The 5 Best Practices for PCI DSS Compliance

April 24, 2024

Often, anything related to compliance can feel resource-intensive and complex. Truth be told, it is – at least it is if you’re tackling it alone. So naturally, for something that takes up a large portion of your capacity, when you’re working towards getting (and staying) compliant, you want to make extra sure that you’re doing it right. That’s where our best practices for PCI DSS compliance come into play. After all, there’s hardly anything ‘straightforward’ about PCI DSS compliance, especially if you’re trying to manage and maintain it yourself. So, to make sure you’re on the right track and you stay on it, here are five best practices for PCI DSS compliance. First, let’s recap the essentials. 

What is PCI DSS Compliance? 

PCI DSS, also known as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, sets the security standard for organizations that process payment information, especially cardholder data. This standard was developed in 2004 by the PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) with one mission in mind: to secure cardholder data. Now, whether you’re a small startup or a well-established company, if you store, process, and/or transmit cardholder data – you’re subject to PCI DSS compliance. But what does that mean exactly? 

The Three Main Components of PCI DSS

Simply put, there are three main components that help us understand the PCI DSS basics, namely: 

1:  Managing Access

This includes creating a security standard to determine how organizations should manage access to credit card data to protect sensitive card details when collected and transmitted. 

2. The 12 requirements

PCI DSS clearly determines 12 distinct security domains that act as a blueprint for how companies must securely handle and store cardholder data. 

3. Validations

It’s not just about getting compliant – it’s about staying compliant. Therefore, PCI DSS also insists on annual validations (forms, questionnaires, external vulnerability scans, or third-party audits) to confirm the security controls are still in place and working effectively. 

But you’re not here for the full rundown of PCI DSS compliance and why it’s important. You know that your organization is subject to compliance; the next question is just how to get (and stay) compliant without exhausting your budget, productivity, capacity, and people while you’re at it—especially considering maintaining compliance isn’t a once-off task you can tick off of your to-do list.


Everything to know about securing payments and cardholder data!


The 12 PCI DSS Requirements

Certain things regarding compliance are simply too important not to mention (and mention again). In this case, it’s the 12 PCI DSS requirements. According to the PCI SSC (the PCI Security Standards Council), vendors are obliged to meet all twelve requirements to maintain compliance with the PCI DSS standard. Seems simple enough. 

Not exactly. 

Within PCI DSS policies and procedures, there are several (hundred) sub-requirements within these 12 requirements. Still, we recommend reading up on the 12 core security requirements and how these best practices fit into the bigger picture. 

The following best practices touch on each of these three components. However, they should not be considered a comprehensive guide to becoming (and staying) compliant. That’s what our PCI DSS Compliance Guide is for. 

5 Best Practices for PCI DSS Compliance

1. The F-word: Firewalls

One of the first (and most apparent requirements) is the importance of installing and maintaining updated firewalls. Firewalls are one of your most vital lines of defense, protecting cardholder data from unauthorized access. However, for them to do their job, which is to monitor and control network traffic, organizations must install and maintain firewalls correctly. Cue best practice. This doesn’t just mean having a firewall – which is a no-brainer. 

What’s important is that your firewall configuration is up to par. This includes: 

  • Disabling or configuring a simple network management protocol (SNMP) to use a secure community string. 
  • Update your firewall regularly with the most recent security patches as outdated firewalls can significantly increase security risks. 
  • Conducting periodic firewall rule reviews to remove outdated or unnecessary rules. 

2. Invest in a robust Antivirus software

Although requirement five explicitly states the need for Antivirus software, it’s essential to keep in mind that not all software is created equal. With a market size value in 2024 of approximately $4.23 billion, it’s safe to assume that there’s plenty of antivirus software to choose from. 

However, despite the emphasis placed on investing in robust antivirus software, many organizations opt for free antivirus solutions to tick the box and keep costs low. Ultimately, you get what you pay for — or so the saying goes. But does it apply to antivirus protection? 

