PCI Compliance: Why It Is Important For Entrepreneurs

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Kristen Gramigna, Negosentro |  Launching a successful startup isn’t easy, especially as a solo entrepreneur. Prototyping, marketing, financing and accounting are just some of the key aspects you have to lock down before making that first crucial sale.

With so many hats to wear, you probably don’t have time to analyze the health and security of your payment environment. In fact, many startups overlook this step entirely.

But the moment you begin accepting credit cards, you become a target for thieves:

  • Criminals can use stolen credit cards to make fraudulent purchases within your business.
  • They can also steal any payment data you’ve collected from legitimate credit card purchases in the past.

To prevent these types of fraudulent attacks, the Payment Card Industry (PCI) has established a set of data security guidelines — and becoming PCI-compliant requires following these mandatory best practices.

What Is PCI Compliance — and Why Does It Matter?

PCI compliance rules dictate how you capture, process, transmit and store credit and debit card data. These mandatory guidelines apply to all card-accepting organizations, even nonprofits. PCI compliance is especially important for entrepreneurs since smaller businesses frequently lack the in-house expertise to protect themselves from fraudulent abuse.

As such, startups are particularly attractive targets for thieves and hackers. If your business isn’t PCI-compliant, there’s a high probability that you’ll become a victim of credit card fraud. And you may have to cover any direct monetary losses out of pocket.

It gets worse:

  • Noncompliance could mean paying hefty fees and penalties — ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.
  • Many fraud victims lose their merchant account status for not following these PCI compliance guidelines.
  • Some data breaches eventually lead to litigation. Even if you win your case, you’ll still have to take on expensive legal fees.
  • If the fraudulent attacks are frequent or severe enough, customers will lose confidence in your ability to keep their information safe.

In other words, the success of your business could be highly impacted by your decision to become  PCI-compliant.

Here’s how to get started.

Understanding the PCI Compliance Process

Becoming PCI-compliant is a multistep process that begins with a thorough analysis of your current payment environment. The goal of this assessment is to identify any vulnerabilities that might make you an attractive target for fraudulent abuse.

Taking a free Self-Assessment Questionnaire[WU1]  (SAQ) is one of the most effective ways to spot these potential weaknesses.

Based on your SAQ findings, you can begin addressing these vulnerabilities. The remediation process might include any or all of the following:

  • Installing firewalls, security updates, antivirus protection and software patches.
  • Restricting access to all payment data on a need-to-know basis. Many businesses assign user names and passwords to every employee, supplier and vendor with whom they work.
  • Encrypting any payment data that is stored or transmitted. Some startups circumvent this step by using hosted payment pages instead of storing credit card data in-house.

If you lack the technical expertise to implement these fixes, your payment processor should be able to recommend a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) who can walk you through these steps.

Once your payment environment is secure, you need to report your compliance status to your payment processor, bank and any relevant credit card brands that you plan on accepting. This is the final step in becoming PCI-compliant, but you also need to revisit this entire process annually to ensure you remain compliant.

Need Additional Information About PCI Compliance?

The PCI compliance standards may seem complex, but the sooner you implement the steps above, the sooner you can start focusing on the other aspects that go into running a successful business.

If you need help, there’s a free infographic below that covers the core components of PCI compliance. Keep this as a reference as you begin identifying and fixing any potential security vulnerabilities that could limit your startup’s growth potential.

The PCI Compliance Process

Infographic produced by payment processing company BluePay

Author bio: Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a leading provider of fast, easy and secure payment processing solutions. She brings more than 20 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management and marketing.