PCI Compliance vs. PCI Certification

The chances are good that your business has achieved and maintains solid compliance when it comes to PCI (Payment Card Industry) matters, whether through official PCI compliance or through your own basic protective policies and procedures. That is assuming you’ve been in business for a while. However, if you are about to launch your online retail business, or any other venture that requires you to collect, store and protect cardholder data, you may need a credit card protection primer when getting started because you care about your customers’ data protection.

Perhaps you have encountered a few terms like PCI compliance and PCI certification tossed around. Perhaps you further wondered what each means and what the difference could be between the two. They do sound pretty similar, and they both involve protecting your valuable cardholder data. Of course, as is so often true in all things due diligence and good stewardship for the benefit of your customers and your brand, there is more to the story.

What Is the PCI SSC?

Before diving into the specifics of PCI compliance and PCI certification, let’s take a brief stroll down PCI memory lane as a refresher.

The globally-comprised PCI SSC (Security Standards Council) banded together to design, develop and enhance a framework of security standards that make it simpler for the world’s merchants to understand and abide by security standards for payment account security.

The Payment Card Industry Security Standards have, in fact, become the metric by which business leaders work hard to protect valuable customer information. Additionally, understanding how complex things have become with online security and the never-ending rash of data breaches, the PCI SSC put together a chest full of crucial tools that are essential for implementing the PCI standards that include the following:

  • Assessment and Scanning Qualifications
  • Self-assessment Questionnaires
  • Train and Education
  • PCI Certification Programs
  • PCI DSS Audits

Each of these devices, strategies and methodologies can help businesses achieve peak PCI compliance, keeping customer data secure.

All customers, including yours, take a leap of faith each time they submit their credit card numbers to pay for a purchase. The PCI SSC recognized the dire need for a set of standards to make it easier for reputable companies to protect cardholder data in the most efficient and effective way possible. The set of standards that the body developed has allowed for business owners around the world to strive to consistently meet these standards, thereby achieving PCI compliance.

What Is PCI Compliance?

PCI compliance is the key to keeping your customers’ data safe from hackers and other vulnerabilities by understanding and consistently adhering to the core requirements set forth by the PCI SSC.

When businesses that accept credit card payments have fully adopted all the requirements of PCI DSS, they have achieved PCI compliance. Customers and stakeholders will appreciate the effort and feel a greater sense of trust and ease in the PCI compliant company.

What Are the Core Requirements of PCI Compliance?

PCI DSS is the result of PCI SSC’s hard work and diligence, and it has become the standard that online retailers follow when collecting, storing, processing and transmitting each customer’s credit card data.

This key standard in the credit card industry is comprised of a set of requirements and standards that serve as functional guidelines for businesses to operate safely while managing customer data.

The core requirements for PCI DSS that result in PCI Compliance include the following:

  • Design, construct and maintain a secure network and systems, including installation of a firewall between wireless network and cardholder data environment
  • Protect cardholder data
  • Implement and maintain a strong vulnerability management program
  • Introduce and execute solid access control measures
  • Regularly monitor and test networks
  • Develop and maintain information security policy and ensure proper distribution via training sessions and manuals

Is PCI Compliance Mandatory?

PCI compliance is not federally mandated, so along those lines, business owners are not obligated to perform the duties associated with the PCI DSS. That stated, there are some states that have become increasingly concerned over credit card fraud and have implemented their own laws to guide businesses toward better practices to protect cardholder data.

For example, Minnesota launched the Plastic Card Security Act in 2007 that states that, if a company suffers a data breach and is found to have any type of prohibited cardholder data, that company must reimburse the bank. Another state devoting more resources to cardholder data protection is Massachusetts. In the last decade, the introduced a new law, 201 CMR 17.00, which drew some key concepts from PCI DSS like limiting collected data and requiring written data protection policies.

Each of these relatively new laws can help businesses protect the valuable data in their care, but the truth is that fully adopting PCI DSS offers a comprehensive strategy to data security.

While your state may or may not have its own cardholder data protection laws in place—and given the fact that PCI compliance is not required—choosing to commit to PCI compliance may give you an edge over your competition. Letting your customers know that you have taken extra steps to protect them from the negative consequences of data breaches—particularly when you have not been federally commanded to do so—is likely to go a long way toward turning them into customers and, even better in the long-run, repeat customers.

What Are the Primary Benefits of PCI Compliance?

The most important benefit of PCI compliance is the confidence that you instill in your customers when they learn that you have done everything possible to protect their cardholder information.

Outside of its ability to create a sense of trust, PCI compliance also provides a set of universal principles in which you can place your trust. The PCI SSC has created a fundamental set of guidelines, as well as myriad ways to help you stay on track for smooth and seamless compliance.

Are There Negative Consequences for PCI Non-Compliance?

While PCI compliance is not federally ordered, non-compliance can cause problems if you experience a data breach. By not complying, you are setting your business up for potential issues with credit card brands; most of which are associated with the PCI SSC.

Fines levied against your organization, if your business violates PCI compliance standards, can range from $5,000 to $100,000 per month to your acquiring bank to account for various losses like terminating contracts and increasing transaction fees. Further, the breach of trust that your customers may feel, learning that there is a full set of standards to help you protect them and you didn’t take advantage of it, may prove insurmountable and cost you those valued customers.

What Is PCI Certification and Can it Help Boost PCI Compliance?

As more and more companies have come to understand the value of PCI compliance, PCI certification has also gained attention and importance. Thanks to the ever-growing list of data breaches, online retailers are more attuned than ever to the need to protect cardholder information. These business owners understand that PCI compliance is important, and they would like to fast-track their efforts to doing everything possible to achieve compliance.

PCI certification comes as the result of an intensive and comprehensive PCI DSS audit, performed by a qualified security assessor (QSA). The QSA examines and validates all aspects of the business that come into contact with cardholder data to make sure that the business has maintained proper controls and followed prescribed security measures to protect cardholder data.

What Are the Key Differences Between PCI Compliance and PCI Certification?

Essentially, PCI compliance involves the development and daily maintenance of cardholder data protection policies and procedures. PCI certification proves that businesses have actually achieved PCI compliance for a given time period.

PCI compliance is attended to on a daily basis while PCI certification is a specific process, performed by a trusted auditor that can take as long as six months to complete. However, such an investment shows your customers how much you value them. Many business owners look at PCI certification as a way to proactively repay their customers’ trust in their brand.

Are You Ready to Reach the Pinnacle of PCI Compliance By Becoming PCI Certified?

Do you have a set of standard practices in place to protect your cardholder data, but you want to make it official with PCI compliance and PCI certification? Our I.S. Partners, LLC. team is here to help you tighten up your cardholder data protection for your peace of mind. Just as importantly, PCI certification will help you build strong customer trust that is sure to lead to a mutually beneficial business association for years to come.

Call us at 215-631-3452 , send us a message, or launch a chat session to ask any additional questions you might have about PCI compliance vs. PCI certification or anything else you have in mind!

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