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PCI Compliance and Audit in 2021

Nena Vuckovic

If your website offers a chance for your customers to buy items, you must follow PCI compliance protocols. Technology has evolved a lot, and so has credit card fraud. In order to ensure that your company is up to date with the newest security standards is by following compliance audits. 


Risk assessment is needed for all point-of-sale systems and you need to know if there are potential flaws in your store. Your main goal should be to protect credit card and cardholder data and remove the possibility of any fraudulent activity. To achieve this, you will need to follow the PCI standard

What Is a PCI

PCI DSS is short for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, and it is used to determine the quality of a credit card processing system. Once you store private details like credit card info, you will need to make sure that everything is secure, and up to the highest standards.

The main idea behind this standard is to increase control and protect the cardholder data. It is one of the safest ways to prevent credit card fraud; every store or business that processes, stores, or transmits credit card data needs to be compliant with the newest PCI standard. 

History of PCI

Credit cards have been around since the 50s, and many companies were looking for ways to make transactions more secure. The history of PCI starts with five different projects by credit card companies. Each of them was looking for a way to add an extra layer of protection. 

  • Visa – The company started the Cardholder Information Security Program
  • MasterCard – Site Data Protection
  • American Express – Data Security Operating Policy
  • Discover – Information Security and Compliance
  • JCB – Data Security Program

All five programs were designed to increase protection for card issuers, and ensure that merchants follow minimum safety requirements for storing, processing, and transmitting cardholder data. The key issue was interoperability between the programs, so these five companies joined forces to design the first version of PCI DSS. 

Security systems have improved a lot since the 1.0 version that was released in 2004, the most recent being PCI DSS 3.2.1 from May 2018. There has been a total of nine different versions, and the standard kept growing with each one adding more flexibility, consistency, and safety. 

Recently, people started talking about a new update – version 4.0, but more on that later. In 2006, the five companies launched the PCI SCC or PCI security standard council. Its goal was to manage the evolution of the PCI standards. The most important thing is that the council is independent of the card vendors that were founders. 

What Is a PCI Audit

PCI audit is a process of examining and testing the security of your business. More precisely, your credit card processing system. PCI Audit needs to be thorough, to ensure that there is no space for any type of mistake or error. 

During the process, a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) or Internal Security Assessor will perform a series of tests to determine how effective your information security controls are. The only way to pass the test is to meet as many as 281 criteria from PCI DSS. 

To ensure that your company is PCI compliant, you will need to do one of the following things. You can either have an on-site audit by a QSA or fill out a PCI DSS self-assessment questionnaire. We should mention that filling out this questionnaire may or may not result in an internal audit. 

PCI Audit involves testing around the Cardholder Data Environment or CDE. This includes point-of-sale systems, access to the CDE including physical one, network segmentation, vendors’ data security, credit card data security, applications, how and where data is stored, data encryption, and many more. 

How can you know which type of audit is for your business? The answer is mostly tied to the number of annual transactions: the more transactions you process each year, the higher the chances are that you will need an annual audit and ROC or Record of Compliance. 

PCI DSS Compliance Levels

When it comes to PCI, not every company will have to follow the same rules. Yes, each needs to focus on security, but the rules are based on the number of transactions that a company handles annually. 

There are four different PCI levels, and they are as following:

  • 1st Level – A merchant that processes over six million transactions each year.
  • 2nd Level – A merchant that processes between one and six million transactions each year.
  • 3rd Level – A merchant that processes between twenty thousand and one million transactions each year. 
  • 4th Level –  A merchant that processes fewer than twenty thousand transactions each year. 

For organizations that fall into level 1, the assessment should include an external audit by a QSA or ISA, with an on-site evaluation. The auditor will submit RoC to acquiring banks to demonstrate compliance. When it comes to the other three categories or levels, the company can complete an SAQ or self-assessment questionnaire, and they don’t need an external audit. However, level 2 companies will also need to submit an RoC. 

fThere are also several different types of SAQ based on the company, their level, and how they process payment card info. 

Why Does PCI DSS Matter

Why are PCI DSS requirements important? How can a PCI audit help my business? Standardization is important regardless of your sphere and what you are doing as a company; the same applies to PCI as well. If your company is accepting payments via credit cards, you need to comply with PCI DSS. It’s as simple as that. Your clients need to know that entering credit card info while buying something in your store is safe and that their private data won’t be misused. 

PCI compliance signals that you are a serious, professional company that plans on delivering its promises. People love buying online, now more than ever, and feeling safe while doing it is mandatory for good business. This also means that being PCI DSS compliant will mean an increase in revenue. When a potential buyer visits your website, and you don’t offer safety according to the latest standards, they will simply move to the next website and you will lose a client. 

However, failing to comply with the standard doesn’t mean that you will lose potential buyers only. Merchants that fail to achieve compliance might be fined by credit card companies between $5,000 and $100,000 per month! Additionally, the company might also face revocation of the privilege to use and accept credit cards. 

Besides avoiding penalties and fines, working according to the newest standards will do only good for your company and brand. You will ensure that you have great security, reputation, and satisfied clients. 

PCI DSS 4.0

As we mentioned before, the latest version of PCI DSS is 3.2.1. After an update in 2018, they have been working on the new version ever since. PCI DSS 4.0 is planned for mid-2021, and it will bring new updates. 

However, we don’t expect it will change the twelve requirements that are already present in the current PCI standard. There will be a couple of upgrades and improvements in security. Until then, companies will still have to follow the active standard. In 2019, less than a third of all companies maintained full compliance with PCI DSS, which is concerning. 

Especially now, when businesses are moving online due to the global pandemic, it is necessary to test your systems and ensure that everything is working properly. This is the safest way to keep your clients satisfied and avoid unnecessary penalties and fines. 

How Can We Help

If you are wondering how you can improve your security, what PCI compliance requirements are, or how can you perform an audit, we might be able to help. Here at The BlockBox, we understand the importance of safety, and we can assist you every step of the way. 

Among the services we offer is vulnerability scanning and assessing security levels of various systems. We will cover everything from comprehensive threat modeling and architecture review to penetration scanning and testing. Our goal is to ensure that everything is working flawlessly leaving no stone unturned. 

After a deep analysis of your system, we identify weak points, give you advice on how you can remove these issues and improve the safety of your business. Of course, if you have any questions about PCI compliance and audit, or anything else, feel free to contact us for more info and we’ll be more than happy to assist you with any problem you might have. 

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LET'S START A NEW PROJECT TOGETHER

We can build on your idea and provide solutions to take your business to the next level.
Please fill in this form to start the process.