Many businesses know the stress that goes along with handling and securing credit card data, especially since these payments continue to be a big target of cyberattacks and fraud.
To mitigate these threats, the PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) enforced the Payment Card Industry Security Standards (PCI DSS) which merchants are recommended to comply with to better protect cardholder data.
PCI standards are essential to understand and comply with because they serve a vital role in securing credit card transactions and laying the groundwork for payment security.
What is PCI Compliance?
Payment Card Industry Security Standards are a set of 12 requirements that merchants are expected to follow to ensure they’re actively securing their customers’ payment information.
PCI Compliance is enforced and managed by the major credit card networks — Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, and JCB International —which comprise the Security Standards Council. To ensure you’re adhering to the PCI rules and regulations implemented by the Council, your business should complete a self-assessment to evaluate if, and how, each requirement is being met.
When merchants properly implement and maintain these security measures — both technical and operational — to secure their cardholders’ data, they’re considered to be PCI compliant.
Levels of PCI Compliance
PCI compliance is broken down into different levels depending on your annual transaction volume and business size.
Merchants trying to obtain and maintain PCI DSS should be aware of the level of compliance they fall under. PCI levels for merchants can be categorized into 4 tiers:
- PCI Compliance Level 1: Large businesses that process six million credit card transactions annually and service providers that process over 300,000 transactions annually.
- PCI Compliance Level 2: Mid-to-large-sized businesses that process one to six million credit card transactions annually and service providers that process less than 300,000 transactions annually.
- PCI Compliance Level 3: Small-to-mid-sized businesses that process anywhere from 20,000 to one million credit card transactions annually.
- PCI Compliance Level 4: Smaller businesses that process less than 20,000 credit card transactions annually.
Compliant merchants may be subject to annual or quarterly PCI validation requirements such as Report on Compliance (PCI ROC) forms, Self-Assessment Questionnaires (PCI SAQ), and more.
These validation methods differ by PCI level, especially for merchants with Level 1 PCI Compliance.
What is PCI DSS Level 1?
PCI DSS Level 1 is the highest level of compliance and payment security standards merchants can comply with to securely store, transmit, and process credit card information.
Since PCI Level 1 Compliance extends to big businesses that process over 6 million credit card transactions per year, more strict validation requirements apply.
Companies that fall under other PCI merchant levels may only need to conduct an SAQ, whereas Level 1 security is more demanding and requires an external PCI audit which includes:
Completing these PCI compliance forms and protocols not only helps merchants uphold and maintain PCI Level 1 Compliance but can also yield other benefits.