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What is Key Injection? Everything You Need to Know About Key Injection in Payment Terminals

A person holds a credit card over a payment terminal to pay.

Data breaches are at an all-time high for U.S. organizations, with the number of data breaches increasing by 20% in 2023 compared to 2022, according to reporting from Apple. So, it’s no surprise that data security is increasingly top of mind for both merchants and consumers.

As demand for secure payment methods grows, understanding key injection becomes even more critical. In simple terms, key injection is the secure installation of encryption keys into payment terminals. But let’s take a deeper dive into what key injection is and how it plays a crucial role in safeguarding shoppers’ sensitive payment information.

What is Key Injection?

First, to understand key injection, we must break down the building blocks of the process – encryption keys. Encryption keys are strings of numbers and letters within an algorithm that allow sensitive data to be encrypted and decoded. They are necessary to securely transmit customers’ payment information to payment processors.

Key injection is the process of loading those encryption keys onto your payment terminals so they can authenticate a cardholder’s payment data with the payment processor at the time of purchase.

Remote Key Injection vs. Direct Key Injection

Key injection in payment terminals can be done either remotely over a secure network or manually (directly) using a key loading device (KLD). The primary differences between the two come down to the location of the hardware and the number of devices that can be injected. 

Venn diagram displays the differences between remote key injection and direct key injection.

Remote key injection allows for payment terminals to be located anywhere in the world and enables the simultaneous injection of an unlimited number of payment terminals. Whereas direct key injection requires the devices to be onsite at the key injection facility and only one device can be loaded at a time.

While both options are secure, due to updates to PCI standards and efficiency and cost savings offered by remote key injection, the industry is trending toward remote key injection for most key loading.

Key Injection Facility Requirements

To maintain compliance and security, key injection be performed from a key injection facility (KIF) by a certified Encryption Service Organization (ESO). ESOs must meet very strict security standards to be certified, while a key injection facility is a secure location subject to PCI PIN security standards as well as other certifications and audits.

The requirements for a KIF encompass not only data security, but also the network and physical space.

Some of those requirements include:

  • Up to date, secure encryption practices
  • Badged access to all entryways
  • Dual access to secure storage
  • Security cameras
  • Thorough documentation
  • Regular audits of security measures

Of course, these are just a few of the requirements for a key injection facility. The PCI PIN security standards are robust and regularly updated, which is why most merchants partner with a certified ESO for key injection to ensure their payment terminals are compliant.

Chain of Custody Compliance

Beyond security at the point of key injection, one major reason to partner with an ESO for key injection is to ensure compliance with the PCI chain of custody requirements.

According to the PCI Security Standards Council, an effective and compliant chain of custody includes procedures that ensure that access to all payment devices is documented, defined, logged, and controlled to prevent unauthorized individuals from tampering with the devices in any way without detection.

ESOs have certified and audited practices in place to make it easy for merchants to meet the chain of custody requirements. By partnering with an ESO, you guarantee each device is tracked by serial number with a clear, documented record of everyone who handled the devices and when every step of the way from initial receipt to deployment.

Choosing the Right Key Injection Solution

To keep both consumers and merchants safe, strict security standards and compliance are required for any merchant that processes payments. It’s critical to partner with certified and audited experts who can keep up to date with the regulations for you while ensuring secure payment processing. 

Level 10 is a certified ESO and QIR compliant with PCI PIN 3.1 and P2PE 3.1 KIF Component standards, and our key injection facility is fully equipped for your key injection needs. By partnering with a PCI compliant key injection provider, you can trust in the responsible handling of your payment terminals, giving you and your customers peace of mind. 

Contact us today to learn more about our key injection services for your payment terminals. 

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