PCI DSS – A terminology and acronym minefield

28 Feb 2018

PCI DSS – A terminology and acronym minefiel...

Like many other subject areas that touch upon Information Technology or cyber security, the Payment Card Industry is riddled with acronyms and potentially bewildering terminology. Here is an explanation of some of the more common ones in use.

Reporting Requirements

AOC – Attestation of Compliance. This is a short (8 page) sign-off document that accompanies a ROC or a SAQ report. Multiple versions exist depending upon the scenario and environment.

ROC – Report on Compliance. A 194-page report that describes the compliance status for a level 1 merchant or service provider. A Qualified Security Assessor must complete this.

SAQ – Self Assessment Questionnaire. An alternative to a ROC, which can apply to merchants or service providers. There are 9, widely differing versions in relation to the scope of compliance and applicable payment channels (e.g. an e-commerce web site, a telephone-based transaction, or use of a chip and pin machine).

Card Data

CHD – Cardholder data. This includes the PAN, the cardholder’s name, the expiration date, and a service code (e.g. properties of the card, such as allowed services like “ATM only” or “No restrictions”).

PAN – Primary Account Number. The long number, which normally is shown on the front of a card.

SAD – Sensitive Authentication Data. This includes full track data (magnetic stripe data or the equivalent on a chip), the CVV (short number, normally appearing on the back of the card), and PIN’s or PIN blocks.



Merchant. An organisation that accepts payments, usually in exchange for goods or services.

Acquirer. The bank or other entity that a merchant has a contractual relationship with to process the merchant’s payments. For example, RBS, Lloyds, HSBC, Barclays, WorldPay.

Issuer. An entity that actually issues a card to the cardholder, and each time a purchase is made with the card, provides transaction authorisation to the merchant’s acquiring bank. This could be a payment brand directly (like American Express); or issued through another organisation that issues a card on behalf of Visa and Mastercard. For example, you may be issued with a credit card by supermarkets who operate financial services, such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s; or other high street companies, like M&S.

Payment Processor. Acquirers used to own their own acquiring technology platforms, but most have now outsourced this activity. For example, HSBC and use of Global Payments Inc; or Santander and use of Elavon Inc.

Payment Gateway Supplier. A more recent(ish) area is the provision of payment gateway services for online transactions. The gateway collects payment details from cards presented to the merchant for payment and passes these onto to the acquirer or payment scheme. For example, Sagepay, and Paypal.

Service Provider. An entity that is directly involved in the processing, storage, or transmission of transaction of cardholder data on behalf of another merchant or service provider. For example, a hosted data centre provider, or a managed service that provides firewall management, or a Security Operations Centre.

PCI Data Security Standard Terms

CDE – Cardholder Data Environment. This is the scope for PCI DSS compliance. All components (people, processes, technology) that are involved in the storage, processing, or transmission of cardholder data. The scope also includes components that are directly connected to the CDE. For example, to provide security services like a patching server or an anti-virus update system; as well as devices used by systems administrators to access the CDE.

Segmentation. Not a mandatory requirement for compliance, but strongly recommended as a method for reducing the scope of PCI DSS compliance. This is where judicious placement of firewalls can be used to segment the CDE from the rest of a network.

Tokenization.  This is a process by which the primary account number is replaced with a surrogate value called a token. For example, to help reduce the amount of cardholder data stored in the merchant’s environment, whilst still providing a valid reference to a customer or card transaction.

This is just a taster of terms used frequently in PCI DSS. For even more descriptions, take a look at the Glossary document provided by the Security Standards Council here.


PGI believes that cyber security doesn’t need to be overly complicated, incomprehensible or vastly expensive. We specialise in delivering cyber security services and protection, and offer a range of training courses to upskill your staff to tackle cyber threats in-house.

For more information on how we can help you or your business, please contact us via our online form, directly through our email at clientservices@pgitl.com or call us on 0207 887 2699.


By Paul Traill

Senior Infomation Security Consultant

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