PCI Audit – What to Expect Out of A PCI Audit

A PCI audit is a requirement for businesses of all sizes to ensure that they are treating customer’s data with delicacy and secrecy. It is important to ensure that all credit card and debit card transactions are secure and protected if it is stored within business databases.

The type of PCI audit one goes through is determined by the classification of the business. An established business that goes through an extremely high number of transaction each year will fall into a different level – these companies are more likely to be experienced with the PCI audit process. For example, a business that falls into Level 1 (those businesses that have over 6 million credit or debit card transactions per year) will likely have at least an annual PCI audit to ensure that they meet or exceed PCI DSS – Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards. In the same vein, a Level 4 business (a smaller business that handles less than one million credit card transactions per year) may not be as prepared for a PCI audit.

For many who are going through a first time PCI audit, it can be complicated and overwhelming. Understanding what a PCI audit is looking for is the first step toward putting yourself and ease and working toward a system that will pass a PCI audit.

PCI auditing is a process that is carried out by a qualified auditor who has the interest of the purchaser in mind. They measure whether or not a business complies with the security standards put forth for credit or debit card payments.

PCI Audit and PCI Compliance: What it Entails

A PCI audit is a complex system of steps that are undertaken by a certified auditor.  Since this is such an incredibly sensitive topic, it is important to find a qualified security assessor (QSA) who has been approved by the PCI SSC (Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council).

Initially, the QSA will evaluate the infrastructure of your security and procedures, taking your policies and networks into account. Once the PCI audit is completed, you will receive a risk assessment that outlines a few different qualities:

This risk assessment will be the foundation of your future movements within data security. The QSA’s job is to give you actionable steps for conducting staff training and raising security awareness – all of your employees should know the results of this study as long as they do not put anyone in danger.

Following the review, any and all vulnerabilities that were found will then be ranked by the QSA. After the PCI audit, you will have to look at these and prioritize them according to the recommendations and them immediately tackle the areas that need to be addressed. In order to improve your data security standards, you should work through the list as quickly, but thoroughly, as possible. The goal is not to have the same security risks showing up on multiple PCI audits.

If need be, any problems that the audit found that need additional help can be overseen by the QSA who conducted the initial PCI audit. This person can manage the process or simply act as a consultant in order to improve your PCI compliance quickly.

If your business already has a high level of compliance, there may not need to be any steps taken in order to prepare for the audit, nor to follow up with after the audit. If you have undergone a PCI audit previously, you likely know where your PCI compliance stands.

If you have not had a PCI audit before, addressing any known issues before the audit can help it go that much more smoothly. You may not know of any breaches or problems, but if you do, the time to act is now – do not wait for the PCI audit to be completed.

PCI Audit Tools

PCI audits are more than just a test of whether or not you followed the set of rules put forth for organizations of your size. It is also a tool you can use to trace and secure potential security flaws that could be exploited into the future.

PCI audit tools help to detect these potential problems. Some of the PCI audit tools available include web vulnerability scanners and network scanners. These help the auditor crawl your system and find some of the most common vulnerabilities that either have always been in place or those that emerge over time. PCI audit tools find coding vulnerabilities within the software development process as well as address new threats and vulnerabilities on a continual basis. In order to support this continual effort, PCI audits tools use reports to tell of non-compliance within your systems, listing all vulnerabilities completely. Some tools can then repair the problem, but others require more in-depth changes.

A web vulnerability scanner is the PCI audit tool that is more popular for in-depth assessments of any web applications or web-based services. The goal with this PCI audit tool is to detect security flaws that hackers can easily exploit in order to gain access to back-end databases, internal networks, or web servers. This tool is so crucial because web applications are overlooked when managing PCI security.

PCI Audit Options

PCI compliance auditing helps businesses, no matter how much volume they do in terms of card transactions, ensure that they are providing the most secure environment possible for their customers. The main goal is to protect the processing of payments and to ensure that transactions don't result in a compromise of the customers' data, the business’s data, or a hole for a hacker to start working through the system.

Ensuring that you have PCI compliance, through a PCI audit that gives you the certifications, and having a solid infrastructure that manages data security will help to increase customer confidence in your business (and in transactions with your business) while ensuring that you are not exposed to security breaches that could have been avoided with a simply PCI audit and a fix.