Cyber Background Check: What is it & How Does it Work?
Michelle Wilson - November 28, 2023
With the most difficult job market in history, stemming from economic instability, opaque hiring processes, and the rise of tools like AI, job seekers are doing whatever they can to stand out from their peers. From lying about their experiences or covering up hiring red flags, finding the truth about someone becomes challenging for the hiring organization. To mitigate these risks, companies, especially those with IT interests, are using cyber background checks in their hiring process.
By definition, a cyber background check examines an individual’s online presence, encompassing their complete digital footprint.
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A cyber background check is a systematic and comprehensive investigation into an individual’s online presence. It delves deep into their digital footprint, scrutinizing various online activities and uncovering information that may not be readily apparent in their physical lives. These checks aim to reveal a person’s online history, encompassing social media interactions, online postings, website contributions, and much more. The overarching goal is to identify potential red flags, inconsistencies, or hidden information that could impact a person’s suitability for a specific role, partnership, or relationship.
As a proactive approach, a cyber background check, which goes one level lower than a traditional background check, allows the organization to gain deeper insights into the character and background of potential hires and decide if they should proceed with a candidate.
With the above definition in mind, consider that there will also be some variation depending on who needs the background check done and their motivations. Consider more in greater detail below.
Employment screening has become a common application of cyber background checks to mitigate risks and ensure a safe and trustworthy work environment. According to online data, employment screening has become so common that 93% of global firms are said to be doing it. By scrutinizing a candidate’s online history, employers can uncover potential red flags, including criminal records, controversial social media content, or misrepresentations of qualifications. Employers will typically look at different forms of data to get a stronger understanding of an individual’s digital security practices.
Collaborations and partnerships between businesses are commonplace in the corporate world. However, before entering such ventures, it’s essential to ensure that your potential partner is reliable and secure. Cyber background checks are instrumental in evaluating other businesses’ financial stability, reputation, and cybersecurity practices. These checks can reveal past data breaches, legal disputes, or financial irregularities that may impact the proposed collaboration. By conducting due diligence through cyber background checks, businesses can establish trust and reduce the risk of future complications.
The digital realm has also extended its reach to personal lives and relationships. In personal relationships and online dating, individuals increasingly use cyber background checks to verify the authenticity and background of potential partners. These checks can help ensure personal safety and provide peace of mind by confirming the accuracy of the information shared in online profiles. While love may be blind, a cyber background check can add a layer of security when getting to know someone in the virtual world.
Considering the current time period, where data breaches and cybersecurity threats are on the rise, organizations have a paramount interest in security and risk management, regardless of their industry. Cyber background checks play a pivotal role in assessing and mitigating potential risks. By scrutinizing the online presence of employees, partners, or individuals, organizations can identify vulnerabilities, assess potential threats, and fortify their defenses against cyberattacks. This approach to security helps safeguard critical data, protect reputations, and minimize the financial and operational impact of security breaches.
Individuals, on occasion, may choose to run a free public data check on themselves, allowing them to evaluate their online security and address emerging concerns. This option provides individuals with a proactive means to comprehensively understand their digital footprint. Individuals can actively contribute to fortifying their online privacy and security by taking this initiative.
Professionals with expertise in cybersecurity, digital forensics, and specialized agencies dedicated to assessing online activities are typically the ones to conduct a cyber background check, although you may choose to conduct a high-level one on your own. Cybersecurity professionals are crucial in examining an individual’s digital presence and evaluating potential vulnerabilities. They utilize advanced tools and techniques to analyze online behaviors, security practices, and any red flags indicating a susceptibility to cyber threats. These experts are adept at identifying weaknesses in digital defenses and providing insights into ways individuals can enhance their cybersecurity posture.
Digital forensic experts also contribute significantly to the field of cyber background checks. Their expertise systematically examines digital evidence, including scrutinizing electronic devices, network logs, and online activities. By employing forensic methodologies, these experts can uncover past incidents of hacking, data breaches, or other cybercrimes linked to an individual. Their meticulous analysis aids in building a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s digital history, helping to assess the level of risk they may pose in terms of cybersecurity.
When conducting a comprehensive cyber background check, it’s essential to break down the process into various sources. Each source plays a vital role in ensuring you are aware of all aspects of an individual’s digital presence and history.
Public records and databases serve as a valuable resource for cyber background checks. These records include legal documents and court records. Investigating public records can uncover past legal issues, financial troubles, or other aspects of an individual’s history that may be relevant in assessing their trustworthiness and reliability. That said, while background checks may include a credit history report as part of the financial records, they often omit the individual’s credit score.
The next step in a cyber background check is to initiate a comprehensive online search and data collection process. This involves gathering information from various public sources on the internet, such as news articles, blog posts, online profiles, and any other publicly available data. The goal is to create a complete picture of the individual’s online presence, including their professional achievements, digital footprint, and any potential red flags.
Social media monitoring involves identifying and analyzing conversations about an individual across various social and online platforms. Operating on algorithmic principles, this process functions akin to search engines, deploying crawlers to traverse the expanses of the internet and consistently index relevant sites. Once these sites are indexed, users can conduct searches based on specific queries or strings to gain insights into the online discourse surrounding the subject of interest.
