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Securely Storing Customer Credit Card Information: Best Practices

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Understanding Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS)

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS)

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS) are a set of security standards that were developed and are maintained by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC). These standards were created to ensure that any business that accepts or processes credit card payments protects the security and privacy of cardholder data. The PCI SSC was founded in 2006 by major credit card brands such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, and JCB International.

The focus of the PCI-DSS is on ensuring that businesses that process, transmit or store credit card data maintain a secure environment to protect cardholder data from theft or compromise. The standards are periodically updated to address new security threats, and all businesses that accept or process credit card payments must abide by them. Compliance with PCI-DSS is not mandatory under the law but non-compliance may lead to fines, legal fees, and damage to an organization’s reputation. Therefore, it is important for businesses to comply with the standards.

The council recommends that businesses take a three-step approach when working towards PCI-DSS compliance:


The first step to achieving compliance with PCI-DSS is to perform a security assessment to identify where risks and vulnerabilities exist in the organization. This assessment is required by the PCI-DSS standard and must be done by an external and independent Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) or be conducted internally by certified staff under the PCI SSC guidelines. The main purpose of the assessment is to identify areas that need to be addressed to ensure that cardholder data is safe.

During the assessment, the business must ensure that their policies, procedures and technical systems align with PCI-DSS requirements. The assessment is a comprehensive review of the organization’s IT infrastructure including networks, servers, databases, applications and other IT assets. The assessor will analyze the effectiveness of the company’s security controls in place,  identifying potential vulnerabilities, design flaws or failures.


The second step in PCI-DSS compliance is remediation, where any issues or vulnerabilities found during the assessment phase need to be addressed. A remediation plan must be implemented to improve the organization’s security posture. The plan must include corrective action to fix vulnerabilities and a strategy for overall security management. Companies can undertake remediation internally or engage third-party experts, depending on the severity of the issue and the skill level of its internal team.  

Once the business has completed the remediation process, they must conduct another security assessment to ensure that all the issues have been addressed. Evidence of the completed remediation must be provided to the payment brands or their acquirers, according to the requirements of the standard.


The third and final step of PCI-DSS compliance is reporting. Once the remediation process is complete and the final assessment is conducted, it’s time to report to the payment brands or their acquirers. Companies have to submit validation records in the form of Self-Assessment Questionnaires (SAQs) or a Report on Compliance (ROC) prepared by their QSA. Companies must submit the reports to the certification body or the payment brands for verification or certification.

In summary, PCI-DSS is a rapidly evolving set of security standards that regulate how business should handle sensitive cardholder information. Businesses that accept credit card payments should strictly adhere to PCI-DSS standards to protect their customers’ sensitive data and reputation. Achieving compliance with PCI-DSS regulations involves undertaking a comprehensive security assessment, performing remediation to address vulnerabilities, and finally, submitting the required validation reports.

Encryption Techniques for Credit Card Data Storage

Encryption Techniques for Credit Card Data Storage

When it comes to credit card data storage, encryption is one of the primary techniques used by businesses to prevent unauthorized access. Encryption is the process of converting plain text into a cipher text, which can only be deciphered by someone who has the key to unlock it. In the context of credit card data, encryption is used to scramble sensitive information, such as credit card numbers and security codes, so that they can only be read by authorized personnel.

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One common encryption technique used for credit card data storage is called symmetric key encryption. This method uses the same key for both encryption and decryption, meaning that the key used to encrypt the data is also used to decrypt it. This simplicity and ease of use make symmetric key encryption a popular choice for businesses, but it also means that the key must be kept secure in order to prevent unauthorized access.

Another encryption technique used for credit card data storage is asymmetric key encryption, which uses two different keys for encryption and decryption. One key, known as the public key, is used to encrypt the data, while the other key, known as the private key, is used to decrypt it. Asymmetric key encryption offers greater security than symmetric key encryption, as the private key needs to be kept secret, but it is also more complex to implement and can be slower than symmetric key encryption.

Many businesses also choose to implement encryption protocols that comply with industry standards, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). This set of security standards is designed to ensure that businesses that handle credit card data maintain secure systems and processes to protect sensitive information from theft and fraudulent activity.

One way that businesses can comply with these standards is by using secure socket layer (SSL) encryption, which establishes a secure connection between a customer’s browser and a business’s website. SSL encryption creates a secure communication channel that prevents hackers from intercepting or tampering with data transmitted between the two parties.

In addition to encryption techniques, businesses can also use other measures to secure credit card data, such as implementing firewalls and intrusion detection systems, restricting physical access to sensitive systems, and implementing a comprehensive security policy that includes employee training and access controls.

Overall, encryption is a crucial technique that businesses should use to protect credit card data from unauthorized access and ensure compliance with industry standards. By implementing secure encryption protocols and other security measures, businesses can minimize the risk of data breaches and protect customers’ sensitive information.

Best Practices for Network and Server Security

Network and Server Security

When it comes to securing customer credit card information, network and server security is of the utmost importance. Here are some of the best practices to follow:

1. Implement Strong Passwords and Multifactor Authentication

One of the most basic, yet effective, practices for network and server security is implementing strong passwords. Passwords should contain a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Additionally, multifactor authentication should be used for accessing sensitive information. This means that users must provide two or more forms of identification to access the network or server, such as a password and a fingerprint scan.

2. Use Encryption

Encryption is the process of converting sensitive information into unreadable code to prevent unauthorized access. All credit card information should be encrypted both in transit and at rest. This means that credit card information should be encrypted when it is being transmitted from the customer’s computer or mobile device to the server, as well as when it is being stored on the server.

