What Is PCI DSS And Why Is It Important?

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With the widespread use of credit cards and other payment cards in online shopping, banking, and business transactions, card data exposure, and fraud are on the rise.  

Hackers like ransomware gangs love to hold such data hostage, often releasing it to the dark web to further financial fraud, and any organization that holds such data is at risk of a cyber attack — including retail, technology, business and, of course, financial services. To combat this growing threat, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) was created to protect cardholder data.  

So, what is PCI DSS and how can organizations maintain compliance to better protect themselves and their customers data? 

What Is PCI DSS? 

Created in 2004, the PCI DSS encompasses twelve requirements for security management, policies, procedures, network architecture, software design, and other critical protective measures.

The regulations are managed by the PCI Security Standards Council (SSC), which is run by the five largest credit card companies — American Express, Discover Financial Services, JCB International, Mastercard, and Visa. This council regularly evaluates and updates the regulations, with the most recent version, v4.0, released in March of 2022.  

While PCI DSS is not federal law, the major credit card companies do require compliance with their vendors, and some states do have PCI DSS language written into their laws.

In addition, compliance and security go hand in hand, as maintaining compliance automatically means your organization has certain security controls and procedures in place to protect against cyber threats.  

PCI DSS Requirements 

There are 12 specific requirements for compliance. They are: 

  1. Install and maintain a firewall configuration to protect cardholder data 
  2. Do not use vendor-supplied defaults for system passwords and other security parameters 
  3. Protect stored cardholder data 
  4. Encrypt transmission of cardholder data across open, public networks 
  5. Use and regularly update anti-virus software or programs 
  6. Develop and maintain secure systems and applications 
  7. Restrict access to cardholder data by business need to know 
  8. Assign a unique ID to each person with computer access 
  9. Restrict physical access to cardholder data 
  10. Track and monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data 
  11. Regularly test security systems and processes 
  12. Maintain a policy that addresses information security for all personnel 

While those requirements may feel in-depth, they also align with other security frameworks such as the NIST Cybersecurity framework and lay out a holistic, organization-level approach to cybersecurity that focuses on identity and access management, as well as monitoring and detection procedures 

In fact, these 12 requirements fall under six principles that align with broader cybersecurity recommendations. 

  • Secure network requirements 
  • Cardholder data requirements 
  • Vulnerability management requirements 
  • Assess controls requirements 
  • Monitoring and testing requirements 
  • Security policies requirements 

Why Does PCI DSS Matter? 

The business of cybercrime is booming. 48% of organizations rank ransomware and targeted threats as their number one concern for 2023, and 52% of organizations admitted to experiencing a major security event in 2022. The data breach is back, and financial information, like credit card numbers taken from a retail business, are a top prize for threat actors and an easy sell on the dark web.  

Following a compliance framework not only makes building out a cybersecurity strategy simpler, but it can also make the difference between a stopped threat and a major breach.

In addition, non-compliance increases both breach risks and costs. According to the IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023, “Organizations with a high level of noncompliance with regulations showed an average cost of USD 5.05 million, which exceeded the average cost of a data breach by USD 560,000, a difference of 12.6%.”

And according to a recent survey conducted by Arctic Wolf, the second most used compliance standard organizations follow was the PCI DSS, at 32%. This highlights how prevalent financial information is across organizations and industries, and how beneficial these compliance requirements are when it comes to security. 

How Arctic Wolf Helps with PCI DSS Requirements 

While compliance requirements are beneficial for business and security operations, they are not always easy to implement. Headcount, budget, and current business goals all impact how compliance requirements are reached, and unfortunately, many organizations treat compliance like a static checklist, not a part of their overall security journey, which weakens the protections those requirements can provide.  

An external security operations partner, like Arctic Wolf, can help organizations of all sizes meet compliance requirements by implementing security solutions that align with frameworks like PCI DSS. From vulnerability management to monitoring and detection software to access management, Arctic Wolf furthers an organization’s security journey and risk management without the need for bloated budgets or increased internal staffing.  

Learn more about how Arctic Wolf helps organizations achieve compliance. 

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf provides your team with 24x7 coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
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