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What is Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA-DSS)?

Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA-DSS) plays an integral role in payment security. Ensuring the safe handling of cardholder data during transactions, PA-DSS establishes standards for software vendors and others involved in the payment process. Understanding what PA-DSS is and what it requires for compliance is essential for organizations’ compliance management.

PA-DSS definition

Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA-DSS) is a set of global security standards designed to assist software vendors in developing secure payment applications. These applications do not store prohibited data, such as full magnetic stripe, CVV2, or PIN data, and ensure their software complies with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS).

What is PCI-DSS?

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) is crucial as it sets the benchmark for securing cardholder data across the globe. PCI compliance helps prevent data breaches and reduces the risk of fraud, instilling trust in customers and protecting the reputation of businesses.

What is the difference between PCI-DSS and PA-DSS?

The PC DSS applies to all businesses that store, transmit, and process cardholder data. This standard covers the entire cardholder data environment ecosystem, addressing the security of payment applications but not going into detail about the applications themselves.

On the other hand, PA-DSS applies only to vendors that develop payment applications for third parties. PA-DSS is a standard managed by the PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC), formerly under the supervision of Visa Inc. The standard ensures that these applications do not store prohibited data, such as full magnetic stripe, card validation code or value, or PIN. 

Another critical difference between the two frameworks is that obtaining PA-DSS certification means that an application complies with the standard, but it does not automatically mean that the business is PCI-DSS compliant.

Who does PA-DSS apply to?

While PA-DSS applies predominantly to third-party payment application vendors, it also extends to businesses that develop payment applications for their private use. It does not apply to payment applications offered by payment processors or applications that function solely as a gateway to a processor.

PA-DSS compliance requirements:

  • Do not retain full magnetic stripe, card validation code or value, or PIN block data

Payment applications must be designed to ensure sensitive data is not stored post-authorization.

  • Protect stored cardholder data

Stored cardholder data must be protected with appropriate encryption or other secure methodologies. Cardholder data must never be stored on a server connected to the internet to prevent data breaches.

  • Provide secure authentication features

The payment application should include secure user authentication, such as complex passwords, encryption, or two-factor authentication.

  • Log payment application activity

All actions within the payment application should be logged and the logs should be accessible for audit purposes.

  • Develop secure payment applications

The software development process should follow secure coding practices, and the resulting applications should be subject to thorough testing and code reviews.

  • Protect wireless transmissions

The data transmitted must be encrypted if the payment application uses wireless technology.

  • Test payment applications to address vulnerabilities

Regular testing should be conducted to identify and address any security vulnerabilities in the payment application.

  • Facilitate secure network implementation

The payment application should not interfere with the use of network security measures, such as firewalls.

  • Facilitate secure remote software updates

If the payment application allows for remote updates, these updates must be carried out securely to prevent unauthorized access.

  • Ensure secure remote access to the payment application

Any remote access to the payment application should be secure.

  • Encrypt sensitive traffic over public networks

Sensitive data transmitted over public networks should utilize encryption to prevent interception.

  • Encrypt all non-console administrative access

Administrative access to the payment application should be encrypted if it is performed over a network.

  • Provide customers, resellers, and integrators with up-to-date instructional documentation and training programs

Software vendors should provide sufficient documentation and training to ensure end-users can securely implement and manage their payment applications.

How to obtain PA-DSS compliance

1. Assess the payment application

The first step towards obtaining PA-DSS compliance involves an in-depth assessment of the payment application against the PA-DSS requirements.

2. Remediate identified vulnerabilities

Any vulnerabilities identified during the assessment need to be addressed and fixed.

3. Validation

Once all vulnerabilities have been remediated, a PA-QSA (Payment Application Qualified Security Assessor) needs to validate the application.

4. Compilation of report

The PA-QSA will compile a validation report, which is then sent to the PCI SSC (Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council).

5. Listing on the PCI SSC website

Once the PCI SSC accepts the report, the payment application is listed on their website as being PA-DSS compliant.

PA-DSS for businesses

Understanding and implementing PA-DSS is essential for any business that develops or uses payment applications. Not only does it help ensure the secure handling of sensitive cardholder data, but it also helps organizations to show their commitment to their customers’ security. Following the outlined steps, businesses can achieve PA-DSS compliance and contribute to a safer payment environment.

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