Trustwave Report: 90% Of Payment Card Compromises Occur In Level 4 Merchants

Smaller merchants often rely on their acquirer or independent sales organization (ISO) to initiate PCI DSS compliance validation

May 10, 2011

3 Min Read


CHICAGO (May 10, 2011) – Trustwave, a leading provider of information security and compliance solutions, today released Payment Card Trends and Risks for Small Merchants, a supplement to its 2011 Global Security Report. The report highlights that approximately 90 percent of compromises occur in Level 4 merchant environments.

This statistic, while staggering, is not surprising as the majority of businesses in the US are small, Level 4 merchants, as defined by the card brands based on the number of credit card transactions processed yearly. And while the risk to small business is clear, this population has been slow to validate compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which is shown to be one of the best ways to combat the theft and fraud experienced by this diverse population.

These smaller merchants often rely on their acquirer or independent sales organization (ISO) to initiate PCI DSS compliance validation. Without directive or enforcement of such initiatives, many will forgo the very basic steps to protect their networks and their customers’ cardholder data because they feel they do not have the time or the proper resources, or they’re just not aware of the requirement. In addition, many do not grasp that the risk of a breach is directly pointed at their business type.

The report demonstrates that for these reasons acquirers and ISOs are encouraged to implement PCI DSS compliance validation programs for their merchant populations. These institutions, often referred to as the program sponsors, help enforce compliance, mitigate risk and in turn, provide a tremendous security benefit for the merchant, as well as the greater population by helping to combat ever-evolving data security threats.

“This report clearly demonstrates that merchants do not understand that the risk of a compromise is not equated to the size of their business,” said Robert J. McCullen, chairman, CEO and president of Trustwave. “As one of the pioneers in merchant compliance programs, Trustwave can work with any size organization to implement a program that will help enforce compliance, as well as educate the smaller merchant and help them understand the importance of PCI DSS compliance validation.”

“As one of the first acquirers to provide a small-merchant risk-mitigation and PCI DSS program, we found the data in Trustwave’s Payment Card Trends and Risks for Small Merchants very valuable,” said Carlos Navarro, CMO of Elavon. “It’s on target with the challenges we face in continuing to ensure all merchants in our own Level 4 portfolio are PCI DSS compliant. This report continues to help educate and build awareness of the importance of protecting cardholder data with even the smallest merchants.”

The Payment Card Trends and Risks for Small Merchants also reported on compromises across industries and found that two groups, Food and Beverage and Retail, made up 75 percent of all breaches. Of those breaches, 85 percent affected small merchants. Other key findings in the report show that merchants who fail to validate compliance with the PCI DSS, fail at six of the 12 requirements more than 90 percent of the time. Both of these statistics provide further evidence that ISOs and acquirers should implement compliance programs to help secure their merchant populations.

To obtain a copy of Payment Card Trends and Risks for Small Merchants, please visit Trustwave booth 116 during the Electronic Transaction Association (ETA) show, or visit

About Trustwave Trustwave is a leading provider of on-demand and subscription-based information security and payment card industry compliance management solutions to businesses and government entities throughout the world. For organizations faced with today’s challenging data security and compliance environment, Trustwave provides a unique approach with comprehensive solutions that include its flagship TrustKeeper' compliance management software and other proprietary security solutions including EV SSL certificates and secure digital certificates. Trustwave has helped thousands of organizations—ranging from Fortune 500 businesses and large financial institutions to small and medium-sized retailers—manage compliance and secure their network infrastructures, data communications and critical information assets. Trustwave is headquartered in Chicago with offices throughout North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. For more information, visit

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