What App Developers Should Know About PCI DSS Compliance
PCI regulations ensure that any payment data processed via your mobile app is safe and secure.
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Applications are the fuel that powers modern devices. From Fintech apps to games and social media sites, mobile apps are optimized for performance in specific types of devices. The highly customized nature of mobile apps has also made them subject to many different types of threats. Indeed, apps can be used as easy gateways for hacking credit card numbers, location data, and even the addresses of your customers. Because of these risks, app developers need to be aware of the most common regulations that cover their field. Any mobile app that will be processing credit card data will need to comply with specific PCI DSS regulations.
PCI security standards are put in place by major credit card companies to protect payment data. And because many apps include product purchases, subscription fees, or one-time costs, PCI regulations ensure that any payment data processed via your mobile app is safe and secure.
App developers should always be aware of PCI standards and how to maintain continuous compliance. Contravening these regulations could result in hefty fines, additional fees, and even the loss of sensitive customer information. To avoid these consequences, the following guide will shed more light on what PCI actually is, what it means for app developers, and how you can develop a plan for continuous compliance.
Understanding PCI DSS
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) refer to a set of highly technical guidelines that are put in place to protect cardholder data. Owing to the sensitive nature of credit card information, PCI guidelines help prevent breaches that may expose credit card numbers, customer names, addresses, and other sensitive information. PCI guidelines are tailored to businesses of different sizes. For example, companies that process more than 6 million transactions a year will need to meet more stringent measures than those processing fewer than 1 million transactions. App developers fall within an interesting space when it comes to PCI compliance. Because mobile apps handle credit card transactions in different ways, you’ll need to determine the level of compliance that’s necessary for your specific operations.
Many PCI DSS regulations cover the IT infrastructure. As you develop, test, and prepare to launch mobile apps, you should consider the network within which those apps operate. You should also consider the security controls that will be used for detecting and preventing threats and access measures that can limit the unauthorized distribution of cardholder data. PCI compliance will encompass regular testing and monitoring of networks so as to develop robust security policies that keep payment information safe. Being aware of these requirements will help you streamline the app development process so that you’re not set back by security breaches.
PCI Compliance Requirements For App developers
While there are many data security requirements that app developers should be aware of, PCI compliance is among the most important. Most apps will fall within requirement levels 3, 4, and 6 of PCI regulations. These levels cover the storage of cardholder data, encryption practices, access control, and the network security.
As long as your apps operate within a secure environment, encrypt sensitive data during transmission, and control who can access sensitive information, you’ll have an easier time establishing and maintaining continuous compliance. Here is an overview of the three categories of PCI compliance that pertain to cardholder data.
1. Protection of Stored Cardholder Data
For apps that process credit card payments, keeping this information safe and secure will be a critical part of PCI compliance. Cardholder data includes many different categories of information, such as credit card numbers, names, and stored addresses. As the app is running, this information should always remain within a secure environment. Whether the card data is being printed, processed, stored, or transmitted, there should be protections in place to prevent data loss or unauthorized use. Furthermore, app developers should put in place policies for payment data storage. The ideal scenario is not storing cardholder data unless it’s absolutely necessary. The less data you store, the fewer resources are needed to maintain compliance.
Requirement three of PCI development recommends that data storage times should be limited in accordance with business operations and other legal guidelines. Furthermore, authentication data shouldn’t be stored within the system so as to avoid breaches. Encryption can help when such storage is absolutely necessary, but only display portions of PAN data when customers are completing recurrent transactions. Because mobile apps run the additional risk of being used by unauthorized persons, proper storage of cardholder data will be a critical part of app development.
2. Encryption of Cardholder Data Being Transmitted Over Open Networks
The 4th requirement of PCI development stipulates that you should always encrypt any cardholder data being transmitted across an unsecured network. When developing apps for any device, you should think about which data encryption protocols will be most relevant to your operations. Encrypting cardholder data is key when transmitting such information across open networks.
By using effective protocols such as SSH, TLS, and SSL, you can ensure that payment data is unreadable even if it were to end up in the wrong hands. Furthermore, hackers will have a harder time making any use of encrypted data that they may have intercepted during transit.
Mobile app developers should take encryption even more seriously because users may access their services from multiple locations. How this data is transmitted to and from the processing center will determine safety standards.
3. Development and Maintenance of Secure Applications
Secure application development falls under the 6th category of PCI design requirements. The purpose of these guidelines is to help app professionals maintain secure internal and external operational environments. By following PA-DSS (Payment Application Data Security Standards), you can establish such a network by adhering to various best practices. For example, app developers should establish a registry of tools that can be used to streamline software and user interfaces. This registry will also make it easier for developers to identify different software versions and how they operate with regards to payment processing tasks. Indeed, it can be challenging to keep up with the widespread functions and applications of UIs, as well as the multiple updates that you’re likely to develop for the application.
A secure environment also involves timely patches and performance monitoring so you can remain one step ahead of hackers. By clearly documenting all steps of the app development process, you can easily document issues, carry out audits, and develop customized device profiles. You can also identify all potential weak spots that may be encountered during the coding process.
Establishing A Plan For Continuous Compliance
Developing your apps in accordance with PCI guidelines is the first step towards achieving compliance. After development, you also need to consider how you can maintain continuous compliance. As long as your app will be processing cardholder data, the threat of a breach will always be present.
Continuous compliance Ensure that your operating environment is up to standard and capable of keeping customer data safe. Compliance involves much more than meeting all the requirements on a checklist. You also need to consider how these requirements apply to your specific environment so you can adjust operations accordingly. Some steps you can take to ensure continuous compliance include:
1. Having a Plan for Access Control
Access control will be a critical security step during app development. It also makes continuous compliance easier because you’ll be able to track who has access to payment processing systems, storage devices, and physical infrastructure. Determine which type of personnel can access, alter, or process cardholder data whenever such information is being processed by the app.
2. Developing Policies that Align with PCI Requirements
Engraining PCI standards into your company policy will make continuous compliance much easier. Company policies bring all stakeholders together while establishing a culture of accountability. Therefore, incorporate steps such as the use of secure networks, data encryption, and data storage into your app policies so as to make continuous compliance more feasible.
3. Regular Testing
Self-testing is a proactive approach that helps you determine how well the app is prepared to handle cardholder data. You can test your app systems by carrying out a risk analysis, checking systems against PCI requirements, and arranging for external audits. In this way, vulnerabilities with your payment processing infrastructure can be identified and corrected in good time.
Regular testing goes hand in hand with risk management. Such tests can reveal vulnerabilities coming from unauthorized device access, device loss/theft, compromised transactions, and malware/phishing attacks.
4. Keeping Detailed Records
A significant part of app development is keeping detailed logs of your operations. These records can be referred to by auditors when establishing compliance, or by internal teams to reveal weak spots within the application performance.
Detailed records provide the foundation upon which you can streamline PCI compliance tasks and even scale up your payment processing without compromising on safety standards.
5. Management Oversight
Finally, maintaining continuous compliance wouldn’t be possible without the involvement of team leaders. Management should be at the forefront of promoting best practices to help make payment processing safer, more convenient, and more reliable for customers.
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