Introduction to PCI
The Payment Card Industry Security Standard, abbreviated as PCI DSS and most times just as PCI, is a set of rules that ensures every company that accepts or stores credit card information maintains a secure environment. These security standards were launched in 2006 to improve payment account security over the entire transaction process. Various rules have been put to place and are enforced by the card brands and acquirers. As a business owner who takes credit cards, compliance with these rules is necessary.
Compliance and Non-Compliance
There are multiple PCI compliance levels for different businesses to follow. These levels are determined by the number of transactions a business completes over several months (depending on the credit card company). There are specific requirements for businesses to follow at each level. Some of the requirements include completing the self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ) according to the given instructions, filling the attestation of compliance, and submitting all the necessary data to your acquirer. Compliant businesses will regularly monitor and test their networks, protect cardholder data, maintain information security policies, and have strong access control measures. Compliance fees are usually charged to cover the internal costs of maintaining compliance efforts.
A business that does not meet any of these instructions will appear as non-compliant with PCI standards. Companies can experience non-compliance fees if they cannot handle their funds. They will receive these fees and continue to pay them each month. The issue persists until the merchant can validate that it supports PCI standards. These fees are not related to any expenses experienced by the merchants, but you can avoid them when you become compliant. You can contact your merchant account provider to help you find what you need to do to validate that your business operates under PCI standards.
Effects of Non-Compliance
What looks like a minor and easy-to-follow process can result in several issues if you do not follow the rules. Non-compliance can lead to risks like these:
- Poor reputation– Poor control over one’s credit card information can produce public scrutiny and a loss of customer loyalty. It is often tough for businesses to rebuild trust with their clients. It can prove impossible if not handled well, thus damaging the reputation of your business.
- Loss of revenue– Businesses whose reputations have taken a hit will lose customers. Losing customers translates to losing money. Losses can expand and pile up, eventually leading to the closure of the entire business if you do not control them enough.
- Compensation costs– The clients’ credit cards must be monitored and insured against identity theft if their data is exposed because you did not comply with the PCI rules. Protecting these cards will require extra costs that you will be liable for covering. The costs can be high depending on how many people need support.
- Monetary fines– These charges are mostly the non-compliance fees you might spend. These fines come in a wide range, with some changing depending on the merchant category. These fines are imposed each month and can increase as time goes by.
Avoiding Non-Compliance Fees
Maintaining compliance is critical to ensuring you can avoid non-compliance fees. Your business can remain compliant by following the proper guidelines or by finding a compliant provider. Some of the basic guidelines to compliance are as follows:
- Avoid storing sensitive cardholder data on your computers or on paper– This step reduces the possible impacts. A security breach will reveal nothing if you keep sensitive data from becoming visible. Do not store any extra information, even that which is not sensitive.
- Protect stored cardholder data– Proper security is necessary for cases where you must store sensitive data. Data can become more secure if you store it in one segment of your network, as it is easier to monitor it there and check for any breaches in the system.
- Monitor and control access to your systems– Track everyone who has access to your network and monitor what they are doing while connected to your environment. This move will keep you updated on any ill practices that others might support. The idea is to be aware of threats and respond to them early.
- Protect your systems– Restricting access to the systems and securing the commonly-exploited points in your system during breaches can make a difference. Have a plan for protecting your data in place by putting in strong passwords and changing all default passwords on your software. You can schedule regular checks for rogue software that can capture data on your computer.
- Finalize compliance efforts– This step involves checking that all controls are in place and that you are doing the necessary paperwork to ensure your group complies with the set obligations. Maintain your internal security policies and train your employees on protecting cardholder data as part of this step.
Finding a compliant merchant service provider is the following option to use when avoiding non-compliance fees. Working with the right merchant service provider can help you remain compliant for as long as you are in a contract. These service providers may demand to be paid for their services, although those payments are always relatively lower than the non-compliance fines you will avoid. This option saves time and does not require prior knowledge on compliance requirements. The MSP will handle all the functions in this process for easy results. In cases where your service provider has not updated and validated your PCI compliance, you will have to pay non-compliance fees.
Depending on the kind of agreement you have, your provider can refund you the money you paid for non-compliance as they work on ensuring you are compliant. This point might not always be the case, so be sure you put in your due diligence to avoid this risk when managing your business. You’ll have more control over your work when you find someone you can trust for your work needs.