Guide to PCIDSS compliance

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) sets the minimum standard for data security. Here’s a step-by-step guide to maintaining compliance and how RuckPay can help.


In today’s digital age, where financial transactions increasingly occur online, ensuring the security of payment card information is paramount. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of comprehensive requirements designed to protect cardholder data and enhance global payment account security. Established by the major credit card companies—Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, and JCB—the PCI DSS provides a robust framework to safeguard sensitive information and mitigate the risk of data breaches.

PCI compliance is not just a regulatory obligation; it is a critical component of a company’s security strategy. Non-compliance can lead to severe consequences, including hefty fines, legal repercussions, and a tarnished reputation. Conversely, adhering to PCI DSS helps businesses build customer trust, streamline their security operations, and protect themselves against the financial and operational impacts of data breaches.

This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of PCI compliance, outlining the key requirements, the importance of adhering to these standards, and the steps necessary to achieve and maintain compliance. Whether you are a small business owner or a security professional at a large corporation, understanding and implementing PCI DSS is essential for protecting cardholder data and ensuring the longevity and success of your business.

Understanding PCI DSS can be complex and challenging

To ease this burden, the following is a step-by-step guide to validating and maintaining PCI compliance.

Overview of PCI Data Security Standard (PCIDSS)

PCI Compliance refers to the adherence to the PCI DSS requirements. These standards are developed and maintained by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC), which was founded by major credit card companies like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, and JCB.

PCI DSS compliance involves three main components:

  1. Data Security: Ensures the protection of cardholder data.
  2. Trust and Reputation: Maintains customer trust and corporate reputation.
  3. Legal and Financial Consequences: Avoids fines and legal actions due to data breaches.
  4. Operational Efficiency: Implements robust security practices and processes.

Handling Card Data

Handling cardholder data requires rigorous security measures to prevent unauthorized access and data breaches. Companies must adopt best practices for data encryption, both at rest and in transit, ensuring that card data is always protected. Access to this sensitive information should be strictly controlled and limited to individuals whose roles necessitate it, employing multi-factor authentication to enhance security. Regularly updating and patching systems, conducting vulnerability assessments, and maintaining a robust anti-malware program are essential to safeguarding card data from evolving threats. Additionally, businesses should establish clear data retention policies, ensuring that cardholder data is stored only as long as necessary and securely deleted when no longer needed. By implementing these measures, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches and maintain the integrity and confidentiality of cardholder data.

Annual Validation

Annual validation is a critical aspect of maintaining PCI compliance, ensuring that organizations continuously adhere to the stringent security standards set by the PCI DSS.

This process involves a thorough review and assessment of the company’s security measures, including completing a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) or undergoing an on-site assessment by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) for higher-level merchants. Regularly scheduled vulnerability scans and penetration tests are conducted to identify and address potential security weaknesses. Additionally, organizations must review and update their security policies, procedures, and documentation to reflect any changes in their cardholder data environment or business operations.

By performing these annual validations, businesses can proactively identify and mitigate risks, demonstrate their commitment to data security, and ensure ongoing compliance with PCI DSS requirements, thereby protecting both their customers and their brand reputation.

PCI DSS Requirements

The PCI DSS security standard is comprised of 12 requirements, organized into six control objectives:

Build and Maintain a Secure Network and Systems

  1. Install and maintain a firewall configuration to protect cardholder data.
    • Use firewalls to control the traffic between untrusted networks and any system components in the cardholder data environment (CDE).
  2. Do not use vendor-supplied defaults for system passwords and other security parameters.
    • Ensure that default passwords and settings are changed to something unique and secure.

Protect Cardholder Data

  1. Protect stored cardholder data.
    • Implement strong encryption and data retention policies.
  2. Encrypt transmission of cardholder data across open, public networks.
    • Use strong cryptography and security protocols (e.g., SSL/TLS) to safeguard data during transmission.

Maintain a Vulnerability Management Program

  1. Protect all systems against malware and regularly update anti-virus software or programs.
    • Use and update anti-virus solutions to protect against malicious software.
  2. Develop and maintain secure systems and applications.
    • Apply security patches and updates promptly and follow secure coding practices.

