Tokenization as A Key Tool for PCI DSS Compliance

trupti rane fortanix
Dr Trupti Rane
Ankita Rawate
Published:Dec 22, 2023
Reading Time:4mins
tokenization for pci dss compliance

Join us as we dive into the intricate world of PCI DSS compliance and discover how Tokenization helps keep your payment data secure.

Organizations face the dual challenge of complying with PCI standards while needing access to data for legitimate business purposes like analytics, customer service, and tailored experiences. This balance between data utilization and safeguarding sensitive information presents a significant hurdle.

However, innovative solutions like tokenization offer a promising resolution. For instance, when customers make purchases or share payment information, their credit card numbers, and vital details get replaced by tokens. These tokens retain usability for internal processes such as transaction records, loyalty programs, or analytical purposes.

Organizations can use valuable insights and maintain operational efficiency from data while ensuring that sensitive information remains securely protected and inaccessible.

Let us look into how Tokenization helps achieve PCI DSS compliance.

What is PCI DSS Compliance?

The PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) Compliance is a set of security standards established to protect sensitive payment card data. It applies to any organization that processes, stores, or transmits credit card information.

The primary goal of PCI DSS is to prevent data breaches and theft of cardholder data by establishing a robust framework for security measures, including encryption, access controls, network monitoring, and regular security assessments.

What is Tokenization, and How does It help with PCI DSS Compliance?

Tokenization substitutes a sensitive data element with a non-sensitive placeholder called a token. Tokens are generated randomly and lack any inherent or exploitable meaning or value. They function as a reference to the sensitive data within a tokenized dataset. Tokenization is commonly used to protect sensitive information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other personally identifiable information (PII).

Tokenization can be of two types: reversible and irreversible. Reversible tokenization is a form of tokenization where a mechanism or process allows the original data to be reconstructed from the token.

In contrast to irreversible or one-way tokenization, which ensures that the tokenized data is irreversibly transformed and cannot be easily converted back to its original form, reversible tokenization provides a way to revert the tokenized data to its original state. It can be achieved through robust encryption, where a cryptographic key is stored instead of the original data, or by retrieving data from a token vault.

Irreversible tokens render it impossible for any party to regenerate the original value from the substituted token.

Most organizations prefer format-preserving tokens to ensure compatibility with existing applications and business processes. Format-preserving tokens are more easily integrated into systems that expect specific formats.

For example, if a database or application expects credit card numbers in a certain format (e.g., 16 digits grouped in sets of four), using format-preserving tokens ensures seamless integration without requiring significant modifications to the existing data handling processes.

Non-format preserving tokens do not resemble the original format or structure of the tokenized sensitive data.

An example below shows the difference between the both:

Format-Preserving Non-Format-Preserving
Payment Card Number
7862 2139 2342 7680
Payment Card Number
7862 2139 2342 7680
5444 7865 3467 8863 67a12f234-9gh9l7-67hg-8ujh-3467g56i9887

Tokenization is a valuable tool for achieving PCI DSS compliance. It allows businesses to replace sensitive payment and cardholder data with non-sensitive tokens. With tokenization in place, even in case of a security breach, the compromised data is useless to hackers, as it doesn't hold actual cardholder information.

As per the PCI DSS Summary of Changes: v3.2.1 to v4.0 [source], tokenization helps.

  1. Protect stored account data. 
  2. Protect cardholder data with strong cryptography during transmission over open public networks.
  3. Develop and maintain secure systems and software.
  4. Restrict access to system components and cardholder data by business need to know. 
  5. Identify users and authenticate access to system components. 
  6. Log and monitor all access to system components and cardholder data.

How Tokenization Reduces PCI DSS Compliance Scope

  • Tokenization simplifies the need for PCI DSS compliance by reducing the number of components that need to comply with PCI DSS requirements.
  • Storing tokens instead of Primary Account Numbers (PANs) is a method that helps in reducing cardholder data in the environment.
  • Credit card tokenization significantly reduces risk and scope as credit card data is limited to the point of capture and the data vault.
  • The extent to which tokenization reduces a company's scope depends on how its technology and business processes interact with payment card data.
  • Technically, tokenization system components are part of the cardholder data environment within PCI scope, but if a third party handles the card vault, it's out of scope for the business.
  • To reduce scope effectively, businesses must ensure their tokenization vendor is PCI SSC approved and secure tokenization systems and processes with strong security controls.

How Fortanix Helps

Our tokenization offering boasts several key features and benefits:

  • Reversibility: Enables retrieval of original data when needed for authorized purposes.
  • Deterministic: Ensures consistent output for the same input data using the same key.
  • Vault-less: Eliminates the need for a centralized token vault, reducing vulnerabilities.
  • Advanced Data Masking: Allows dynamic masking of tokenized data based on criteria with role-based access control.
  • Diverse Data Types: Supports configurable Tokenization Data Types for various requirements.
  • High Scalability: Adaptable for organizations of all sizes, efficiently handling large data volumes.
  • Integration Flexibility: Seamlessly integrates with existing systems and data formats.
  • Performance and Efficiency: Optimized for minimal disruption to business operations.
  • Monitoring and Audit Trails: Provides tamper-proof monitoring and auditing for compliance and analytics.

Tokenization offers a strong security layer to protect sensitive payment data, which enables businesses to comply with the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard). Businesses can drastically lower their risk of fraud and data breaches by utilizing tokens instead of cardholder information.

Connect with our team if you're ready to move your organization's tokenization implementation forward. We would like to share more information and demonstrate how tokenization can improve your compliance and data security initiatives.

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