The Role of PCI DSS in the Digital Ecosystem

What Exactly is PCI DSS?

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) – is a security compliance for organizations that accepts cards as payment modes. The compliance came into effect, in September 2006, to protect the owner’s data and reduce the security vulnerabilities around the payment cards. PCI DSS is managed by PCI SSC, an independent body created by some of the leading payment instrument brands such as American Express, MasterCard, Visa, JCB and Discover.

Why Make it Secure?

Before the digital evolution, a physical crime was the only way, a security breach could happen. But with the evolution of technology, things have changed. Organizations have expanded, increased revenues and gone digital; likewise the scope of data theft has also increased. Thus the need to maintain a highly secured digital payment network has increased too.

Using a robust network security control with effective vulnerability scan and penetration testing services, organizations can prevent unauthorized hackers accessing the payment control system – thereby greatly minimizing the theft of card holder’s data.

Vulnerability Scan

This is an automated test that simply scans for vulnerabilities and reports them. The scanning is generally done for external IPs and domains by a PCI approved scanning vendor, on a periodic basis.

External Scanning

This type of scanning is done outside the parent network and identifies the generic loopholes in the network architecture.

Internal Scanning

Done within the parent network, the scanning is executed behind the internal network firewall and other security features. This scanning method searches for vulnerabilities on the internal host which can be exploited by a pivot attack.

Vulnerability scans generate a report on the issues found and suggests for solutions accordingly. In such cases partnering with unbiased QA vendors can really be a boon, as their expertise in software testing, can really help the organizations in cutting down the resource usage and financial load. It is always advisable to act swiftly on the reported loopholes to ensure vulnerability mitigation.

Penetration Testing (Pen-testing)

Penetration testing, generally known as pen-testing is done by organizations to study the impact of security vulnerabilities in the system. Unlike vulnerability scan, pen-testing is NOT just a report of identified vulnerabilities; in fact, it is a much more complex manual security testing process.

The penetration testers analyze the network thoroughly, scan for any for potential vulnerabilities and try to exploit them at the network or code level. In other words they are the official hackers who are authorized to do the unauthorized job of breaking into the company’s network security. The scope of effective pen-testing is that it should provide a concrete method to:

  • Confirm the existence of vulnerabilities

  • A demo of how they (loophole + solution) can be linked

  • How effective technologies can be leveraged to acquire improved control over the system and

  • The impact of the vulnerability exploit on the system

This can be effectively summed up as: Not only showing and educating that the doors and windows are locked but also demonstrating how strong the locks are, in case someone tries to break in.

Penetration testing process is done with the help of information gathered from network surveys, DNS interrogation, presence of web and more. The tester attempts the attack with a set of manual and automated techniques in order to exploit the reported vulnerabilities. Upon gaining access, they then try to escalate the privileges, by enacting as the admin. Based on the findings, a detailed report is then generated by the tester. For effective pen-testing techniques please see below:

Type of Testing



White Box

Effective simulated attacks. Complex methods

Pre-knowledge. May result in lack of assessment.

Cost effective. Fast. In-depth surveillance

Black Box

Simulates general attack scenarios. Opportunity based attacks

Comparatively lower threshold for the attacker’s effort

Allows test detection

Grey Box

Balances the +’s & -‘s of the above 2

Difficulties in determining the exact level of knowledge to deliver.

Highly convincing demos

Challenge in reporting

Understanding the Difference between Pen-testing & Vulnerability Scan


Vulnerability Testing

Penetration Testing


Reports vulnerabilities that may get exploited and result in a system compromise

Identifies ways to exploit vulnerabilities


Frequent execution

Executed only upon significant changes


Executed with the help of automated tools with manual verification

Manual process, which may include vulnerability scanning or automated tools.


Potential loopholes by known vulnerabilities

More specific risks that may arise due to vulnerability. For eg. Vulnerabilities including but not limited to SQL Injection, XSS and more

Process duration

Takes relatively smaller amount of time

Being manual in nature, the duration may last upto weeks, depending upon the environment and complexity of the issue.

Pen-testing and vulnerability scanning are performed simultaneously to enhance the security of the network. Unfortunately, many businesses still believe that these are simply two different phases of a single process. It must be noted that they are two distinct activities with their own unique set of features and processes.

Getting your Digital Ecosystem PCI compliant

As mentioned above PCI DSS has been in effect since 2006 and a majority of businesses of this current digital ecosystem are still on the verge of achieving PCI DSS compliance. The home depot data breach of 50 million credit cards and TJX data breach of 94 million credit cards strongly indicates the threat out there. It is important to understand that the severity and frequency of the attacks are increasing by the minute, which makes PCI compliance a mandate for all.

As of 2019, many organizations in this digital ecosystem, still believe that PCI DSS compliance may not be necessary for their platforms. This happens mainly because of the absence of sufficient knowledge about the criticality of the value of information they are handling and the actual repercussions, of the attack one can witness, beyond a simple theft.

Protect Your Clients by Boosting Their Confidence

Imagine if a client gets to know that the organization they are trusting their sensitive payment card data with, is not capable of securing it. Becoming PCI compliant at the earliest, showcases a sense of sincerity valued clients and how keen the organization is in keeping their data safe.

It is also important to understand that in case of failure in protecting the aforementioned data, the organization can also attract heavy fines and lawsuits, especially if you’ve committed falsely about security. To avoid ‘unwanted bees humming around your flower’ simply get in touch with the finest security testing experts of the industry for an unbiased result.

About the Author

QA InfoTech

QA InfoTech

Established in 2003, with less than five testing experts, QA InfoTech has grown leaps and bounds with three QA Centers of Excellence globally; two of which are located in the hub of IT activity in India, Noida, and the other, our affiliate QA InfoTech Inc Michigan USA. In 2010 and 2011, QA InfoTech has been ranked in the top 100 places to work for in India.

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