Whatever kind of business you run, there will be all kinds of compliance, laws, and rules that need to be adhered to. These laws and compliance systems are designed for many reasons, mostly involving protecting customers and staff, and their data. The issue is, it can be a real headache keeping on top of them all, with time-consuming tasks making compliance a tough job.

One of these is PCI compliance. This is an essential regulation for all companies taking payment online or in-person using credit or debit cards. PCI laws are strict and require proper management throughout the year to ensure that your entire business is keeping on top of the rules. Let’s take a closer look at what PCI is and what you need to do to make sure you are audit-ready. 

What is PCI Compliance?

PCI compliance is one of the main types of data protection that business owners need to understand. Set up in 2006 by major brands VISA, Amex, MasterCard, JCB, and Discover, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of rules designed to ensure the safety of said brands’ customer data. It, therefore, affects any company that takes payments through any of these card networks.

Effectively, the rules are quite simple. They state that customer data including card number, address, birthday, and more, are all protected at all times when a transaction is performed, stored, or data otherwise held by a company. In order to meet your compliance requirements, these rules must be followed. Data must be protected. Failure to do so could lead to fines, complicated audits, or businesses being shut down. 

What Does a PCI Audit Involve?

A PCI audit can be a long and arduous process. During the audit, a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) will examine your security systems from beginning to end, taking into account every stage of a transactional process and subsequent data storage. This process can take up to two years, as it looks at over 280 different compliance directives. The smartest thing you can do is analyze your internal processes and prepare for any audits in advance.

Managed Services Can Help

One of the best ways to manage your compliance requirements is to bring external help on board. Companies offer help to take the stress away from monitoring internal compliance, helping keep your teams free to do their own work. These businesses will help work through all the checkpoints on an audit using smart software, mini audits, reporting, data testing, and much more. They’ll help you establish new best practices to ensure you are PCI compliant while fixing any errors your business may have uncovered along the way.

Define Your Scope

Although there are 281 compliance directives for a PCI audit, not all of them may apply to your company. With the help of a managed services team, you can sit down and analyze your business to see where it fits within the overall scope. It may be that only one-half or two-thirds of these auditable directives apply to your company. This will help you know what needs to be tested, documented, and stored for any potential audit.

Test and Document Using Data

As mentioned, external companies can help do this. They can run tests, analyze systems, and use scenarios to ensure that your business is compliant in every stage of a PCI system audit. Every stage of the process needs to be rigorously tested, with scores of data recorded for each test. With the use of visualization and data management software, these tests can be examined in easy-to-read data blocks and graphs, helping you test and/or prove your PCI compliance.

Encryption Is Key

It’s worth noting that none of these tests will pass unless you employ high-level data encryption in every transaction and internet connection your company uses. If someone is accessing your customer data on an unsecured network, breaches can happen extremely easily. Every single access point, server, VPN, or other network device must have the most robust encryption. At their end, all the card providers use top-of-the-range encryption, so they expect the same from all businesses using their network. This is rule number one of PCI compliance.

Making sure your business is PCI compliant is one of the most important – and challenging – things you need to do. Getting help from QSAs or external teams will help massively, as the task is a large one. Use encryption, define your compliance scope, and test test test! Getting on top of it early will make it much easier if and when you are investigated by the PCI DSS. 

By Jim O Brien/CEO

CEO and expert in transport and Mobile tech. A fan 20 years, mobile consultant, Nokia Mobile expert, Former Nokia/Microsoft VIP,Multiple forum tech supporter with worldwide top ranking,Working in the background on mobile technology, Weekly radio show, Featured on the RTE consumer show, Cavan TV and on TRT WORLD. Award winning Technology reviewer and blogger. Security and logisitcs Professional.