Compliance with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS) is required for all merchants that collect, store, process, or transmit credit card data. The PCI Security Standards Council (SSC) designates specific compliance efforts that e-commerce merchants must follow, along with considerations and reporting documentation. However, the broad scope of DSS applicability and the varied forms leave many merchants needing a guide to PCI compliance for e-commerce websites.
A Comprehensive Guide to PCI Compliance for E-Commerce Websites
E-commerce merchants’ PCI compliance requires implementing and annually reporting on specific cybersecurity efforts and operational processes that protect cardholder data (CHD). However, the nature of merchants’ interactions with CHD—and, accordingly, their compliance requirements—vary significantly. Navigating these differences in PCI compliance for eCommerce sites poses a challenge to any merchant regardless. To help, this guide includes:
- The 12 PCI DSS Requirements
- The different payment processing methods and how they affect merchant responsibilities
- eCommerce PCI Compliance reporting
- eCommerce PCI Compliance best practices
Expert knowledge of e-commerce merchants’ PCI compliance requirements cannot be communicated entirely within this guide alone, however. For more thorough advisory, contact a PCI SSC-approved cybersecurity and compliance vendor, such as RSI Security.
PCI DSS Requirements
Understanding the steps e-commerce merchants must take to remain compliant with the PCI DSS requires knowing the 12 Requirements (and their sub-requirements) that apply to all merchants. Each Requirement specifies a different cybersecurity measure or organizational process that merchants must follow to protect CHD.
Note that merchants must be familiar with the complete DSS, and they remain responsible for adhering to its entirety for e-commerce PCI compliance—even if payment processing is outsourced to a third party. Regardless of how compliance efforts are distributed between the involved parties, e-commerce merchants must explain all of them in their reporting documentation.
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PCI DSS: The 12 Requirements and Their Sub-Requirements
The PCI DSS is broken down into six goals, 12 Requirements, and numerous sub-requirements. The sub-requirements collated under each Requirement may number as many as 11.
The PCI DSS’s six goals and 12 Requirements are as follows:
- Goal 1 – Build and maintain a secure network and systems.
- Requirement 1 – Install and maintain firewall configurations to protect CHD.
- Requirement 2 – Don’t use vendor-supplied defaults for system passwords or other security parameters.
- Goal 2 – Protect CHD.
- Requirement 3 – Protect stored CHD.
- Requirement 4 – Encrypt transmission of CHD across open, public networks.
- Goal 3 – Maintain a vulnerability management program.
- Requirement 5 – Protect all systems against malware and regularly update antivirus software or programs.
- Requirement 6 – Develop and maintain secure systems and applications.
- Goal 4 – Implement strong access control measures.
- Requirement 7 – Restrict access to CHD by business need to know (i.e., only roles that require access should have it granted).
- Requirement 8 – Identify and authenticate access to system components.
- Requirement 9 – Restrict physical access to CHD.
- Goal 5 – Regularly monitor and test networks.
- Requirement 10 – Track and monitor all access to network resources and CHD.
- Requirement 11 – Regularly test security systems and processes.
- Goal 6 – Maintain an information security policy.
- Requirement 12 – Maintain a policy for all personnel that addresses information security.
Payment Processing Options
E-commerce merchants may adopt a payment platform that they develop themselves, but many outsource processing to a third-party vendor. The processing method a merchant utilizes determines their compliance reporting documentation. Compliance guidance released by the PCI SSC refers to these outsourcing vendors as payment services providers (PSPs).
The primary advantages outsourcing provides are minimized ongoing management and alleviated PCI DSS compliance efforts. Organizations may outsource some (i.e., shared management) or all (i.e., wholly outsourced) payment processing functionality.
However, while e-commerce merchants may outsource their payment processing functions and—by extension—some of their compliance efforts, their responsibilities do not fall to zero. Organizations must identify the specific PCI DSS Requirements and sub-requirements that a third party manages, alongside providing thorough explanations (where necessary) regarding the responsibilities retained internally.
Merchant-Managed Processing for E-Commerce
The PCI SSC identifies two payment processing categories that describe self-managed platforms for e-commerce merchants:
- Proprietary or custom-developed (online) shopping carts and payment
- Third-party implementation fully managed by the merchant
Merchants who retain management and maintenance responsibilities for payment processing platforms assume all PCI DSS compliance efforts related to them. Although an implemented platform may handle some aspects of PCI DSS adherence, organizations that manage it themselves must ensure that their configurations and activity conducted while using the solution remain compliant.
