If you’re planning to launch an e-commerce website, there are many things that may be going through your mind. How will you generate and convert leads? Is the supply chain robust enough for your products/services? How is the competitive landscape? Along with these considerations, you should also prioritize data security.
Your business will likely handle many different types of customer data on a daily basis, from names to addresses and even credit card numbers. And if such information were to end up in the wrong hands, your e-commerce company could incur significant damages.
The average cost of a data breach for a mid-to-large-size company is $8 million. This, along with other repercussions such as a damaged reputation, could potentially paralyze your operations. Being conversant with PCI DSS can help you safely handle customer data while avoiding cybersecurity threats.
Understanding PCI DSS
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) is a set of standards that ensures the safety of cardholder data. PCI DSS includes guidelines that cover network security, external auditing, data storage, and third-party vendor systems.
Compliance with these guidelines will depend on the size of your business, particularly how many transactions are processed in a single year.
There are four main levels of PCI compliance, with Level I applying to the largest companies (thus stipulating more stringent guidelines) and Level IV applying to smaller businesses.
PCI compliance is a continuous process that should be integrated with your company operations. From encrypting sensitive data to installing secure payment processing applications, remaining PCI compliant is a company-wide effort that has real implications on your e-commerce workflows.
If your business is mainly a SaaS service that has no access to cardholder data, compliance will mainly reside with the vendor who handles backend payment processing.
However, e-commerce merchants who host and manage their own platforms have the responsibility of maintaining PCI compliance. PCI DSS falls under four main levels:
Level 1: This highest level of compliance covers businesses that process over 6 million credit card transactions per year. Maintaining Level 1 compliance requires external auditing, data encryption, secure applications, and maintenance of an information security policy.
Level 2: This level covers a business that processes 1-6 million credit card transactions per year. Compliance requirements are much similar to level 1, with the exception of external audits. Companies are, instead, required to complete a self-assessment questionnaire that determines the robustness of your business networks at a particular time.
Level 3: Most SMBs fall under level 3 (or IV) of PCI compliance. This category covers $20,000-1 million in credit card transactions during the year. Level IV applies to businesses that handle less than $20,000 in annual digital transactions. Although Level III and IV requirements are less stringent, they’re still essential for data security.
For example, such companies should have policies in place for data access, regular monitoring of corporate networks, and the installation of firewalls that can detect and repel threats.
Applications of PCI DSS in online marketing
Ecommerce businesses have become popular among customers, and for a good reason. Unfortunately, hackers are also aware of this increased online activity and are relentlessly looking for weaknesses in your systems.
PCI compliance is an extensive framework that allows you to avoid risks, streamline critical operations, and respond to threats in a timely and effective manner.
Compliance also allows your e-commerce business to remain agile and responsive to emergent regulations (such as GDPR and CCPA).
You can apply PCI compliance to your e-commerce operations by following these steps:
- Secure your essential corporate networks
Having a weak network is the easiest way of falling victim to hackers. Your e-commerce platform should incorporate multiple security standards, including firewalls, strong passwords, and encrypted access. This will make it harder for attacks to penetrate your system.
- Implement a plan for access control
Your network is only as strong as its weakest link. Even with the best security infrastructure in place, you shouldn’t forget to include an access control plan. Determine who can access, copy, modify, or transfer sensitive data. This applies to data stored in physical devices, vendor networks, or the cloud.
- Encrypt sensitive data
Encryption is an added layer of security, where hackers won’t be able to read sensitive data even after it is compromised. You should encrypt all data being sent across public or otherwise unsecured networks.
Furthermore, implement the best practice of only storing the amount of data you need. Keeping large records of customer payment data increases your risk of falling victim to a data breach.
- Incorporate PCI compliance into company policy
PCI best practices should be engrained into your e-commerce data security policies. This is the best way of developing a culture of accountability and reminding all stakeholders just how critical protecting cardholder data should be.
- Report all compliance activity
Finally, develop workflows for compiling and submitting the necessary records for compliance. These reports serve as evidence that your systems met all the recommended guidelines at a specific point in time.