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What is PCI DSS?

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) was created by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) which is governed by the following payment brands:

  • MasterCard
  • VISA
  • American Express
  • JCB
  • Discover Financial Services

The recommended route to compliance provided by the PCI SSC is often referred to as the “Prioritized Approach”, which is designed to advise organizations on where to start and how to reduce risk early on their journey. It is important to note that PCI DSS compliance should not just be treated as a project, with a beginning and an end; rather the goal should be to implement the 12 requirements of PCI DSS into the organization’s ‘business as usual’ processes and procedures when handling cardholder data.

Who needs PCI DSS?

PCI DSS was developed to encourage and enhance cardholder data security and facilitate the broad adoption of consistent data security measures globally. Any organization involved in payment card processing which includes the storing, processing or transmitting of cardholder data (CHD) is usually contractually required to be PCI DSS compliant. Failure to do so could result in penalty fines to the organization.

What is Cardholder Data (CHD)?

Cardholder data is the following information on credit/debit cards:

  • Primary Account Number (PAN) – The long 16-digit number across the card.
  • Cardholder Name – The name of the person(s) associated with the card.
  • Expiration Date – The date the card expires.
  • Service Code – A code indicating in which country or countries the card can be used.

What is Sensitive Authentication Data (SAD)?

Sensitive Authentication Data is the following information on credit/debit cards:

  • Full Track Data – Magnetic strip on the back of the card or the chip on the front of the card.
  • CAV2/CVC2/CVV2/CID – The three or four-digit value, typically on the back of the card, next to the signature section.
  • PIN/PIN BLOCK – Personal identification number entered by a cardholder during a card-present transaction, and/or encrypted PIN block present within the transaction message.

Note: This data must never be stored, even if encrypted.

What is the Cardholder Data Environment (CDE)?

The Cardholder Data Environment (CDE) is comprised of the people, processes and technologies that store, process or transmit cardholder data or sensitive authentication data. System components may include network devices, servers, computing device and applications.

Examples of people and system components within a CDE could be:

  • A cashier attendant using a till/checkout in a shop.
  • An ecommerce website on the Internet. The web server hosting this website would be a system component.
  • A PIN Entry Device (PED, also known as a Chip and Pin Device) in a supermarket.

What are the roles within PCI DSS?

PCI DSS applies roles to each entity involved in payment card processing. It is vital you understand what role your organization, and those of other entities you use, play.

Such entities include:

  • Merchant – an entity that accepts payment cards bearing the logos of any of the Payment Brands as payment for goods and/or services.
  • Acquirer – an entity, typically a financial institution (for example, a bank) that processes payment card transactions for merchants and is defined by a payment brand as an acquirer. Also referred to as “merchant bank”, “acquiring bank”, or “acquiring financial institution”.
  • Processor – an entity engaged by a merchant or other entity to handle payment card transactions on their behalf. While payment processors typically provide acquiring services, payment processors are not considered acquirers unless defined as such by a payment card brand.
  • Issuer – an entity that issues payment cards or performs, facilitates or supports issuing services including, but not limited to, issuing banks and issuing processors. Also referred to as “an issuing bank” or “issuing financial institution”.
  • Service provider – a business entity that is not a payment brand, but is directly involved in the processing, storage, or transmission of cardholder data on behalf of another entity. This also includes companies that provide services that control or could impact the security of cardholder data. Examples include managed service providers that provide managed firewalls, intrusion detection systems and other services, as well as hosting providers.

Merchant and service provide levels

All merchants and service providers are categorized into different levels depending on the volume of card payment transactions the organization processes per year. There are four levels into which an organization can be categorized, with level one being the highest and level four being the lowest.

However, the volume of transactions per year that determines the categorization level of your organization also varies between the Payment Brands (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, and JCB). Therefore, it is highly recommended you confirm your organization’s transaction volume and categorization level with your acquiring bank. Once you have determined your level you will know what validation methods are required for PCI DSS compliance.

Submitting compliance

Once the organization is coming towards the end of its compliance journey you will need to start thinking about submitting the appropriate documentation to your acquiring bank. We suggest you start with contacting your acquiring bank to obtain their preferred method of submitting the compliance documents. Some banks ask them to email you the relevant documents, whilst other offer portals to log into and upload them.

Qualified Security Assessor

If your organization falls with the definition of Level one for merchants and service providers you are required to submit compliance documents produced by a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA). These companies are independent security organizations that have been accredited by the PCI Security Standards Council to validate an organization’s adherence to PCI DSS. A list of QSA companies can be found on the PCI DSS website.

Report on compliance

Completed by a QSA and only required by Level one Merchants and Service Providers, a Report on Compliance (RoC) provides a comprehensive summary of all 12 PCI DSS requirements undertaken by the organization and all activities and information collected during the assessment. The report should also clearly describe how the organization validates these activities and the resultant findings.

Self-Assessment Questionnaire

Depending on the level of the organization, a Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) may be all that is required to be completed and submitted. SAQs are validation tools designed to assist organizations in self-evaluating their compliance with PCI DSS. There are multiple types of SAQs corresponding to the different ways card payment processing is achieved. It is important the organization selects the appropriate SAQ(s) applicable to them. Following section three of this document will give you a good idea about this, but we strongly recommend that you refer to the PCI DSS website for further information to select the SAQ(s) best applied to your organization.

How can CertiKit help?

The CertiKit PCI DSS Toolkit is the best way to meet the requirements of PCI DSS quickly and effectively, and with much less effort than doing it all yourself, and now at version four it’s even more comprehensive. You can find out more about PCI DSS by downloading our free sample document.

Over 3000 businesses have purchased our toolkits


Starting the compliance process with the CertiKit Toolkit helped us more than we even expected. While we expected document templates and such, it quickly became the implementation process. Each template became an action item for meetings/discussions on how our business works within the regulation. Thanks!


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