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Credit Card Security: 'Tis The Season To Be Compliant

When it comes to customers' credit card information, how much should small and midsize businesses be worrying about compliance this holiday season? The same as every other season -- a lot.
When it comes to customers' credit card information, how much should small and midsize businesses be worrying about compliance this holiday season? The same as every other season -- a lot.While the credit card information compliance standards, requirements and regs have traditionally been seen as most applicable to bigbiz retailers, the rules are increasingly being extended (and interpreted) to cover small and midsize businesses.

Not long ago in bMighty, Matthew Schwartz named regulatory/standards compliance as one of the Top 10 Emerging Security Trends. Admittedly, he placed compliance at number 10 -- but also made clear that achieving compliance when handling credit card information was going to move up the small and midsize business concerns list pretty quickly.

Which implies if not requires that you start getting your compliance act together now, if you haven't already.

Problem is, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) was clearly -- and admittedly -- put together by some of the biggest names in the banking, credit and financial industries, and it shows in the bureaucratic prose that spells out what the standard requires of companies accepting credit card transactions. Just reading your way through the various elements of the standard can take awhile -- implementing them can take awhile longer.

But if you take a look at this outline of those PCI DSS requirements you'll see that most of them involve measures and technologies that you (and your credit transaction processing firm even more so) should already have in-place and in-practice: firewalls, data protection and encryption, antivirus software that's regularly updated, restricted access to credit card data, a written security policy.

Those last two may be where you and your business need to raise your guard even higher: we've talked about here before, and often, lax (and, too often, nonexistent) access standards and requirements, not to mention unwritten security policies.

Yet of all the PCI DSS requirements these two are the most easily -- not effortlessly -- implemented. And if you put teeth in your policy -- requiring employee signatures as well as adherence, backing the policy with promise of termination or, if necessary, prosecution -- you'll have taken a large step toward both compliance and better business practice.

The point, I think, for small and midsize businesses isn't whether or not compliance requirements and regulations apply to you. We all live in the same world, where it's a fairly safe bet that if a reg or compliance stadard doesn't apply now it will tomorrow.

The point is that PCI DSS is, at heart, a set of commonsense rules and security tools that any serious business of any size should put in place, regularly monitor and update, and stay on top of for business reasons, not "fear of compliance violation" reasons.

Of course, if fear of violations actually gets some businesses to take action on the policy and access front, well, it won't be the first time that compliance was pursued for reasons of self-protection as well as customer protection.

The PCI Security Council's homepage is here.