Roadmap to Building a PCI Compliant System


Nowadays, protecting sensitive payment card data is extremely important.

And if you’re a business that handles payment card data and wants to safeguard it, you need a comprehensive system compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS).

But building a PCI-DSS compliant system requires a comprehensive approach to ensure the highest level of security and protect sensitive financial information.

Therefore, in this article, we will dive into the various aspects of building a PCI-DSS compliant system and explore the different requirements and measures companies should know to maintain information security and prevent data breaches.

What Is PCI-DSS and How to Become PCI Compliant?

PCI-DSS represents the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. It is a set of security norms developed by several credit card corporations, such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, and maintained by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council.

PCI-DSS compliant system

The primary goal of PCI-DSS is to establish a comprehensive framework that helps businesses and companies handling payment card information to maintain the security of cardholder data and prevent cyberattacks.

All organizations that keep, process, or transfer payment card data, including merchants, financial institutions, payment processors, and service providers, are obliged to comply with PCI-DSS.

Non-compliance with PCI-DSS can result in financial sanctions, higher transaction fees, and many other costs as organizations may need to implement more extensive measures to catch up with the standards later.

To achieve PCI-DSS compliance, companies must undergo regular security assessments. This may include self-assessment questionnaires (SAQs) for smaller businesses or on-site assessments by qualified security assessors (QSAs) for larger merchants.

The PCI-DSS is categorized into four levels based on the yearly number of payment card transactions handled by a merchant or service provider.

These levels help determine the level of security assessment and compliance testing required by an organization. The PCI-DSS levels are as follows:

Level 1:

  • Description: Level 1 applies to merchants or service providers that process the highest annual volume of payment card transactions. This includes companies that process more than 6 million Visa or Mastercard transactions per year, as well as any merchants that have experienced a data breach that compromised cardholder data.
  • Compliance Requirements: Level 1 vendors must undergo an annual on-site assessment by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA). They also need to submit a Report on Compliance (ROC) to prove compliance with the standard.

Level 2:

  • Description: Level 2 applies to vendors that service from 1 million to 6 million transactions every year.
  • Compliance Requirements: Level 2 vendors must undergo an annual self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ) or a quarterly network scan by an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV) to pass their compliance with PCI-DSS.

Level 3:

  • Description: Level 3 applies to vendors that service from 20,000 to 1 million e-commerce transactions annually.
  • Compliance Requirements: Similar to Level 2, Level 3 merchants must undergo an annual self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ) or quarterly network scans by an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV).

Level 4:

  • Description: Level 4 applies to vendors or service providers that process fewer than 20,000 e-commerce transactions yearly or up to 1 million transactions via other channels (e.g., brick-and-mortar stores).
  • Compliance Requirements: Level 4 merchants are obliged to fill out a yearly self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ) to assess their compliance with PCI-DSS. In some cases, they may need to conduct quarterly network scans by an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV).

How to Be PCI Compliant: Software Development Security Requirements

Software Development Security Requirements refer to the specific measures and best practices that organizations must follow throughout the software development life cycle.

Software Development Security Requirements

These requirements are important for protecting sensitive data and preventing security weaknesses and potential data breaches.

In the context of PCI compliance, software development security requirements play a vital role in building a secure system that adheres to the PCI-DSS.

Let’s go over the key PCI compliance software development security requirements.

Static Code Analysis

The first essential security requirement is conducting static code analysis.

This process involves scanning the source code of applications by officially approved SCA providers to identify security weaknesses and coding errors early in the development lifecycle.

By fixing these issues prior to deployment, companies can reduce the risk of potential data breaches and provide a more secure system.

Vulnerability Scanning and Protection Mechanism

Vulnerability scanning implies applying automated tools to scan networks, systems, and different apps to identify potential security weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Regular vulnerability scanning is essential to quickly fix security vulnerabilities and reduce the risk of them being exploited by malicious users.

The protection mechanism involves deploying security controls and measures to protect against known vulnerabilities and potential attacks.

This includes intrusion detection/prevention systems, access controls, web application firewalls (WAFs), or antivirus scanning for those computers of team members that can access the system.

Secure Authentication, Credential Complexity, and Rotation

Secure authentication practices involve verifying users’ identities before giving access to sensitive data or systems. This includes enforcing strong password policies, adopting multi-factor authentication (MFA), and limiting login attempts to prevent unauthorized access.

Credential complexity refers to requiring users to create complex passwords that consist of mixed case letters, special symbols, and numbers.

Credential rotation involves encouraging users to regularly change their passwords to lower the chance of compromised credentials.

The system must also verify whether the current password hash has been used in any of the last five password change events. This check ensures that users cannot set their password to one of their five most recent passwords.

