What are the PCI DSS Encryption Requirements?


The massive digital transformation has led to the pervasive adoption and use of card payments today. Payment via cards has become a dominant method for making transactions across business, particularly, in e-commerce. Ever wondered about how safe it is to provide sensitive information like card numbers and CVV while making card payments? That's where PCI encryption comes in to provide with necessary security. The massive adoption of card payments warrants the importance of securing and safeguarding the cardholders sensitive data, for which PCI DSS has become a critical component for today's business.

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard lays out a comprehensive framework of guidelines for businesses to adhere to protect cardholder data and to maintain safe systems. In this post, we will shed light on - what is PCI encryption, PCI DSS Encryption requirements, and the methods of securing PCI DSS in detail.

What is PCI encryption?

PCI encryption is a method designed and regulated for companies to ensure the protection of sensitive data.  PCI encryption is a method that make use of cryptographic techniques to secure payment card data following the guidelines outlined under the PCI DSS. The PCI encryption is one of the critical component of the compliance furnished under the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) developed to ensure security of cardholders' data. It is mandatory for every business with card payment facilities to comply with for securing data. Thus, by executing complex cryptographic algorithms and other methods of encryption, confidential information like the Primary Account Numbers (PAN), credit card numbers, security codes, CVV, expiration dates, etc are encrypted, whenever these data are transmitted over public networks, to render it unhackable for hackers. 

Overview of the prime PCI DSS encryption requirements

Mandating organizations to secure and safeguards, the PCI DSS compliance lays out the vital encryption requirements that organizations must adhere to. Organizations must ensure safeguarding stored data of cardholders, safe data transmissions and management of encryption keys effectively. Thus, fulfilling these requirements equips organizations to effectively maintain and safeguard the cardholder's data confidentiality, integrity and availability.

The key PCI DSS encryption requirements are specified under "Requirements 3 and 4", with each requirement segmented into sub-requirement. 

PCI DSS Requirement 3

The Requirement 3 entails safeguarding of stored cardholder data. It stresses on access control and encryption to safeguard stored data of the cardholder from unauthorized access. The sub-requirements under are:

  • Requirement 3.1- Minimum Storing of cardholder data:  Ensure storing cardholder data to the minimum. Storing and retention of cardholder data must strictly restrict within the required amount necessary for business, legal and regulatory operations. 
  • Requirement 3.2- Avoid storing of Authentication Data : It is strictly prohibited to store sensitive authentication data after authorization, despite the encryption of data. Confidential authentication data must be unrecoverable. Exceptional cases are allowed upon the organization providing a strong business justification. However, the company must ensure secure storing of the data. 
  • Requirement 3.3-  Conceal PAN displayed: Displayed PANs must restrict showing not more than the first six or last four digits to the authorized employees of the company. 
  • Requirement 3.4-PANs stored must be Unreadable : Stored PANs must be made unreadable regardless of their storage location, such as backup media, digital media, in log, Wi-Fi, or data received. 
  • Requirement 3.5: Protection for cryptographic keys : The procedures and keys employed during the cardholder data encryption must be protected from misuse and disclosure. 
  • Requirement 3.6 Document and implement key management process: The cryptographic keys used in encrypting cardholder data must be documented to ensure security and also implement key management procedures. 
  • Requirement 3.7- Implement process of identifying risks and vulnerabilities: Companies must ensure establishing of a robust process to identify risk and security vulnerabilities. 

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the preferred compliance method for PCI DSS. It ensures confidentiality and integrity of the stored cardholder data. Employing proper key management techniques like storing encryption keys securely and separately from encrypted data and executing access controls for bidding unauthorized accesses further enhance security. 

PCI DSS Encryption Requirements 4

The PCI DSS requirement 4 sanctions secure transmission of cardholder data. It mandates using robust encryption protocols like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL v3.0) and Transport Layer Security (TLS v1.2) or higher ones for dispatching cardholder data over public networks like the internet. This procedure guarantees confidentiality and integrity of cardholder data during transmission, preventing interceptions and decoding sensitive information by unauthorized individual or entity. 

The sub-requirements under this part includes:

  • Requirement 4.1: Employing strong cryptography and security protocols :Organizations must employ robust security protocols and use strong cryptography to secure sensitive cardholder data whenever dispatching it over the public networks inclusive of the internet, cellular and wireless technologies, and satellite transmissions. It's best to follow industry's best practices for strong encryption to ensure secure authentication and transmission. 
  • Requirement 4.2- Avoid sending unprotected PANs over messaging technologies: Organizations must prohibit transmitting of unprotected PANs over end-user messaging technologies like Instant messaging, SMS or emails. 
  • Requirement 4.3-Ensure documentation, execution and knowledge dissemination: Companies must, without exception, document, implement, and disseminate all security policies and operational procedures crucial for protecting cardholder data.

It's imperative for organizations to regularly update and test their encryption protocols to detect and address potential threats and vulnerabilities and adhere to the industry's latest security standards. 

How To Secure PCI DSS?

This section will furnish how to secure PCI DSS. We shall look into the best practices for PCI DSS encryption. Ensuring a powerfully built security for cardholder data entails conforming to the best practices for PCI DSS encryption, such as choosing strong encryption algorithms, executing key management processes, and periodically testing and updating encryption protocols. The organization's compliance to these best practices will remarkably mitigate the risks of data breaches and unauthorized access to confidential information. Let us dilate on the best practices on how to secure PCI DSS

One-way hash functions: 

One-way hash functions are critical aspects of PCI DSS encryption. These functions enable the transformation of plaintext into unique hash values. It is a one-way process, meaning the plaintext cannot be reverted to its original form from the hashtag. This feature makes it an effective technique of storing sensitive information like password, where the original data remains secure even in the event of the hash value getting compromised.

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