Implement Strong Access Control Measures

  1. Restrict access to cardholder data by business need to know.
    • Limit access to cardholder data to only those individuals whose job requires it.
  2. Identify and authenticate access to system components.
    • Assign a unique ID to each person with computer access and implement strong authentication methods.
  3. Restrict physical access to cardholder data.
    • Limit physical access to systems and devices that store, process, or transmit cardholder data.

Regularly Monitor and Test Networks

  1. Track and monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data.
    • Implement logging mechanisms and review logs regularly to detect and respond to security incidents.
  2. Regularly test security systems and processes.
    • Conduct vulnerability scans and penetration testing to identify and address security weaknesses.

Maintain an Information Security Policy

  1. Maintain a policy that addresses information security for employees and contractors.
    • Develop and maintain a comprehensive information security policy and ensure it is communicated to all relevant parties.

To simplify the validation process for new businesses, the PCI Council has developed nine different Self-Assessment Questionnaires (SAQs), each representing a subset of the overall PCI DSS requirements. The challenge lies in determining which SAQ is applicable to a particular business or whether it is necessary to engage a PCI Council-approved auditor to verify compliance with each PCI DSS security standard. Additionally, the PCI Council revises the rules every three years and issues incremental updates throughout the year, adding further dynamic complexity to maintaining compliance.

Step-by-step guide to PCI DSS compliance

Achieving PCI DSS compliance involves a series of steps to ensure that your organization adheres to the security standards designed to protect cardholder data. Follow this guide to navigate the process effectively.

Understand PCI DSS Requirements

  • Familiarize Yourself with PCI DSS: Start by reviewing the PCI DSS documentation to understand the 12 core requirements and how they apply to your business.
  • Determine Your Merchant Level: Identify your merchant level based on the number of card transactions processed annually. This will dictate your specific compliance requirements.

Know Your Requirements by Compliance Level

The first step in achieving PCI compliance is knowing which requirements apply to your organization. There are four different PCI compliance levels, typically based on the volume of credit card transactions your business processes during a 12-month period.

Compliance levelApplies toRequirements
Level 1Merchants processing over 6 million transactions annually across all channels or those who have experienced a data breach. They must undergo an annual on-site assessment by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) and conduct quarterly network scans by an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV).Annual On-Site Assessment: Conducted by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) to verify compliance with PCI DSS.
Quarterly Network Scans: Performed by an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV) to identify vulnerabilities.
Penetration Testing: Annual penetration tests to evaluate the security of the network and systems.
Internal Security Audit: Regular internal audits to ensure ongoing compliance.
Compliance Documentation: Submission of a Report on Compliance (ROC) and Attestation of Compliance (AOC).
Level 2Merchants processing 1 to 6 million transactions annually. They must complete an annual Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) and conduct quarterly network scans by an ASV.Annual Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ): Complete the relevant SAQ to self-evaluate compliance.
Quarterly Network Scans: Conducted by an ASV to detect vulnerabilities.
Penetration Testing: Annual penetration tests.
Compliance Documentation: Submission of the SAQ and AOC to the acquiring bank.
Level 3Merchants processing 20,000 to 1 million e-commerce transactions annually. They are required to complete an annual SAQ and conduct quarterly network scans by an ASV.Same as above
Level 4Merchants processing fewer than 20,000 e-commerce transactions annually and up to 1 million transactions annually across all channels. They must complete an annual SAQ and may be required to conduct quarterly network scans, depending on the acquiring bank’s requirements.Same as above

For Level 2–4, there are different SAQ types depending on your payment integration method. Here’s a brief table:

AFor merchants that have fully outsourced all cardholder data functions to PCI DSS compliant third-party service providers and do not electronically store, process, or transmit any cardholder data.
A-EPFor e-commerce merchants that outsource all payment processing to PCI DSS compliant third-party service providers but have a website that can affect the security of the payment transaction.
BFor merchants that use only imprint machines or standalone, dial-out terminals and do not store electronic cardholder data.
B-IPFor merchants using standalone, IP-connected payment terminals without electronic cardholder data storage.
C-VTFor merchants that manually enter a single transaction at a time via a virtual terminal solution provided by a PCI DSS validated third-party service provider and do not store cardholder data electronically.
CFor merchants with payment application systems connected to the Internet, but with no electronic cardholder data storage.
P2PEFor merchants using a validated Point-to-Point Encryption (P2PE) solution, which ensures that no electronic cardholder data is stored or processed outside of the P2PE environment.
SPoCFor merchants that use a Secure Pin Entry on COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) devices solution. This SAQ is applicable if the SPoC solution is listed on the PCI SSC website.
DFor merchants not eligible for any other SAQ type and who store, process, or transmit cardholder data.
For service providers that store, process, or transmit cardholder data on behalf of clients and are not eligible for any other SAQ type.

Each SAQ type is designed to address the specific security controls and validation requirements relevant to different business environments. Selecting the correct SAQ and accurately completing it is essential for ensuring PCI DSS compliance and protecting cardholder data.

Scope Your Cardholder Data Environment (CDE)

  • Identify Cardholder Data: Determine where cardholder data is stored, processed, and transmitted within your organization.
  • Define the Scope: Establish the boundaries of your CDE by identifying all systems, networks, and applications that interact with cardholder data.

4. Complete a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ)

  • Select the Appropriate SAQ: Based on your merchant level and the nature of your business, choose the correct SAQ from the nine available forms.
  • Complete the SAQ: Answer all questions honestly and thoroughly, identifying any areas where your organization may fall short of compliance.

5. Implement Necessary Security Controls

  • Address Identified Gaps: Develop and implement a plan to address any gaps identified during the SAQ process.
  • Deploy Security Measures: Ensure that all required security controls are in place, including encryption, access control, and regular monitoring.

6. Conduct a Formal PCI DSS Assessment (if required)

  • Engage a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA): If your merchant level requires it, hire a QSA to conduct an on-site assessment of your compliance with PCI DSS.
  • Prepare for the Assessment: Gather all necessary documentation and evidence of compliance to present to the QSA.

7. Submit Required Documentation

  • Complete the Attestation of Compliance (AOC): Once you have met all PCI DSS requirements, complete the AOC form.
  • Submit Documentation: Send the SAQ, AOC, and any other required documentation to your acquiring bank or payment processor.

8. Maintain Compliance

  • Regularly Monitor Security Measures: Continuously monitor and maintain all security controls to ensure ongoing compliance.
  • Conduct Regular Vulnerability Scans and Penetration Tests: Perform these tests to identify and mitigate any new security risks.
  • Stay Informed of PCI DSS Updates: Keep up-to-date with any changes or updates to the PCI DSS standards and adjust your practices accordingly.

For additional insights into the intricate realm of PCI compliance, visit the PCI Security Standards Council website. If you’re diving into PCI documents for the first time, we suggest beginning with these resources: the prioritized approach for PCI DSS, SAQ instructions and guidelines, FAQs about utilizing SAQ eligibility criteria to discern onsite assessment needs, and FAQs regarding obligations for merchants developing apps for consumer devices that process payment card data.

How RuckPay helps organizations achieve and maintain PCI compliance

RuckPay provides comprehensive solutions to assist organizations in achieving and maintaining PCI compliance seamlessly. Through robust encryption technologies, secure data storage practices, and streamlined payment processing protocols, RuckPay ensures that cardholder data is protected at every stage of the transaction lifecycle.

By integrating PCI DSS compliant payment systems and adhering to industry best practices, RuckPay enables organizations to meet regulatory requirements with confidence.

Additionally, RuckPay offers expert guidance and support, helping businesses navigate the complexities of PCI compliance, implement necessary security controls, and conduct regular assessments to ensure ongoing adherence to PCI DSS standards.

With RuckPay’s dedicated focus on data security and compliance, organizations can mitigate risks, build trust with customers, and safeguard sensitive financial information effectively.


Achieving and maintaining PCI compliance is an ongoing process that involves understanding the requirements, implementing robust security measures, and continuously monitoring and improving your security posture. By adhering to PCI DSS, organizations can protect cardholder data, maintain customer trust, and avoid the significant financial and reputational damage associated with data breaches.

For more detailed information, refer to the official PCI DSS documentation provided by the PCI Security Standards Council.