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Your Guide to eCommerce PCI Compliance

With sites like Shopify and other tools that make it easier for anyone to set up their own online shop, new eCommerce sites are popping up every day as large-scale businesses and as side gigs for people who want to make a little extra cash. Whether your business is a budding side hustle or a thriving company, PCI compliance must be a top priority.

What is PCI compliance and what do you need to know about it as an eCommerce business? This guide digs into the key details you need to know to get started with your compliance process.

What is PCI compliance?

The term “PCI compliance” is actually referring to compliance to the PCI DSS - the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. This is a set of standards and requirements established by the PCI Security Standards Council to make sure that when customers use their credit cards (including online), businesses are taking steps to protect customers’ payment data.

Do eCommerce businesses need to comply with PCI standards?

Does your business need to be PCI compliant? For eCommerce, the answer is yes. Every business that collects, processes, stores, or transmits payment data is responsible for complying with PCI standards.

Within PCI compliance, there are two types of businesses that need to adhere to the standards: merchants and service providers. For purposes of eCommerce compliance, eCommerce businesses are merchants. Service providers include any other businesses that come into contact with your customers’ data, like your cloud provider.

Why is PCI compliance for eCommerce sites so important?

Unlike some privacy requirements like GDPR, PCI compliance is not a legal or regulatory requirement. It’s an industry-wide requirement that is enforced by major banks and credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard. These companies can leverage serious fines against your business if you don’t comply.

On top of avoiding those fines, you can expect that if you’re doing business with new vendors, partners, or other key stakeholders, they may ask if you’re PCI compliant. They want to know that they’re doing business with someone that does their due diligence, and lack of compliance can be a deal breaker for customers.

Finally, remember that PCI compliance isn’t just about marking off a checklist. The standards exist for a reason: to protect customer payment data. If you’re abiding by the PCI DSS, you’ll have a lower risk for data breaches (and the PR nightmares, loss of trust, and potential legal liabilities that come with them).

What standards do I need to meet to be PCI compliant as an eCommerce business?

To be broad, there are 12 requirements listed in the PCI DSS. These include:

  1. Maintain a firewall that protects customer data.
  2. Use secure passwords instead of vendor-supplied default passwords.
  3. Protect any stored cardholder data.
  4. Encrypt any customer data that you transmit over open, public networks.
  5. Maintain up-to-date antivirus software.
  6. Maintain secure systems and applications.
  7. Only allow access to cardholder data for those who truly need access.
  8. Assign a personal ID to each internal employee or contractor with computer access.
  9. Restrict the ability to physically access customer data.
  10. Track and monitor any access to cardholder data and network resources.
  11. Regularly test your security systems and processes to ensure that they’re working properly.
  12. Establish a company policy that addresses information security practices for employees and contractors.

Each of these 12 requirements has sub-requirements that are more specific about how you can meet the goals of the requirement. To be PCI compliant, you must adhere to all of these requirements and sub-requirements.

How do I document that I’m PCI compliant?

To officially document your PCI compliance, there are documents and reports you need to complete annually. Which documents need to be completed vary based on the size of your business and how you interact with cardholder data.

The PCI DSS defines four different levels of merchants. Level 1 merchants are those that process at least six million transactions per year. Level 2 merchants process between one million and six million transactions annually, level 3 merchants process 20,000 - one million transactions per year, and level 4 merchants process less than 20,000 transactions annually.

If you qualify as a level 2, 3, or 4 merchant, you’ll need to complete an annual self-assessment questionnaire that assesses your PCI compliance. You’ll submit this along with supporting documentation like third-party vulnerability scans and an Attestation of Compliance (AOC). A level 1 merchant, on the other hand, needs to have an annual assessment called a Report on Compliance (ROC) and AOC completed by a third-party Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) or Internal Security Assessor (ISA).

How Can I Make My PCI eCommerce Compliance Process Easier?

PCI compliance for your eCommerce business doesn’t need to be as cumbersome of a process as you might expect. You can make it far easier with PCI compliance software like Vanta. This type of tool continuously monitors your PCI environment and helps you gather evidence required  to meet applicable PCI DSS controls. It provides you with a straightforward report of the requirements you already meet and the ones that require attention so you can cut to the chase and only focus on the necessary steps for PCI compliance.

This automated software can also continue to regularly monitor your system so that if you make changes that impact your compliance, you are alerted quickly and can solve the problem before it becomes a security or compliance issue. When you’ve reached compliance, the software’s reports can also streamline the external QSA assessment process, making Level 1 compliance far smoother and more efficient.

Begin your PCI compliance

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How to Get PCI Compliant

PCI compliance in 3 steps

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