PCI Compliant Hosting: A Comprehensive Overview

PCI Compliant Hosting

The PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) guidelines make sure that any business that deals in customer payments and card information does so safely and with confidence in its security measures. This compliance standard also promotes trust amongst customers and, thus, can significantly impact business reputation and growth. 

However, one of the major compliance requirements that most companies with a digital selling architecture (such as an e-commerce store) miss is that a PCI-compliant hosting provider should host their website or server. Some hosting providers only provide PCI compliance with specific plans; therefore, you must know what you are looking for. 

In this blog, we will provide you with a comprehensive overview of what PCI-compliant hosting is, why it is important for your website or server, what are the goals and requirements a hosting provider needs to complete to be PCI-compliant, and how you can choose the right PCI-compliant hosting provider for your business.

What is PCI-Compliant Hosting?

PCI-compliant hosting is a hosting solution created to assist e-commerce vendors in adhering to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) guidelines mandated by credit card companies. A PCI-compliant hosting environment guarantees the privacy of sensitive payments and cardholder information during transactions with robust security measures. 

Hosting that complies with PCI DSS specifications must have a secure network architecture, encrypt data, manage access, and undergo regular security testing. For companies managing such data, maintaining PCI compliance is essential to protect against data breaches, fraud, and fines. It promotes trust in online transactions by assuring customers that their payment information is handled with the highest security standards.

Who is Responsible for Ensuring PCI-Compliant Hosting?

The responsibility of achieving and maintaining PCI compliance is a shared duty of merchants, website developers, and web hosting service providers. Each plays a crucial part, but ultimately, the merchant must ensure that their company’s website and web host adhere to accepted industry security standards that promote customer data security.

To obtain PCI compliance, businesses must go through a rigorous evaluation procedure. There are two ways to go about this approach. One is a once-a-quarter automatic scan of their hosted servers and website by a trusted scanning vendor, while the other is a PCI annual self-assessment questionnaire.

But why is PCI-compliant hosting significant? Let’s find out in the section below.

What is the Importance of PCI-Compliant Hosting?

If your company sends payment data on its servers and your cloud host indirectly processes such information, then your cloud host needs to be PCI compliant.

You and your web host must comply with the 12 PCI-DSS core requirements. The following are a few of the most essential requirements:

  • using modern systems and network infrastructure with updated; 
  • establishing a program to oversee vulnerabilities;
  • implementing strong access control to prevent any unauthorized entry; and,
  • enforcing and maintaining a security policy that is regularly evaluated.

PCI compliance certification is necessary for any website that processes credit card payments on its cloud server and e-commerce stores. If you use WordPress or WooCommerce for your e-commerce business, you must know that while they adhere to the greatest security standards, they cannot officially be PCI-compliant.

Alternatively, you can have credit card payments handled on your behalf by using third-party payment providers like Wise, Stripe, or PayPal.

Next, we will cover the goals and requirements for PCI-compliant hosting.

What are the Goals and Requirements for PCI-Compliant Hosting?

The goals and requirements for PCI-compliant hosting can be categorized as given below:

  1. Building and Maintaining a Secure Network

Security objectives: 

  • Creating, maintaining, and updating system passwords that meet or exceed industry requirements.
  • Setting up a firewall to create a secure private network. 

This is primarily the responsibility of the web hosting provider.

  1. Safeguarding Cardholder Data

Security objectives:

  • Web hosting companies must use a secure data security model that includes many physical and virtual defense layers. Some measures include restricted access to servers and data centers and mandatory password authentication and authorization processes.
  • Any cardholder data, including validation codes and PINs, must be encrypted when sent over a public or open network.

The web hosting company should be at the forefront of the protected storage and transmission of sensitive data, which is a shared responsibility.

  1. Enforcing Strong Access Control Measures

Security objectives:

  • Access to cardholder data should only be granted to authorized personnel.
  • Staff members with access to critical information individual IDs should be enabled to follow best practices for password encryption, authentication, and login restrictions.
  • You can limit physical access to cardholder data; web hosting companies should only allow authorized workers on-site access to their data centers.

Due to the more granular nature of this PCI compliance requirement, this aspect falls under the responsibility of both the business owner and the web development team.

  1. Implementing a Vulnerability Management Program

Security objectives:

  • If the merchant manages their servers, antivirus software must be updated regularly. Hosting providers must update antivirus software regularly if data is stored or processed on outsourced or managed servers.
  • Providers of web hosting services must frequently examine and upgrade their systems to address any newly discovered security flaws.

Web hosting companies are mostly responsible for this. However, retailers and their web development teams should also pay close attention to security flaws.