Shared Management Payment Processing
Organizations that outsource payment processing functionality to PSPs are generally provided with the following options:
- URL Redirects – This processing method redirects customers to a PSP-hosted webpage to enter their credit card information when paying for purchases. CHD is not collected, stored, processed, or transmitted by the e-commerce merchant with URL redirects. Therefore, compliance responsibility and impact are lower, and fewer systems will require security controls.
- iFrame – This processing method mirrors that of URL redirects, although the PSP-provided functionality is embedded on the e-commerce merchant’s webpage within an “iFrame.” CHD is not collected, stored, processed, or transmitted, but should cyber-attackers compromise the merchant’s site, they can embed false content within the iFrame, so merchants must adopt strict website security.
- Direct Post Method (DPM) – This processing method sends the entered credit card information directly to a PSP from a merchant-managed webpage. While no CHD is stored, processed, or transmitted via merchant systems, the payment form that collects information must follow PCI DSS security controls. Larger e-commerce merchants generally use DPM to retain more control over their payment processing presentation.
- Application Programming Interface (API) – This processing method operates via system-to-system transmission. With APIs, e-commerce merchants control transaction progress, hosting and supplying the CHD collection form and processing submitted information before it’s transmitted to the PSP. APIs carry the most significant risk and compliance burden, as the merchant collects, receives, and transmits CHD.
- Depending on the API utilized, e-commerce merchants may also store and process CHD as part of payment processing. If so, this activity is subject to PCI DSS compliance.
Wholly Outsourced E-commerce Solutions
This processing method minimizes PCI DSS compliance burden as e-commerce merchants arrange all shopping functionality on a PSP-managed website or platform (e.g., product search, cart capability, checkout, account management). As the PSP manages all cybersecurity for the platform, they bear the overwhelming responsibility for PCI DSS compliance.
The PCI DSS still requires these e-commerce merchants to implement policies and procedures that outline safe CHD handling regardless of wholly outsourcing the shopping functionality provided to customers.
PSP Platform Validation—The PA-DSS
Though PSPs will assume a percentage of PCI compliance efforts (depending on the functionality utilized), e-commerce merchants must still validate platforms to ensure their use will adhere to the 12 Requirements. Regardless of what functionality is outsourced to a PSP, e-commerce merchants remain responsible for their PCI DSS compliance—including whether or not an implemented PSP platform, application, or service adheres to PCI regulations.
E-commerce merchants should evaluate PSPs’ and their platforms’ compliance before implementation to ensure compliance. Processing solutions and services are subject to the Payment Application Data Security Standards (PA-DSS). The PCI SSC maintains a list of approved applications that have received PA-DSS validation. E-commerce merchants should note:
- Processing platforms developed in-house only fall under a merchant’s existing efforts to comply with the PCI DSS Requirements, not the PA-DSS.
- Implementation of a PA-DSS-compliant payment processing application doesn’t automatically guarantee PCI DSS compliance.
- All applications that collect, store, process, or transmit CHD are subject to the PCI DSS regardless of PA-DSS validation.
- Suppose an e-commerce merchant customizes a PSP processing application. In that case, their PCI DSS assessment will be more thorough to ensure that the platform remains representative of the PSP’s original version that received PA-DSS validation.
In addition to PCI DSS compliance and PA-DSS verification, organizations must ensure that their payment processing platforms adhere to all other compliance frameworks that apply to their industry or business activity. For example, the EU’s GDPR regards credit card data as personally identifiable information (PII). Therefore, e-commerce merchants that interact with EU citizens must ensure that CHD security also follows GDPR specifications.
The PA-DSS applies to all PSPs who sell payment processing services or applications to merchants. The PA-DSS’s 14 Requirements are:
- Requirement 1 – Do not retain credit cards’ full track data, verification codes or values (e.g., CAV2, CID, CVC2, CVV2), or PIN block data.
- Requirement 2 – Protect cardholder data stored.
- Requirement 3 – Provide secure authentication.
- Requirement 4 – Log payment application activity.
- Requirement 5 – Develop secure payment applications.
- Requirement 6 – Protect wireless transmissions.
- Requirement 7 – Test payment applications to address vulnerabilities and maintain payment application updates.
- Requirement 8 – Facilitate secure network implementation.