Unfortunately, yes. 

When comparing paid vs free antivirus solutions, the former generally includes all the features and benefits of the free version, as well as additional more advanced and granular security functions, protecting your organization against a wider (and more specific) range of threats for your specific threat landscape.  

Additionally, antivirus software is required for any device that interacts with or stores Primary Account Number (PAN). To protect your data, ensure that your antivirus software is regularly patched and that your POS provider employs antivirus measures as well.

pci compliant

3. Encrypt, Encrypt, Encrypt

Encryption is often so overstated in the security industry that it quickly loses its punch when trying to communicate its significance. To put things into perspective, each payment card transaction has multiple touchpoints before it reaches its final source. Each one of these touchpoints can be a potential vulnerability if not properly encrypted, which is why PCI DSS requirements enforce the use of encryption models. But PCI encryption in itself can be a complex topic to navigate, especially if you’re a smaller enterprise that doesn’t have dedicated tech gurus to delegate the encryption tasks to. 

This is why we recommend using encryption methods as a part of our best practices for maintaining PCI DSS compliance, as recommended by the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), as your baseline moving forward. This includes: 

  • Establishing dual control:

Dual control means no single user can make critical changes to your secure servers. In brief, this consolidates a few vital functions, making multiple entities equally responsible for the security of vulnerable and high-risk transactions. 

  • Generate solid and random keys:

The strength of your encryption keys depends on their length and randomness. Longer keys are more challenging to crack, as they have more possible combinations. Random keys are more unpredictable, as they do not follow any pattern or logic. It would help if you used a secure and reliable tool to generate your keys, such as a cryptographic library or a hardware device.

4. Test for Vulnerabilities (and Test Again)

Complacency is not your friend—not in business and definitely not when it comes to compliance. In the fast-changing tech (and security) landscape, your compliance status can change at the drop of a hat. That’s why as a part of our PCI compliance best practices list, we recommend erring on the side of caution and regularly testing for vulnerabilities. This means regularly scanning and testing your system for weaknesses, outdated software, and holes in your security strategy. 

However, understanding the importance of vulnerability scanning in cybersecurity can be daunting, and knowing when and how often to perform vulnerability scanning can be tricky for many organizations. That’s why we covered the nitty-gritty of vulnerability scanning best practices, when and how to perform it, and how it differs according to organizational size.

5. Don’t Skim Over Your Incident Response Plan

It’s not just about protecting your organization against security breaches but also about knowing what to do when an incident occurs. Think of it as the fire extinguisher of the digital world: a set of guidelines, best practices, and procedures for responding to cyber incidents.

Your incident response plan is just as crucial as your pre-emptive security controls and measures. Therefore, it’s essential to not only have a pre-established incident response plan to respond to and report on security incidents but also to test the plan beforehand and periodically to ensure effectiveness.

This should become a part of your Security Awareness Training, ensuring that every team member understands their role and that the organizational response to a security breach can impact the severity of the incident and your compliance posture as a whole. Speaking of your security awareness training – we’ve got you covered too!

Upskill your internal team and show the threatening information security threat landscape who’s boss. 


Simplify PCI DSS Compliance with Scytale

How great would it be if reading this blog had been the most work you put into your PCI DSS compliance? That’s where we come into the picture. At Scytale, we believe that confidence doesn’t have to be complicated (or compromised). Instead of staying up all night worrying about every single transaction going through your business, secure payments and cardholder data with smooth-sailing PCI DSS compliance.

Our automated PCI DSS solution provides everything you need to get PCI DSS compliant in one place and 90% faster but without the sleepless nights. This includes:

  • Automated User Access Reviews
  • PCI DSS Risk Assessment
  • PCI DSS Awareness Training
  • Automated Evidence Collection
  • Continuous Control Monitoring (CCM)

And everything that comes with having dedicated compliance experts at your fingertips. Ready to switch from complicated to compliant in just a click? We’ve got you covered!