What is PCI Level 2?

July 05, 2024

If, like most modern businesses, you process credit card transactions, you’re familiar with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council. But you may not know the exact differences between PCI Level 1, PCI Level 2, and so on. In this blog, we’ll discuss Level 2 and how to maintain compliance with the second-most stringent PCI standard. 

What Does PCI Level 2 Compliance Involve?

PCI level 2

PCI Level 2 applies to merchants that process between 1 and 6 million credit card transactions annually. While not as rigorous as Level 1, this standard still keeps businesses on their toes. Here’s what it entails.

Implementing Strong Access Control Measures

Access controls determine who gets access to specific information. For instance, you can configure a system in a way where only authorized employees are able to procure cardholder data after a certain period of time. 

You should also use role-based access control measures. These ensure that authorized users only get access to sensitive data that is absolutely necessary to performing their jobs. These measures may seem excessive, but they can help prevent data breaches, which cost businesses an average of $4.45 million in 2023. 

Safeguarding Data With Strong Passwords

Your customers’ data is precious and should be treated as such. We’ve all been warned about the risks of using the same passwords for different platforms, and the same applies to PCI Level 2 compliance. Make sure that your systems use strong, unique passwords.

Remember to share these passwords only with authorized parties. Password leaks can spell disaster for compliance and lead to immediate and long-term issues.

Encrypting Data Transmission

As it moves through various networks and pipelines, data is vulnerable to exposure. To protect data throughout the entire transaction process, businesses must leverage encryption methods like Transport Layer Security (TLS) and the Internet Protocol Security (IPS). 

This essentially masks sensitive data from nefarious parties. Bear in mind, however, that like many PCI practices, encryption isn’t a one-and-done thing. Organizations should regularly review their encryption methods and make adjustments as necessary to align with relevant standards.

Purging Customer Data After Use

Data should be stored only as long as it is needed. Unused data that’s left sitting around is vulnerable to all sorts of threats, so it’s always best to rid your systems of it once transactions are complete. It’s recommended that businesses purge unnecessary stored data at least once per quarter.

Installing Robust Firewalls

A firewall protects sensitive internal data from external access, and it’s a key requirement for PCI Level 2 compliance. You can start by segmenting your network, which basically means separating the cardholder data environment (CDE) from other network areas.

By doing so, you create a sort of digital wall around sensitive data, protecting it not only from outside threats but internal tools and systems that could exploit vulnerabilities or invite attacks.

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

PCI level 2 is for organizations that do not exceed 6 million dollars in transactions.

The difference between PCI Levels 1 and 2 primarily has to do with transaction numbers. As stated previously, PCI Level 2 applies to businesses that process 1-6 million card transactions each year. Organizations that exceed 6 million transactions must abide by Level 1 rules.

But there are also some differences in terms of validation. Level 1 companies must undergo an assessment by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA). They’re also required to conduct quarterly network scans by an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV).

Validation for PCI Level 2 companies is usually more straightforward. They can complete an annual Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) in-house, bypassing the costs and coordination involved in working with a QSA. 

What are the Penalties for PCI Level 2 Non-Compliance?

PCI compliance takes time and effort, but it can save you a lot of trouble down the road. Businesses that fail to achieve PCI DSS Level 2 compliance can expect to pay heavy fines and, in severe cases, may even lose their merchant accounts.

Payment card companies like Visa and MasterCard can fine banks, which then pass those fines on to offending merchants. Penalty costs vary, depending on factors such as business size, but most fines range from $5,000 to $100,000 per month of non-compliance. 

Companies found to be non-compliant may also be put under increased monitoring and auditing. To avoid this level of scrutiny, it’s important to always be on top of compliance. 

How Should Businesses Address Non-Compliance?

PCI level 2 noncompliance requires an internal review.

Non-compliant companies should take immediate action to mitigate fines and penalties. The first thing they should do is conduct an internal review to see where they went wrong. You can’t fix what you don’t understand, and so it’s important to identify shortcomings before proceeding.

Though working with a QSA is not typically required for PCI Level 2, it can be helpful for companies seeking advice on non-compliance and how to remedy their situation. QSAs offer expert solutions and help businesses spot security gaps that they might have otherwise overlooked.

Organizations will also need to rebuild trust with banks and card companies. They should update them on their progress, explaining what they’re doing to make things right and how they plan on addressing compliance issues going forward. 

In addition, non-compliant businesses should incorporate regular compliance training if they don’t already require it for employees. This training is important for several reasons, including managing risk exposure and preventing future problems. It gets everyone onboard and on the same page.

The key is education. While not all compliance issues are foreseeable or preventable, companies can drastically reduce incidents by knowing what to look for and how to address them when they arise.

Achieve PCI Level 2 Compliance With Compyl

Level 2 compliance may not be as intensive as Level 1, but businesses should still take it seriously. Compyl can help get you on track with powerful compliance tools like workflow automation and automated regulatory updates. 
Our end-to-end compliance automation platform helps teams reduce their workloads and stay on top of things. That way, nothing slips through the cracks. Don’t leave your PCI Level 2 compliance status to chance—request a demo today to see how Compyl can streamline the process and help keep you in good standing.

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