PCI Vulnerability Scan 101: All You Need to Know

Shivam Jha

Shivam Jha

Jan 27, 2024

PCI Vulnerability Scan

All small business owners and merchants need to accept credit card payments when performing transactions regularly. However, there are inherent data security risks to manage and mitigate if you handle customer credit card information.

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) must be followed by all companies that take credit cards. To protect the security of cardholder data, organizations must abide by the PCI DSS, which was created by the PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC). Vulnerability scanning is one of the key PCI compliance requirements.

What is a PCI vulnerability scan?

A PCI vulnerability scan is a high-level, automated test that identifies and documents potential network vulnerabilities in an organization.

No matter their size, all firms are required by the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to conduct internal and external network vulnerability scans at least once a quarter and after making any substantial changes to their networks.

A substantial change could include adding new servers, relocating cardholder data to a new server, deleting the system that stores cardholder data, and installing a new system to store cardholder data.

What are the PCI vulnerability scan requirements?

The systems and IT infrastructure of the merchant, service provider, payment gateway, and third-party payment processor are scanned using an automated web security scanner to look for vulnerabilities. 

The scanner will examine networks, online applications, operating systems, services, devices, and other components to look for vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit to compromise the systems and access private data.

Internal and external vulnerability scanning strategies are required by PCI Compliance. These scans produce a thorough report on the vulnerabilities found, along with sources for more reading and suggestions for fixing them. 

Scanners from PCI SSC Approved Scanning Vendors (ASV) are required to perform scans, particularly external scans:

External scanning

An ASV must conduct external scanning in order to determine whether your network is secure and safe for users. The network firewalls and all public-facing IP addresses or ranges are scanned externally. An experienced ASV like Indusface will remotely scan the network for security flaws using a zero-intrusion, intelligent web vulnerability scanner.

Submission of the scan-passing documentation is required. You could be disqualified from the external scan if there are one or more vulnerabilities. The ASV will rescan until you receive a passing scan, at which point you must fix the problem. You could file for a disagreement on specific grounds if the scan is unsuccessful.

Internal scanning

Internal scanning can be done in-house or contracted out to the ASV. Internal scanning aims to find security flaws on hosts that are internal to the cardholder data environment. These are carried out inside the network, in the IT environment, behind corporate firewalls, and with other perimeter security equipment. An intelligent web application security scanner can be used by organizations for internal scanning.

Also, find out a detailed list of PCI DSS requirements

How to get started with PCI DSS vulnerability scanning?

PCI DSS vulnerability scanning is an ongoing process that is to be carried out at frequent intervals to make sure that payment card processing systems remain secure. However, if you’re just starting out, 

here are the 6 steps you can follow to carry out a PCI vulnerability scan:

1. Identify the scope

It is important that you first identify all the networks and systems that are involved in payment processing and determine the scope of the activities needed to carry out the PCI vulnerability scan.

2. Select a scanning vendor

The official website of PCI DSS lists the authorized vendors where you can choose one for yourself. The vendor you choose will then carry out the PCI vulnerability scan for your organization.

3. Schedule the scans

To plan your scans, work with your scanning provider. You must decide how frequently you’ll perform scans as well as which networks and systems will be covered.

4. Make preparations for the scan

Check that all networks and systems have the most recent security patches and upgrades before running the scan. Additionally, confirm that any firewalls or intrusion detection/prevention systems are set up correctly to let the scanning vendor’s IP addresses access the systems.

5. Run the scan

This is when the scanning vendor will run the scan and submit a report of vulnerabilities found in your system or network. It is your responsibility to read the report and mitigate any vulnerabilities that are found. 

6. File the compliance report

After the scan is complete and you’ve addressed the vulnerabilities, you’ll have to submit the related documents to the payment processor to show your compliance with PCI DSS. 

Also, find out what vulnerability disclosure is.

How long does it take to get a PCI scan?

The scan itself can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on various factors such as the size of your company or the number of transactions handled by your organization. However, getting compliant with PCI DSS overall is a complex process, and it can take months to comply with all the requirements and execute everything.

That is the reason why companies all around the world prefer automating their compliance processes. Sprinto is a compliance automation solution that automates every step required to get compliant with PCI DSS. 

The best part is that Sprinto can cut down the time to get compliant by more than 50% and help your team focus on what’s most important. Talk to our experts to know more about PCI DSS compliance automation.

