What is PCI Level 1?

July 03, 2024

Payment security is vital for business health and customer safety. For that reason, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI) was created. It’s designed to ensure companies that manage credit card information do so securely and has different requirements for different types of businesses. PCI Level 1 mandates the highest level of security and has some pretty stringent requirements.

Find out who this standard applies to and what it entails.

What Does PCI Level 1 Mean?

PCI level 1

PCI Level 1 applies to businesses that process over 6 million credit card transactions annually or that have experienced a data breach. Service providers that handle cardholder data for these large merchants must also maintain PCI Level 1 compliance. 

Millions of credit card transactions are processed each day. In 2022 alone, the US recorded 1,738 transactions per second, totaling over 54 billion for the year. The rise of online shopping has contributed greatly to this spike, highlighting the growing need for large businesses to invest in PCI data protection measures. 

What is the Difference Between PCI Level 1 and Level 2?

PCI Level and Level 2 standards fall under the same general scope, but there are some key differences to be aware of.

PCI Level 1 Compliance

This is the highest level of PCI certification. It involves a rigorous set of standards that are primarily focused on protecting cardholder data. Businesses must provide an annual Report on Compliance (RoC) completed by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA), as well as a quarterly network scan. 

If you fall under Level 1 compliance, you must perform annual internal audits and remain up to date with vulnerability monitoring. It’s also a good idea to keep detailed logs of compliance so that, in the event things go south, you can produce a proven track record of your efforts.

PCI Level 2 Compliance

Level 2 compliance is required for companies that process 1-6 million transactions each year. These businesses must complete an annual PCI DSS Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). Unlike those under the Level 1 scope, Level 2 companies can perform internal auditing and do not work with QSAs. 

They are, however, required to conduct quarterly network scans by an ASV, just like Level 1 organizations. While Level 2 compliance requires quite a bit of effort, it’s less rigorous than Level 1. The goal is to ensure that smaller merchants maintain high security standards without the extensive auditing process required at the highest level.

How Do You Comply With PCI DSS Level 1?

PCI level 1has several steps for compliance.

Achieving compliance with PCI DSS Level 1 requires several steps, including encryption and firewall installation. Here’s a detailed look at what businesses must do to stay on the right side of PCI. 

Build a Secure Network

Businesses must secure their networks and build secure firewalls to protect cardholder data. Firewalls act as barriers between trusted internal networks and untrusted external networks, and PCI-compliant firewalls must be properly configured to prevent unauthorized access.

Protect Cardholder Data

It’s important to minimize data storage. As soon as the transaction goes through, merchants are expected to purge all customer data. The PCI Security Standards Council recommends discarding unnecessary stored data at least quarterly.

And encryption is king when it comes to PCI. Sensitive information like card numbers and PINs should be encrypted using strong cryptographic methods. This applies to internal and external networks. Basically, organizations must work to ensure privacy across the card’s entire transaction journey.

Monitor for Risks and Vulnerabilities

Businesses within the scope of Level 1 PCI data security standards are required to update their security measures on an ongoing basis. Whether that means upgrading antivirus software or rolling out timely security patches, organizations must work around the clock to manage risks and vulnerabilities.

Use Access Control Tools

It goes without saying that access control is paramount for PCI compliance. Merchants should restrict access to cardholder data to those—and only those—whose jobs require it. The best way to do that is by implementing role-based access controls.

For example, you might assign a unique ID to each person with computer access. This ID could grant access to the appropriate parties, deny access to unauthorized individuals, and help track activities back to specific users. 

Here are some additional tips for using access controls:

  • Define access control policies.
  • Use role-based access control to ensure employees only have access to the data necessary to complete their assigned tasks.
  • Implement strong authentication tools, such as MFA, to verify the user’s identity before granting access to sensitive information.
  • When possible, limit access to a need-to-know basis.

Create Relevant Security Policies

A comprehensive security policy is critical to maintaining PCI Level 1 compliance. Merchants should develop and enforce robust policies that address information security for all personnel. These policies should cover everything from data protection to incident response.

However, it’s not enough to simply enact a policy—all employees must be trained in adherence.  Each individual should understand their unique role in maintaining PCI security standards. This may require long-term, ongoing training that adapts to new needs and requirements.

What Happens if Businesses Do Not Meet Level 1 Compliance?

PCI level 1 non  compliance can be addressed.

Failing to meet PCI Level 1 standards should be a wake-up call, but it needn’t be cause for panic. There are a few steps businesses can take to get on track. First, they should identify the root causes of their non-compliance. Is it in security measures? Policies? Employee training?

Next, they should consult with a QSA to develop an effective remediation plan. Good plans address critical vulnerabilities and outline the steps for implementing more robust security controls like encryption.

Some organizations may need to purchase new tech, such as advanced firewalls and intrusion detection systems. While the cost of these technologies is significant, non-compliance can cost you even more. A breach, for example, can incur penalties of up to $50,000 per month. 

Achieve PCI Level 1 Compliance With Compyl

For large businesses managing millions of credit card transactions each year, adhering to PCI Level 1 standards is a must. Thankfully, you’re not alone in the process. Compyl will work with you to streamline PCI compliance with workflow automation, multiple framework mapping, and more. Request a demo to see how you can get started. 

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