- Requirement 9 – Don’t store CHD on internet-connected servers.
- Requirement 10 – Facilitate secure remote access to payment applications.
- Requirement 11 – Encrypt sensitive traffic over public networks.
- Requirement 12 – Encrypt all non-console administrative access.
- Requirement 13 – Maintain a PA-DSS implementation guide for a PSP’s customers, resellers, and integrators.
- Requirement 14 – Assign PA-DSS responsibilities for personnel, and maintain training programs for personnel, customers, resellers, and integrators.
PCI DSS Reporting for E-Commerce Merchants
Broadly, eCommerce PCI compliance reporting mirrors that for all other merchants: conducting quarterly vulnerability scans and submitting documentation. The submitted documentation varies by yearly transaction volume and payment processing method, however.
The PCI SSC categorizes merchants into four Levels according to their annual payments processed across all payment channels. All merchants except for those with the highest transaction volumes must submit a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). E-commerce merchants who process payments via the different outsourcing methods must determine which SAQ version applies to them.
The PCI DSS Levels
Per Visa, an SSC founding member, the PCI’s four Levels are as follows:
- Level 1 – Merchants that annually process six million or more transactions across all payment channels; required reporting documentation includes a Report on Compliance (ROC) and an Attestation of Compliance (AOC)
- Level 2 – Merchants that annually process between one to six million transactions across all channels; required reporting documentation includes a SAQ and an AOC
- Level 3 – Merchants that annually process between twenty thousand to one million e-commerce transactions; required reporting documentation includes a SAQ and an AOC
- Level 4 – Merchants that annually process fewer than twenty thousand e-commerce transactions and all other merchants that process under one million transactions; required reporting documentation only includes a SAQ
Note that Level categorization for eCommerce PCI Compliance is distinct from all other payment processing methods at Levels 3 and 4.
QSAs and ASVs
The PCI SSC approves third parties for completing quarterly scans and reporting documentation, much like the approved list of payment processing applications that have received PA-DSS validation. These third parties are designated as Qualified Security Assessors (QSAs) and Approved Scanning Vendors (ASVs).
QSAs and ASVs, such as RSI Security, must undergo rigorous recertification yearly to maintain their SSC-approved status.
Merchants completing their reporting documentation must partner with a QSA for ROCs and AOCs. While a merchant can fill out their SAQ internally, QSA guidance can help streamline the process and minimize effort substantially. An ASV must conduct the requisite quarterly vulnerability scans. However, note that for PCI DSS compliance, the “quarters” are not defined as the standard “Q1-4” but, instead, as 90 days since the previous vulnerability scan.
Self-Assessment Questionnaires (SAQs) for E-Commerce Merchants
The SSC provides numerous SAQ versions covering PCI compliance for eCommerce sites, with each pertaining to different processing methods. Depending on what and how much processing functionality a merchant outsources to a PSP, e-commerce merchants must choose from the following SAQ versions:
- SAQ A – Applicable to wholly outsourced, URL redirect, or iFrame payment processing methods
- SAQ D – Applicable to API or other payment processing methods.
Completing a SAQ mostly consists of providing yes or no answers, with any additional information contained in compensating control worksheets (CCW).
E-Commerce Merchant Best Practices for PCI DSS Compliance
The SCC includes the following within its best practice guidance related to PCI compliance for eCommerce sites:
- Know where CHD is stored
- Dispose of unnecessary CHD
- Evaluate the risks each e-commerce technology poses to merchants
- Govern PSP access to merchant systems strictly
- Conduct quarterly ASV scans or ensure a PSP partner does
- Conduct penetration testing for all e-commerce environments
- Implement regular security training for staff
Expert eCommerce PCI Compliance
PCI compliance is a strenuous effort that all merchants who collect, store, process, or transmit credit card data must undertake annually. E-commerce merchants‘ cybersecurity implementations and reporting are further complicated by the variety of processing platforms and associated reporting documentation required.
This guide to PCI compliance for e-commerce websites should simplify merchants’ understanding of their required efforts. However, PCI compliance necessitates ongoing cybersecurity and CHD vigilance, and discerning the full extent of implementation and reporting requires DSS expertise. RSI is an SSC-approved QSA and ASV with over a decade of experience related to PCI DSS compliance.
Contact RSI Security today to learn how you can streamline and simplify your eCommerce PCI compliance even further!