Cybersecurity and PCI DSS eCommerce for Online Transactions

PCI DSS ecommerce featured

Online shopping has ballooned in 2020. While most consumers have been moving to online purchases for years, the onset of COVID-19 has kickstarted a huge shift to online shopping across several industries. That’s why businesses that may never have normally considered online transactions are fielding new ways for their customers to engage with them through eCommerce functionality. That kind of online shipping will almost inevitably allow customers to make purchases with credit cards, which will mean PCI DSS eCommerce compliance. 

Here we discuss the importance of understanding the sea change in online transactions, and how your organization can start to think about PCI DSS compliance for those transactions even if you’ve never accepted them before. 

How Is Online Retail Changing in 2021?

The presence of COVID-19 and the pandemic has shaped the face of shopping for retailers large and small. Enterprise and big-box retailers have been successful in shifting to an increased reliance on online shopping. While online retail has been an increasingly larger portion of business for many years, 2020 so that number skyrocketed to some $660B worldwide, with many of those transactions linked to mobile technology, social media, and more integrated eCommerce. 

Another major change in 2021 is that many businesses are offering online payment options when they never would have before. Organizations in healthcare, financial services, legal services, and more. For example, online purchases of prescription drugs and telemedicine services will fuel larger online purchasing and eCommerce infrastructures for hospitals and pharmacies. Likewise, banks and credit unions are increasingly going online with new features and tools that include the ability to make purchases for things as banal as insurance to more exotic items like stocks

Fortunately, many of these businesses are at least somewhat familiar with security and compliance issues. Any organization that manages credit or debit card payments will most likely be working with some combination of Visa, Mastercard, Discover, JCB, or American Express card networks, which means having already-existing PCI DSS compliance measures in place. 

PCI DSS ecommerce

Preparing for PCI DSS Compliance in Online Retail

PCI DSS eCommerce compliance is required by the major card networks. More importantly, it is a critical part of hardening your systems, including online storefronts where you take credit information, against theft, fraud, or potential chargebacks. 

Preparing for PCI DSS compliance isn’t a slight undertaking. The latest version of PCI (3.2.1) includes 251 individual requirements within 12 larger requirement categories for businesses to effectively secure credit information in their systems. 

There are two different ways to think about preparation for compliance if you aren’t already complaint:

  1. Working with third-party vendors: If you work with a cloud provider, payment processor, or some combination of the two, then you’ll need to have a vendor agreement in place to ensure that they meet compliance requirements. Typically, you’ll want to have an agreement in place that requires an Attestation of Compliance (AOC).
  2. Maintaining your private cloud or internal system: This means that you’ll essentially take responsibility for all compliance in your business. 

As merchants and other organizations move to online business models, then it’s more likely that you’ll work with some third party to handle payments or eCommerce. This is especially true for non-retail organizations that will nonetheless open up online transactions for their services.

 With that being said, there are some basic things to consider when either moving towards compliance or updating your compliance standards:

  1. Understand risks: Attack vectors where hackers can steal data are varied and complex, and not limited to the Point of Sale or online store. Have a complete picture of where customer data will move and reside and assess the risks you take on with new technologies or third-party payment processors or cloud service providers.
  2. Don’t just assume you’re compliant: standards change and evolve, and PCI DSS is regularly updated with new requirements. The latest version (3.2.1) has been around for a few years now, but a new version (4.0) is expected to emerge in Q4 of 2021. This will call for a necessary upgrade to at least some security controls.
  3. Work with a security partner to help with documentation, compliance, and testing: A partner with PCI DSS eCommerce experience can help you understand some of the particulars of compliance so that you are prepared for a smooth transition to whatever state is needed. This partner can also help you with tasks like vulnerability scanning, penetration testing, and maintaining logs and documentation. 

The last part of this list is critical. PCI DSS has recurring requirements for things like testing. For example, PCI calls for annual testing of web applications facing customers and accepting credit information. Additionally, PCI also requires annual penetration testing and quarterly vulnerability scans. 

All of this testing and system implementation also calls for regularly maintained documentation, which, if you are using emails and spreadsheets to manage, can quickly become a nightmare to manage. 


Are Their Differences in PCI Compliance for Online vs. Offline Purchases?

For the most part, the requirements for PCI are the same for online purchases as for online purchases. However, online transactions are typically processed without an existing card scanning terminal or service representative, which means no card scan, no EMV chip, and no in-person assessment. 

What this means is that, to maintain compliance, you will have to either have a compliant online eCommerce platform that can accept credit cards securely and that you need to have a secure way to save that information, either directly or through the third-party processor. 

If customer data touches your systems in any way, then you need to have secure systems to manage storage and transmission, including encrypted storage and transfer protocols, physical safeguards against unauthorized system access, and proper training for any employees working with customer data. 



PCI DSS is a part of doing business online, and for good reason: it’s critical for customers and businesses to feel safe sharing credit card data online for purchases. 

If you have any retail or sales aspects of your business that accept credit cards, then it’s likely that you have bumped up against PCI DSS requirements, even if only through a third-party payment processor. If you are a growing SMB or enterprise organization, however, you’ll likely be handling card data in some way. 

You don’t have to manage PCI DSS eCommerce compliance alone, however. An experienced partner can not only help you assess risk, implement security controls, and plan your documentation and reporting processes. They can also typically automate the process so that you can create compliance reports and attestations with the push of a button. 

 If you’re a business curious about how your online transaction processing meets PCI DSS requirements, contact Lazarus Alliance at 1-888-896-7580 or through the form below to learn how we can help you navigate the process.

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