The 10 Most Common PCI DSS Violations and How to Avoid Them

Article PCI DSS

PCI Violations

According to a recent report from the Identity Theft Resource Center, there have been 2,116 data breaches recorded through Q3 2023, surpassing the peak number of data compromises observed in 2021, which stood at 1,862.

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) outlines security requirements for organizations that handle payment card (credit and/or debit) transactions. PCI DSS compliance is important for safeguarding sensitive data, maintaining legal compliance, avoiding financial penalties, and preserving trust and credibility in the marketplace. It is often an essential component of overall cybersecurity and risk management strategies for organizations involved in payment card transactions.

Violations of these requirements can result in serious consequences, including financial penalties and the loss of the ability to process credit card transactions. While specific violations can vary, common PCI violations include:

  1. Storing Sensitive Data: Storing full magnetic stripe data, PINs/PIN blocks, or card verification codes after authorization is prohibited for merchants.
  2. Weak Access Controls: Failing to restrict access to cardholder data on a need-to-know basis, and not implementing proper user authentication measures can lead to PCI violations.
  3. Default or Weak Passwords: Using default passwords or employing weak password policies can expose systems to unauthorized access.
  4. Insecure Transmission of Data: Transmitting cardholder data over open, public networks without encryption is a significant violation. All sensitive data should be encrypted during transmission.
  5. Inadequate Network Security: Failure to implement proper network segmentation, firewalls, and intrusion detection/prevention systems can leave systems vulnerable to attacks.
  6. Lack of Regular Security Testing: Failing to conduct regular vulnerability scans and penetration testing can result in undiscovered vulnerabilities.
  7. Unprotected Wireless Networks: Not securing wireless networks adequately can expose cardholder data to unauthorized access.
  8. Failure to Monitor and Log Access: Failing to implement proper logging and monitoring for access to cardholder data can result in improper system access and undetected breaches.
  9. Outdated Software and Systems: Using outdated or unsupported software versions can lead to vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.
  10. Insufficient Physical Security: Lack of physical security controls, such as access controls, surveillance, inventory management, and protection of payment terminals can lead to unauthorized access to cardholder data.

Avoiding PCI violations requires a comprehensive approach to security and compliance. Here are some key steps to help prevent common PCI violations:

  • Understand Your PCI DSS Scope: Ensure that you have a documented inventory and clear understanding of all devices, software, third parties, locations, and payment acceptance methods. Re-verify these details at least annually.
  • Understand PCI DSS Requirements: Familiarize yourself with the PCI Data Security Standard and understand the specific requirements applicable to your organization.
  • Employee Training: Educate and train employees on security policies, procedures, and the importance of protecting cardholder data. Conduct regular security awareness training. CampusGuard’s PCI DSS courses feature role-based training for merchant and organizational staff based on their daily responsibilities and involvement in the payment card environment.
  • Data Encryption: Use strong encryption algorithms to protect cardholder data during transmission and storage. Employ encryption for sensitive data, including cardholder information and authentication data. Unless absolutely necessary for business or legal reasons, avoid any storage of payment card data after authorization.
  • Implement Access Controls: Enforce strict logical and physical access controls, granting access to cardholder data only to individuals who need it for their jobs. Use unique IDs and strong authentication methods.
  • Secure Authentication: Use strong, unique passwords and implement multi-factor authentication to enhance security.
  • Network Security: Segment your network to isolate cardholder data from other parts of the network. Use firewalls to control and monitor traffic and implement intrusion detection/prevention systems.
  • Regular Security Assessments: Conduct regular vulnerability scans and penetration testing. Review the scan and penetration testing reports, remediate as necessary, and perform follow-up scans/testing to verify that the vulnerabilities have been addressed.
  • Wireless Security: Secure wireless networks using strong encryption (WPA2 or higher) and change default credentials. Regularly monitor and audit wireless access points. If possible, avoid the use of wireless networks for transmission of payment card data, unless you have implemented validated Point-to-Point Encryption (P2PE) solutions.
  • Logging and Monitoring: Implement robust logging and monitoring processes. Monitor access to cardholder data and promptly investigate any suspicious activities.
  • Update Software and Systems: Keep all systems, software, and applications up to date with the latest security patches. Regularly review and update security configurations.
  • Physical Security: Implement physical access controls to restrict access to systems and storage containing cardholder data. Use surveillance and monitoring to enhance physical security.
  • Assess Compliance: Regularly conduct internal assessments to ensure ongoing compliance with PCI DSS requirements. Consider engaging third-party vendors to assess your compliance externally.
  • Documentation and Policies: Maintain comprehensive documentation of security policies and procedures. Regularly review and update policies to reflect changes in technology and business processes. Incorporate training on your organization’s information security and PCI policies/procedures into your overall security awareness training program. Ensure that your program covers phishing, social engineering, and other common attacks against your end-user community.
  • Incident Response Plan: Develop and regularly test an incident response plan to ensure a swift and effective response to security incidents. This includes procedures for notifying appropriate parties in the event of a breach. Consider all roles related to incident response, including but not limited to: legal counsel, public relations, Treasury, IT, Information Security, etc.

By consistently following these practices, your organization can significantly reduce the risk of PCI violations and enhance the overall security posture of its payment card processing systems. Regularly reviewing and adapting security measures to address emerging threats is crucial for diminishing potential vulnerabilities.

It’s also important to note that compliance with PCI DSS is an ongoing process, and organizations must regularly assess and update their security measures to address evolving threats and vulnerabilities. Specific PCI requirements may change over time. CampusGuard is your compliance partner dedicated to help your organization stay informed about the latest standards and updates from the PCI Security Standards Council. Contact us to get started!


About the Author
Kathy Staples

Kathy Staples

Marketing Manager

Kathy Staples has over 20 years of experience in digital marketing, with special focus on corporate marketing initiatives and serving as an account manager for many Fortune 500 clients. As CampusGuard's Marketing Manager, Kathy's main objectives are to drive the company's brand awareness and marketing strategies while strengthening our partnerships with higher education institutions and organizations. Her marketing skills encompass multiple digital marketing initiatives, including campaign development, website management, SEO optimization, and content, email, and social media marketing.