessary for all Level 2 businesses. The questionnaire reviews various aspects of PCI compliance and identifies possible opportunities for growth or improvement. The process entails more than a thousand questions.
  • A penetration test and internal scan are also recommended, but they aren’t mandatory. The questionnaire may encourage the business to complete these points.
  • A quarterly network scan is necessary for work. An approved scan vendor or ASV will complete the scan.
  • The Attestation of Compliance form is also mandatory for Level 2 companies.

Level 3

A Level 3 business completes from 20,000 to one million online transactions annually. A Level 3 business will require these points for work:

  • The annual self-assessment questionnaire is necessary here. Any recommended scans or reviews the questionnaire encourages will also be necessary, depending on the answers provided here.
  • A quarterly network scan is also essential. An ASV will be on hand to handle the work.
  • The Attestation of Compliance form must also work in this tier.

Level 4

The lowest PCI compliance level is Level 4. The level entails completing 20,000 or fewer online transactions each year. A business that completes up to a million MasterCard or Visa transactions will also reach Level 4 certification.

The requirements for Level 4 certification are the same as what Level 3 businesses would follow.

How Can You Tell What Tier You Meet?

How Can You Tell What Tier You Meet?

You can use whatever reporting tools your merchant service provider offers to figure out what PCI compliance tier you will meet. You may figure it out through the size of your business, how many customers you bring in on average, and how many devices you use for reading cards.

What Does It Cost To Manage Your Work?

The cost to stay compliant will vary by tier. Level 4 businesses can spend a few thousand dollars each year to maintain compliance. But you’ll spend more when you go up to another tier, especially as you require more functions to confirm your ability to manage your business.

Understanding How PCI Levels Influence Your Compliance To-Dos

Imagine you’re shopping online and about to hit “buy” with your credit card. Behind the scenes, businesses are working hard to keep your card info safe, thanks to rules called PCI DSS. But, the nitty-gritty of what they have to do to prove they’re keeping things tight depends on their PCI level.

Here’s the lowdown:

  • Level 1: These are the big players handling transactions in millions. They must undergo a full-blown PCI DSS check-up, ending with a Report on Compliance (ROC). This has to be done by a special auditor approved by the PCI folks.
  • Level 2: These businesses are a bit smaller but still busy. They fill out an SAQ and need to chat with one of those approved auditors.
  • Levels 3 & 4: These are the smaller shops or those just starting to get busy. They also fill out the SAQ but have a bit more flexibility.

For levels 2 to 4, there’s an option to do the full ROC instead of just the questionnaire, giving them a chance to show off their security chops in more detail.

So, depending on how many sales a business makes with cards, their journey to prove they’re keeping customer data safe varies. But the end goal? Make sure your shopping spree is as secure as can be.

How to Easily Pass PCI DSS Compliance?

Getting ready for a PCI DSS audit or self-assessment doesn’t have to be a headache. PCI DSS sets clear rules on what needs to be done, making it easier to follow. Here’s a straightforward guide to streamline the process and cut down costs:

  • Figure out what applies to you: Start by determining which parts of PCI DSS matter to your organization. Look into what checks are needed for each department or system.
  • Narrow down your focus: One trick to make things easier is to use a firewall around your Cardholder Data Environment (CDE). This firewall separates the CDE from everything else, so you only need to examine the systems protected by it.
  • Check if you meet PCI DSS requirements – Create a risk assessment to spot any risks of not following the rules. Then, take steps to fix those risks.
  • Test your safety measures: Do this before and after your yearly check-up. Keeping up with PCI DSS is an ongoing task that requires constant attention.
  • Gather proof: Every audit requires detailed records of your procedures, safety measures, and control steps. Having these ready ahead of time can save you a lot of effort.

By following these steps, you can make the PCI DSS compliance process smoother and more efficient while also keeping your focus on protecting your customers’ data.

Maintenance Is Critical

Maintenance Is Critical

You’ll need to maintain your PCI compliance efforts regardless of whatever level you reach. You can do many things to help you ensure you stay compliant with all PCI standards:

  • You can maintain your computer networks with firewalls, user permissions, and antivirus programs.
  • Consistent security checks are critical for all businesses. You can complete a vulnerability review program to see how your business handles various potential openings in your system.
  • Unique passwords are necessary for all operations. PCI compliance entails producing unique passwords for each user. You could also request people change their passwords every few weeks or months.
  • Access audits help you see who is getting access to your card data. All staff members should have the proper permissions for accessing data and that they won’t encounter more content than they are permitted to use.
  • You can also write out a full security policy that your employees can analyze. All employees should know the unique rules you impose to help them manage your data well.
  • Regular employee training helps your employees see what they’re doing when handling cardholder data. They can learn what data they should review and how they will store and manage whatever data they handle at any moment.

Everything you do when maintaining PCI compliance will be critical to protecting your business from possible fraud or data theft. You must meet PCI standards regardless of whatever PCI tier you support. Whether it entails the extensive rules of Level 1 compliance or the minimal efforts of Level 4, you must be specific when managing PCI efforts that you have a plan for making your business safe and functional for all to run.


Understanding the complexities of PCI compliance levels is crucial for any business handling credit card transactions. These levels are not just arbitrary classifications but a structured framework to ensure robust security measures are in place to protect customer data. From small startups to multinational corporations, understanding and adhering to the specific requirements of your PCI level can significantly mitigate the risk of data breaches and foster trust among your customers.

Whether you’re dealing with millions of transactions annually and fall into Level 1 or you’re a smaller enterprise categorized under Level 4, the commitment to maintaining PCI DSS compliance is imperative. The process involves regular assessments, adherence to security standards, and an ongoing dedication to safeguarding cardholder information. By recognizing the importance of these levels and proactively working to meet and exceed these standards, businesses can ensure compliance and position themselves as trusted partners in the eyes of their customers and the broader marketplace.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What Do You Mean by PCI Compliant?

    Following a set of guidelines and regulations created to protect debit, credit, and cash card transactions and stop the exploitation of cardholders' data is known as PCI compliance. All card brands must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

  2. What are the Four Levels of PCI Compliance?

    Level 1: Companies that process over 6 million credit and debit cards annually.
    Level 2: Companies that handle one to six million transactions annually.
    Level 3: Companies that oversee between 20,000 and one million transactions annually.
    Level 4: Companies that process less than 20,000 transactions each year.

  3. What Are Some PCI Compliance Tips?

    Here are some helpful tips:
    Conduct internal audits regularly.
    Secure business processes to protect cardholder data.
    Provide comprehensive training for employees.
    Ensure PCI DSS compliance for remote work setups.
    Regularly test systems and processes for vulnerabilities.

  4. Who Needs PCI Compliance?

    Any merchant accepting or processing payment cards must comply with PCI DSS requirements. Additionally, PCI PTS focuses on securing devices that protect cardholder PINs and other payment processing activities.

  5. What Is the Purpose of PCI Compliance?

    Becoming PCI-compliant offers several benefits:
    Protects cardholders' data and minimizes the risk of data breaches.
    Helps organizations detect and prevent physical and network-based attacks.
    Enhances confidence among users in utilizing card payments for various transactions.

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