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3. Limit Access to Credit Card Information

Limit Access to Credit Card Information

One of the most important practices for network and server security is limiting access to credit card information. This means that only authorized users should have access to credit card information. Companies can limit access by implementing role-based access control, which means that employees only have access to the specific information they need to perform their job duties. Additionally, companies should regularly review access permissions and remove access for employees who no longer need it.

It’s also important to limit physical access to servers by ensuring that they are locked in secure areas, and that only authorized personnel have access. This prevents unauthorized individuals from physically accessing servers and stealing credit card information.

4. Regularly Update Software and Hardware

Software and hardware updates are often released to patch security vulnerabilities. Therefore, it’s important to regularly update all software and hardware used to store and transmit credit card information. This includes firewalls, antivirus software, and operating systems. Companies should also regularly review and update their security policies and procedures to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest security standards and threats.

5. Monitor Networks and Servers

Monitoring networks and servers is an important practice for detecting and preventing security breaches. Companies should implement real-time monitoring and alerts to quickly respond to any security incidents. Monitoring can include regular scans for viruses and malware, as well as tracking logins and data transfers.

By following these best practices for network and server security, companies can help protect not only their customers’ credit card information, but also their own sensitive information and intellectual property.

Limiting Access to Credit Card Information

Lock icon

One of the most important aspects of securely storing customer credit card information is limiting access to it. Only those individuals who absolutely need access to the information should be allowed to view it. This not only helps to prevent accidental disclosure of sensitive data but also improves the overall security of the system.

Before you can begin limiting access to credit card information, you must first identify who in your organization needs access to it. This may include individuals in accounting, customer service, or sales. Determine the minimum level of access each role requires to successfully perform their job and restrict access to the information beyond their immediate need.

There are several ways to limit access to credit card information:

1. Two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication icon

Two-factor authentication is an additional layer of security that requires users to provide two forms of identification before accessing credit card information. This might include something the user knows like a password or PIN and something they have like a smartphone or security token. By requiring users to provide multiple forms of identification, you can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive data.

2. Role-based access control

Role-based access control icon

Role-based access control limits access to credit card information based on an individual’s job responsibilities. Users are assigned a specific role or level of access based on their job description, and they only have access to information that is necessary for them to complete their job duties. This helps to ensure that users only have access to information that is relevant to them.

3. Encryption

encryption icon

Encryption is another way to limit access to credit card information. By encrypting the information, it becomes unreadable to anyone who does not have the appropriate decryption key. This means that even if a hacker gains access to the information, they will not be able to read it without the decryption key. If you choose to use encryption to protect credit card information, be sure to choose a strong encryption algorithm and keep your decryption key secure.

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4. Monitor and audit access

Monitor and audit icon

Monitoring and auditing access to credit card information is an important step in limiting access to it. By regularly reviewing access logs, you can identify individuals who are accessing credit card data when they should not be. This gives you the opportunity to take corrective action, such as revoking their access or providing additional training.


Limiting access to credit card information is crucial to the security of your customers’ data. By implementing two-factor authentication, role-based access control, encryption, and monitoring and auditing access, you can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access. Remember, the fewer people who have access to sensitive data, the better.

The Importance of Regular Risk Assessments and Audits

risk assessment and audit

Storing credit card information can be a challenging and risk-laden affair for businesses. Cybercriminals are always lurking, and the stakes are high – loss of customer trust, business reputation, and financial repercussions. That’s why businesses need to take safety measures from the outset.

The most common way a business can reduce the risk of credit card information breaches is to have regular risk assessments and audits.

Risk assessments:

A risk assessment is a systematic approach businesses take to identify, evaluate, and prioritize the risks they face – both internal and external. The idea is to determine the likelihood of a risk event occurring and the magnitude of the consequences if it does, so businesses can develop and implement appropriate controls to reduce the risk of the event happening.

Some of the things that a risk assessment should include concerning customer credit card data include:

  • Identify where the data is stored and the systems that house it.
  • Identify business processes that put customer data at risk.
  • Identify what internal and external threats exist.
  • Identify the level of protection security measures give to data (e.g., encryption, password protection, access controls, etc.)

Once the assessment is finished, the business will have a clear picture of where the risks lie and can address them.


An audit is the process of examining a business, its systems and processes, to see if they comply with data security regulations and standards. A regulatory body or a qualified professional conducts the audit. The audit gives businesses a chance to correct deficiencies before they become breaches.

The audit covers a range of things, including:

  • Confirming all credit cards are stored, processed, and transmitted securely by reviewing policies, procedures, and actual network implementation.
  • Ensuring that information security personnel, policies, processes, and procedures are current and consistent with industry standards and regulatory requirements.
  • Evaluating the level of privacy and protection for the credit card data.
  • Testing the security and authentication mechanisms employed to ensure that sensitive information is not accessible to unauthorized entities and systems.

After conducting the audit, the auditor provides the business with a scorecard of vulnerabilities and risks and gives them a chance to remedy the issues before someone who shouldn’t get access to customer credit card data does.


Regularly conducting both risk assessments and audits are crucial to securing customer credit card data. These measures help businesses stay on top of vulnerabilities, ensure compliance with data security regulations, and protect their customer’s information. They help businesses build trust and goodwill with their customers and partners, and reduce the risk of negative financial and reputational impacts. In today’s digital age, it’s no longer about if a business will be hacked, it’s when. So, businesses must make sure they have preventative measures in place before it happens.