3 easy steps you can take toward becoming PCI compliant

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of requirements that every business that processes credit card transactions must follow to protect sensitive cardholder data from being viewed, accessed or stolen. Failure to maintain PCI compliance can lead to a data breach, which comes with heavy fines, costly forensic audits, brand damage and could even cause business closure.

The following are three easy steps merchants can take toward becoming PCI compliant:

1. Know the PCI steps that apply to your business

The first step for business owners who wish to become PCI compliant is to find out what steps are required for your business. Different steps apply, depending on the size of the business. There are four categories, all based on Visa-transaction volume over a 12-month period. These levels will help merchants understand the compliance requirement for their business size. Most small to mid-size merchants fall into the Level 4 category which is identified as "Any merchant processing fewer than 20,000 Visa e-commerce transactions per year."

Although Visa is PCI's benchmark for determining merchant levels, PCI DSS obligations still apply to enterprises accepting other credit cards. Some businesses that have previously experienced a data hack may be elevated to a higher merchant level, requiring higher PCI standards. If business owners have any concerns about their merchant level, they should contact their acquiring bank for confirmation.

2. Work with a payment processor that offers compliance services

Achieving PCI compliance can be a daunting task for level 4 merchants who do not have in-house technical experts and are unfamiliar with network configurations and other tasks. It can be difficult to achieve compliance without support, and even harder to maintain it 365 days a year. Many payment processors and other third parties provide a PCI compliance assistance solution to help merchants with their compliance efforts. User-friendly services like internal and external vulnerability scans help point out any possible security problems with a company's network. Some compliance assistance programs even offer breach assistance protection to help cover certain costs if they do suffer a breach.

3. Create an information security policy

The PCI DSS contain 12 pillars for data security. The last standard is the development of a security procedure for the business and its data. Successful information security policies include rules regarding data access and approvals, password protection, the utilization of only secure wireless internet networks, what information should and should not be shared or transmitted, as well as a system for safely changing passwords, eradicating terminated employees from the network, and reporting suspicious activity in the system. These regulations should also take into consideration any necessary tenets put forth by PCI, including the reason for security procedures.

In addition to creating this information security policy, businesses need to develop a contingency plan in the event of a data breach. This procedure should outline the steps an enterprise and its employees will need to take following a potential hack to ensure the safety of company information.

Lastly, both of these policies should be distributed to workers at every level of the company. By preparing employees, businesses can better avoid large-scale problems and the compromising of data. People who are educated on signs of suspicious behavior can also help merchants protect their enterprises from data theft and fraud.

PCI compliance is a crucial component of any merchant's business. Without it, companies could face expensive fines, as well as potentially harmful data breaches. PCI's standards ensure enterprises of all sizes and industries maintain an appropriate level of security to protect the sensitive information of both the business and its customers.