  1. Monitoring and Testing Network Resilience Regularly

Security objectives:

  • Cardholder information access to network resources should be regularly checked for potential security flaws or vulnerabilities. Logging programs should monitor user behavior and archive access.
  • To maintain the security of sensitive data, web hosting service providers should routinely test and monitor security systems and processes.

The web development team of the merchant and web hosting companies are both accountable for this.

Both web developers and web hosting services need well-defined security policies that outline acceptable uses of the technologies available, basic administrative tasks, operational security measures, and detailed risk analysis. 

Besides these requirements, we have a few more security considerations. These can be outlined as follows:

  1. Server Security Concerns such as HTTP and SSL Encryption and SSL Certification

Maintaining an HTTPS and SSL-encrypted connection between a user and a merchant is one of the main challenges associated with accepting credit card payments. When using HTTPS, an attacker cannot view the credit card number or security code.

Many suppliers also include SSL certificates in their hosting packages. These certificates attest to the veracity of the website’s owners. You may view them when you click on the padlock icon in the URL bar of an HTTPS website. The majority of hosting companies offer shared SSL certificates, which are frequently suitable. However, upgrading to a private SSL certificate might be required for many e-commerce businesses.

  1. Physical Access Safeguards

Physical security is also a part of security for your hosting service provider. It should not be possible for a random person to enter a data center and begin fiddling with one of the server racks. Larger hosts have secure data centers with lock-and-key storage for their server racks. You must enforce rigorous policies and incorporate tools like key cards into your regime to ensure no one has unauthorized access to your data center.

  1. Employee Training

The weakest link in PCI-compliant hosting security is still, well, people! It is crucial to restrict access to sensitive data to those needing it while adopting PCI DSS. Additionally, it is vital to teach your staff to be security-aware and not rely just on software and web hosting to safeguard the integrity of your data. Ensuring that your employees are educated about data security compliance laws and requirements can save you from potential breaches that could be harmful to your online store’s reputation.

Now that you know what PCI-compliant hosting is and its requirements, let’s see how you can choose the right PCI-compliant hosting provider for your business.

What Should You Look For in a PCI-Compliant Hosting Provider?

Many businesses need help locating the ideal PCI-compliant hosting. Many companies that host servers do not promise that their services adhere to the PCI DSS.

The responsibility for processing credit card data securely and according to guidelines rests with member retailers. They must also confirm the compatibility and compliance of their third-party services. This is because the seller will be held accountable for security breaches and incompatibility, not the third-party hosting.

You should look for co-hosting providers with experience in secure server management rather than shared hosting companies. Once you choose a suitable hosting company, you must carefully consider the answers to the following questions:

  • How does the hosting provider ensure PCI compliance? 

A seasoned hosting provider will happily walk you through their network, data, and physical security configurations.

  • What are the duties of the retailer (i.e., you) and the hosting company? 

Retailers can adapt more quickly since hosting providers may offer extra security features and managed services.

  • Is third-party certification of PCI DSS compliance available from the host?

You must examine the characteristics of additional hosting services after ensuring the hosting provider can help your company maintain compliance. Consider network and server performance and the quality of customer service standards and managed services.

Merchants are responsible for guaranteeing that PCI DSS is followed while processing credit card information. On-site secure infrastructure construction is difficult and expensive. PCI-compliant hosting provides a simple and affordable solution.

PCI DSS Compliance Readiness with Akitra!

Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when courting new SaaS businesses in today’s era of data breaches and compromised privacy. Customers and partners want assurances that their organizations are doing everything possible to prevent disclosing sensitive data and putting them at risk, and compliance certification fills that need.

Akitra offers an industry-leading, AI-powered Compliance Automation platform for SaaS companies. Using automated evidence collection and continuous monitoring, together with a full suite of customizable policies and controls as a compliance foundation, our compliance automation platform and service help our customers prepare readiness for the PCI DSS compliance standard, along with other security frameworks like SOC 1, SOC 2, HIPAA, GDPR, ISO 27001, ISO 27701, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, NIST CSF, NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, FedRAMP, CCPA, CMMC, and more such as CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark, etc. In addition, companies can use Akitra’s Risk Management product for overall risk management for your company, Trust Center, and AI-based Automated Questionnaire Response product to streamline and expedite security questionnaire response processes, delivering huge cost savings. Our compliance and security experts will provide customized guidance to navigate the end-to-end compliance process confidently. 

The benefits of our solution include enormous savings in time, human resources, and cost savings, including discounted audit fees with our audit firm partners. Customers achieve compliance certification fast and cost-effectively, stay continuously compliant as they grow, and can become certified under additional frameworks using a single compliance automation platform.

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