The Importance of PCI Audits

Data breaches are more prevalent today than ever before. A data security report compiled by Verizon shows that in 2016, there were 80,000 data security issues. Unknown to many businesses, most cyber attackers take advantage of website and system vulnerabilities that are easily preventable. If your business has little to no data breach protection, it is at a high risk of exposing crucial data to malicious third parties.

PCI audit on credit card processing system

One of the easy ways of avoiding data security breaches is being PCI compliant. A PCI compliance audit can help to ensure your customers’ sensitive data, such as credit card information, is safe.

Read on to understand why PCI compliance is critical for businesses.

What is a PCI Audit?

A PCI compliance audit is an investigative process done by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) or your internal security assessor. The audit helps to determine the security status of your business credit card processing system. The auditing is done to check whether credit card transactions are done in compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

The PCI DSS is a standard set up by the PCI Security Standards Council, which comprises of merchants, financial organizations, software developers, credit card processor firms, and point-of-sale merchants. The standard aims at protecting sensitive cardholder data from being accessed by unauthorized parties.

Among the standard PCI guidelines that businesses are required to meet are:

  • Building and maintaining secure networks
  • Protecting cardholders’ data
  • Having a vulnerability management process in place
  • Regular testing and monitoring of network security
  • Having an information security policy in place

Why PCI Audits Are Necessary

Regular PCI audits are essential to ensure your business complies with PCI standards. Moreover, customers trust merchants with their credit card data. The audit ensures that the websites of these merchants are secure to safeguard sensitive customers’ data.

Other benefits of PCI audits include:

  • Reduces customers’ credit card data breach
  • Helps merchants to be ready to and detect network attacks early
  • Provides security standards that can be followed by merchants to keep their data safe
  • Protects merchants from reputational damages and costs that come with a data breach
  • Improves the efficiency of merchants’ operations

Failure to comply with PCI DSS standards can lead to severe consequences for the merchant, such as:

  • Having to undergo a special audit by the card issuers
  • Being slapped with penalties from the card issuers
  • Suspension of accounts
  • Revoking of the merchant’s credit card processing services

How Do I Become PCI-Compliant?

To become PCI-compliant, a business must undergo the PCI audit to ensure that it meets the PCI data security standards. The audit is done according to the credit card transactions processed annually. The audit is categorized into four levels. The first level is for merchants with the highest credit cards processed in one year. These are agencies with more than six million transactions. This audit includes an annual on-site audit done by a Qualified Security Assessor that has undergone the PCI internal security assessment training.

If your agency has less than 6 million transactions in a year, then you are required to undergo a level 2, 3, or 4 audit. For these audits, you need to complete a PCI assessment questionnaire and have proof of compliance. Once the audit is completed, the results and documentation should be sent to the merchant’s acquiring bank.

If a firm determines that its customers’ credit card data has been compromised, a first level audit is likely to be recommended. This audit is characterized by stricter security scrutiny in the coming year. Businesses that meet the PCI compliance standards are required to validate their compliance annually by carrying out a vulnerability scan. The scan has to be performed by an approved vendor

Which Firms Need to Be PCI-Compliant?

PCI compliance is recommended for all firms. However, while most of the compliance is related to network security, this doesn’t mean that only IT firms are affected by data breaches. Every business is at risk of data breaches. In fact, small businesses without data security frameworks are more likely to have vulnerabilities. Additionally, most of the attackers often take advantage of vulnerabilities that may not be related to technical issues.

For this reason, it is crucial for all businesses that have a credit card payment processor to be PCI compliant. Apart from this, employees should be trained on PCI-compliance, its importance, and the steps to take to prevent data breaches during their day-to-day operations. Merchants shouldn’t view PCI-compliance as a one-time data security requirement. Instead, compliance should be covered and budgeted for every year.

PCI compliance is essential to every business that deals with sensitive cardholder’s data. You don’t have to wait until there is a data breach in your firm to think of being PCI-compliant. Plan and update your compliance annually for security and smoother business operations.

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