Data Categorization, Data Protection, and Logs Monitoring

Data categorization entails distinguishing between non-sensitive data and sensitive data, such as payment card data and personal information (PII).

By categorizing data, companies can apply proper security controls based on the sensitivity level.

Data protection measures include hashing passwords, encrypting PII and payment card data during transmission and storage, implementing encryption-at-rest for sensitive data stored on databases or disks, and using secure communication channels (e.g., TLS/SSL) for data transmission.

Logs monitoring involves using a powerful system to track and analyze system logs to detect potential security incidents and suspicious activities.

Thus, compliance with software development security requirements guarantees that applications and systems are built with security in mind, bear no risk of security vulnerabilities, and firmly protect sensitive data from unauthorized access.

These practices not only help achieve PCI-DSS compliance but also contribute to a more secure overall IT environment and build trust with customers and partners.

How to Be PCI Compliant: Architecture and Infrastructure Requirements

Architecture and infrastructure requirements refer to specific measures that companies must take into account when designing and implementing their IT systems in order to provide a secure and compliant environment.

How to Be PCI Compliant: Procedural Requirements

In the context of PCI-DSS compliance, these requirements are important to protect payment card data and maintain the integrity of the overall payment processing infrastructure.

Let’s explore the key architecture and infrastructure requirements for PCI-DSS compliance.

Secure Networks and Nodes

Secure networks and nodes refer to applying specific measures to protect the network infrastructure and individual nodes (devices, servers, workstations) from unauthorized access, data breaches, and cyber-attacks.

Usually, this includes measures like firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems (IDS/IPS), access controls, network segmentation (using private subnets as well as applying NAT gateways), secure configurations, and monitoring.


Making the system reliable is vital to avoid service disruptions and keep data accessible. This way, incorporating redundancy and failover mechanisms helps minimize downtime, ensure uninterrupted service availability, and guarantee that no transaction data is lost in case of disaster.

High Availability

Creating a highly available system is crucial for providing uninterrupted services, especially during peak periods or system failures. Redundancy and load balancing can help distribute traffic and ensure continuous operation.

Monitoring and Alerting

Implementing strong monitoring and alerting systems allows companies to quickly detect and respond to security incidents and unusual activities. Moreover, real-time monitoring helps identify potential threats and security breaches.

Regular System Inspection and Patching

Regular system inspection and patching are important practices for keeping a secure and PCI-DSS compliant environment. This process includes regularly monitoring and updating software, OS, and applications to protect against known vulnerabilities and security flaws.

Disaster Recovery Plans, Training, and Drills

Disaster recovery plans, training, and drills are essential components of an all-around approach to data security and business continuity.

These practices help companies quickly respond to and recover from potential security emergencies and ensure that staff members know their responsibilities during incidents and can fit under strictly defined availability requirements in SLAs.

How to Be PCI Compliant: Procedural Requirements

In addition to technical measures, PCI-DSS compliance requires companies to adopt procedural controls to protect cardholder data. Normally, they are as follows:

Asset Checks and Internal Audits

Regular assessment and review of the security of assets, as well as internal audits, help identify potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses within the company’s security practices, allowing for timely remediation.

Access Controls

Access controls mean that employees should only have access to the information necessary for their roles, and privileged access should only be granted on a need-to-know basis.

Penetration Testing

Penetration testing imitates cyber-attacks to exploit vulnerabilities in systems, applications, and network configurations.

Therefore, conducting regular penetration tests (after the version release or at least once every 6 months) can help you easily detect and resist all potential vulnerabilities.

PCI-DSS Audit: How to Get PCI Compliance Certification

To ensure ongoing compliance with PCI-DSS, companies regularly undergo audits by certified assessors.

The audit process involves a thorough review of documentation, interviews with staff members, and inspections of systems and processes to assess compliance with the standard’s requirements.

Auditors will ask about various aspects, including security policies, access controls, encryption practices, monitoring procedures, and incident response plans.

Indeed, there is nothing extraordinary in this procedure. And if you can demonstrate adherence to PCI-DSS requirements, you will successfully pass the audit.


Though building a PCI-DSS compliant system is a complex task, it is essential for protecting cardholder data and keeping the trust of your customers.

By understanding the scope of your cardholder data environment, applying strong access controls, encrypting data, maintaining secure networks, and regularly monitoring and testing systems, you can construct a reliable and secure infrastructure that meets the requirements of the PCI-DSS standard.

Remember that PCI-DSS compliance is a steady process, and you must always maintain and improve your security measures to provide a safe payment card environment.

Ready to build a secure and PCI-DSS compliant system for your business? Contact SCAND today and request our expert system development services! Our team of experienced professionals will ensure that your system meets all PCI-DSS requirements, providing top-notch security for your customers’ cardholder data.

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