How often does the PCI require a vulnerability scan?

Organizations must do internal and external PCI scanning quarterly or every 90 days in accordance with PCI Compliance Standards. In addition to the quarterly scans, you must scan for vulnerabilities after significant alterations to the business or IT infrastructure. 

According to the organization’s deadline, compliance paperwork must be supplied to the acquirer in the form of scanning reports.

You must submit quarterly scanning reports by the ASV for each location if you operate numerous business locations under the same tax ID.

How much does a PCI DSS vulnerability scan cost?

The cost for a PCI vulnerability scan can depend on many factors, such as your network, the number of transactions handled, the size of the company, etc. It can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

However, it is essential to note that getting PCI DSS compliant does not just entail conducting vulnerability scans, rather companies spend thousands of dollars to prepare for the scans and audits. This is because failure to comply can result in huge monetary penalties.

Sprinto is trusted by high-value customers for their PCI DSS compliance requirements. Sprinto is a cost-efficient yet high-accuracy solution that lets you throw out all your worries about PCI DSS compliance.  

Check out more on the PCI DSS audit process.

What happens if you fail a PCI scan?

Failure to pass a PCI scan can have serious repercussions, such as fines, penalties, and limitations on your ability to conduct payment card transactions. You can also be required to take urgent corrective action to fix any vulnerabilities or weaknesses in your credit card processing environment, depending on the severity of the issues found in the scan. 

Additionally, if it is discovered that your business was not in compliance with PCI DSS rules during a data breach or security incident, you might be subject to even harsher fines and losses, including legal responsibility, a loss of client confidence, and reputational harm.

As a result, it’s critical to take PCI compliance seriously and devote yourself to fixing any vulnerabilities found during the scan.

Benefits of PCI DSS vulnerability scanning

For businesses that take credit and debit cards, running routine PCI DSS vulnerability checks has many advantages. 

  • First off, it assists in identifying security flaws and potential dangers that could jeopardize payment card data. This enables organizations to fix the vulnerabilities and lower the risk of a data breach by taking prompt and appropriate action. 
  • Second, adhering to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which includes a requirement for PCI vulnerability screening, helps organizations avoid exorbitant fines and penalties for non-compliance
  • Additionally, PCI vulnerability scanning enables businesses to show partners and clients that they are taking precautions to safeguard payment card data, which can increase customer confidence and trust in the company. 
  • Finally, routine PCI vulnerability assessment can assist organizations in maintaining a proactive security approach and staying ahead of evolving security threats.

Sprinto’s take on PCI vulnerability scan

The PCI scanning standards outline the fundamental requirements that businesses must meet in order to protect user information. All organizations must conduct vulnerability scans and scans following significant changes in order to get the first-mover advantage in cybersecurity, given the speed at which the threat landscape is changing. 

Beyond the limitations of PCI or other compliance standards, organizations must manage the identified vulnerabilities and take actions to proactively fortify security.

Sprinto is the one-stop solution for everything PCI DSS. Sprinto makes sure that you reach the compliance finish line with ease. It removes the possibility of human error in the process and gets you compliant in days rather than months. Talk to our experts here


What are the challenges in PCI vulnerability scanning?

PCI vulnerability scanning can be difficult in a number of ways, including accurately determining the scope of the assessment, identifying all networks and systems covered by PCI DSS, and managing vulnerabilities that are found during the scanning procedure.

Is SIEM required for PCI?

The usage of a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) system is not specifically required by PCI DSS. However, a SIEM can be a useful resource for organizations that adhere to PCI DSS criteria, especially for Requirement 10, which is concerned with monitoring and tracking access to network resources and cardholder data.

What are the categories of PCI?

There are 4 categories of PCI businesses. Level 1 applies to companies handling more than 6 million transactions per year. Level 2 applies to companies handling more than 1 million and less than 6 million transactions per year. Level 3 applies to companies processing more than 20 thousand transactions and less than 1 million transactions per year. Level 4 applies to companies processing less than 20 thousand transactions per year.

Shivam Jha

Shivam Jha

Shivam is our in house cybersecurity sage with over six years of experience in cybersecurity under his belt. He is passionate about making the digital world safer for everyone and whipping up Indian delicacies on the weekend.

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