The dark web is a hidden part of the internet and exists as a place where illegal activities often occur. Cybercriminals frequent the dark web to buy and sell sensitive information, making it a potential source of risk. Dark web scans check if any of the subject’s data or credentials have been compromised and are a part of trade on the dark web. This step is essential to identify potential security vulnerabilities and protect against identity theft or cyberattacks. To understand why these details are so important, consider that in 2021, online data from Cybersecurity Ventures estimated the global damage costs surrounding cybercrime will reach $6 trillion annually by 2021, further underscoring the urgency for preventative measures such as dark web scans.
Given cybersecurity professionals’ access to customers’ personal information while safeguarding a company’s networks and data, many organizations incorporate national sex offender registry searches into their screening processes. A sex offender registry search involves a comprehensive examination of registries across all states to determine whether an applicant is a registered offender. If the applicant is registered, the resulting report furnishes specific details such as the registered address, distinctive marks or tattoos, a photograph of the individual, the nature of the offense mandating registration, and available details about the conviction.
These sources all fit into the steps of the overall cyber background check, which by understanding can help organizations ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations, avoiding legal repercussions.
Determining the purpose of the cyber background check is paramount. Whether for pre-employment screening, vendor assessments, or routine security audits, a clear understanding of the check’s purpose guides the selection of relevant criteria and the depth of the investigation. For instance, a pre-employment cyber background check might focus on assessing an individual’s online behavior and the potential risks they could pose to the organization’s digital assets.
At the same time, defining the scope ensures that the cyber background check extracts the most pertinent information. The scope encompasses the depth and breadth of the investigation, including the types of data to be collected, the specific platforms, and the permissible boundaries within legal and ethical frameworks. For instance, a scope might involve an examination of an individual’s social media profiles, online forum participation, and cybersecurity practices.
Ensure that the cyber background check adheres to legal and ethical standards. This includes obtaining necessary consent, respecting privacy laws, and maintaining the confidentiality of sensitive information throughout the process.
Recognize that not all background checks are created equal. When contemplating the selection of a background check company, ensure that the chosen provider aligns with your distinct requirements and industry specifications. Investigate the company’s offerings and assess whether they provide customizable plans.
Verify that the chosen company can adhere to any specific guidelines you need and has experience catering to businesses within your sector, ensuring the development of an effective screening plan tailored to your unique needs.
If you are using a background check provider, the next few steps may not apply to your situation. However, you may still be curious about what is happening in the backend. Automated tools such as machine learning and other algorithms streamline the process and gather preliminary data efficiently. These tools help scan digital footprints, social media activities, and potential vulnerabilities, providing a preliminary overview of the individual’s online presence.
Complementing automated tools, manual investigation comes into play to delve deeper into nuanced aspects of the individual’s digital history. Cybersecurity professionals conduct a meticulous examination, ensuring no stone is left unturned in pursuing comprehensive insights. An expert also offers advantages, including proper documentation of findings, giving them a leg up on you doing this scope of check on your own.
Conduct a forensic examination of electronic devices and online activities to uncover past incidents of hacking, data breaches, or cybercrimes linked to the individual. This step contributes to a more detailed assessment of the individual’s digital history.
The gathered information undergoes thorough scrutiny by cybersecurity experts. Their analytical skills and industry knowledge contribute to the interpretation of data, identification of potential risks, and the formulation of a comprehensive understanding of the individual’s cybersecurity landscape.
The results of automated tools, manual investigation, and expert analysis converge into a detailed report. This document encapsulates findings on online behaviors, security practices, and identified concerns, providing a comprehensive snapshot of the individual’s digital profile.
Suppose there are any red flags that come out in a background check. In that case, you will want to review FCRA guidelines for sending a pre-adverse action notice if it is in a hiring scenario, to allow the applicant with a reasonable timeframe, typically five business days, to respond with corrections or evidence of rehabilitation.
You can apply a similar principle to other scenarios where you might be running a background check, since you will likely want to address these concerns with the person before making a decision to proceed with a personal or business relationship with the individual.
In some cases, individuals or organizations may opt for ongoing monitoring of the individual’s digital presence. Continuous monitoring allows for real-time assessment and adjustment of cybersecurity measures in response to evolving online threats.
The timeframe within which you can expect to receive results from a cyber background check is contingent upon the nature of the specific checks. For checks like criminal background assessments, where the information is often readily available in public records, a background check provider can quickly return the results, sometimes even instantaneously. This rapid turnaround is particularly beneficial for organizations seeking prompt information about potential risks associated with an individual’s criminal history. However, the practicality of results is not uniform across all aspects of a cyber background check.
On the other hand, certain components of a cyber background check, such as education or employment verification, may entail a more prolonged timeline. The duration of these verifications also has a basis by factors such as the responsiveness of educational institutions or previous employers. Educational institutions may require time to authenticate academic credentials, including degrees and certifications, while employers may take varying durations to confirm an individual’s work history. Therefore, while some facets of a cyber background check yield swift results, others demand patience as the process unfolds, ultimately ensuring a comprehensive and accurate evaluation of the individual’s digital history.
If you are about to undergo a cyber background check, a common question that might arise is, “What can I do to prepare for a smooth process?” Although data in the cyber background check is something that you have been, in theory, compiling for years, you can ensure the process goes smoothly by verifying that you are providing the most accurate information on their resumes, being transparent about their past, and addressing any potential issues proactively. Moreover, you might want to familiarize yourself with the organization’s cybersecurity policies and commitment to ethical behavior so there are no surprises as you navigate the background check process.