Securing candidate data in background checks for financial firms

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Jordie Black
January 25, 2024
Updated on:

In financial institutions, when conducting background checks, it's crucial to safeguard candidate information. This goes beyond mere compliance with legal obligations like the Data Protection Act or GDPR. Candidates, when sharing their personal and financial details, trust the institution to protect their data. 

This data often includes sensitive information like social security numbers, financial history, and personal addresses. Any breach in this data can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, and severe reputational damage to the institution. It's not just about avoiding legal consequences; it's about maintaining the trust and integrity that candidates and employees place in the institution.

Challenges in the digital age

The digital era introduces specific challenges in data security, such as the increased risk of data breaches. According to the UK Government's Cyber Security Breaches Survey, 39% of businesses reported experiencing cyber security breaches or attacks in the last 12 months, underlining the heightened vulnerability in the digital landscape.

39% of businesses reported cyber security attacks

For instance, the data obtained from background checks might need to interact with HR systems, financial software, and other proprietary databases. Each of these systems has its own security protocols and vulnerabilities. The complexity arises in ensuring that all these systems communicate securely without exposing sensitive data to risks like hacking or unauthorised access.

Additionally, digital platforms are often targets for cyber-attacks. As technology evolves, so do the methods used by cybercriminals, making constant vigilance and up-to-date security measures imperative.

The importance placed on cyber security varies significantly across different types of businesses and charities. Larger businesses and high-income charities, along with specific sectors like finance and health, tend to view cyber security as more important than others.

In the finance and insurance sector, a notable 72% of businesses regard cyber security as a very high priority. This is significantly higher compared to the overall average across all businesses, which stands at 37%.

Cyber security priority in businesses

Reasons for High Priority in Finance and Insurance:

Sensitive Data Handling: This sector deals with highly sensitive financial data of individuals and organizations. A breach could lead to significant financial losses and legal consequences.

Regulatory Compliance: Financial institutions are often subject to strict regulatory requirements regarding data security and privacy. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines and reputational damage.

High Risk of Cyber Attacks: Due to the nature of their business, financial institutions are attractive targets for cybercriminals. This necessitates robust cyber security measures.

Trust and Reputation: Maintaining customer trust is essential in finance. A single security breach can significantly damage a company's reputation, leading to loss of customers and business.

Cost Implications: Implementing strong cyber security measures can be costly, but it is seen as a necessary investment to protect against potential losses from cyber attacks.

Regulatory landscape

Financial institutions are governed by a web of regulations concerning data protection. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU, for example, sets stringent guidelines on data handling, including the need for explicit consent from individuals when their data is being processed and heavy penalties for non-compliance.

83% of businesses affected by breaches experienced phishing attacks, highlighting the need for stringent compliance with regulations like GDPR and the Data Protection Act to mitigate such risks.

Similarly, the Data Protection Act in the UK mandates secure processing of personal information. Beyond these, there are often sector-specific regulations that financial institutions need to adhere to, which can vary depending on the geographical location and nature of financial services provided. Non-compliance with these regulations can result in hefty fines and a loss of public trust.

Best practices for protecting data

To ensure robust data security, financial institutions should adopt a range of best practices. This includes using advanced encryption techniques to protect data both in transit and at rest. Encryption transforms sensitive data into a code to prevent unauthorised access. Secure data storage is another crucial aspect.

This involves using trusted and verified data centres or cloud services with strong security measures in place. Access to sensitive information should be strictly controlled and limited to those who absolutely need it for their job roles, reducing the risk of internal breaches. 

The average cost of a breach for businesses is around £8,460, and this cost rises to £13,400 for medium and large businesses. This underscores the importance of implementing robust security measures such as encryption and secure data storage.

Regular audits and security reviews are important to identify and rectify any potential vulnerabilities in the system. Additionally, having strong password policies and using multi-factor authentication can significantly enhance security.

Technology solutions

Leveraging the latest technology can greatly aid in securing data. For background checks, using secure and certified platforms ensures that the data is handled in a compliant and secure manner.

When considering technology solutions for enhancing data security in background checks, financial institutions should prioritise working with firms that are ISO 27001 certified. ISO 27001 is a widely recognised international standard for managing information security. Partnering with a firm that adheres to these standards ensures that the third party takes data security seriously and follows best practices in safeguarding information.

Choosing a third-party service provider that offers seamless integration with existing tools and systems is crucial. Seamless integration means that the new platform can easily connect with and complement the existing digital infrastructure, such as HR systems, financial software, and other data management tools. This compatibility is key for a couple of reasons:

Enhanced Security: When systems integrate well, there are fewer gaps and vulnerabilities for potential breaches. A well-integrated system ensures that data flows securely between different platforms, reducing the risk of data being exposed during transfers or due to incompatibilities.

Operational Efficiency: Seamless integration allows for smoother operations and better data management. It ensures that data is consistently and accurately shared across different systems, reducing the risk of errors or inconsistencies that could potentially lead to security vulnerabilities.

HR tech data

Training and awareness

It is vital to educate staff about data protection principles. Regular training ensures that employees are aware of the latest threats and the best practices for data security. Creating a culture of security awareness within the organisation can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches, as employees become more vigilant and responsible in handling sensitive information.

Incident response planning

No matter how strong the security measures are, there is always a risk of a breach. Given that a significant proportion of businesses experience cyber security incidents, having a well-defined incident response plan becomes crucial. The survey's finding that breaches are prevalent highlights the need for effective containment and communication strategies.

Therefore, having a robust incident response plan is essential. 

This plan should include immediate steps for containment of the breach, thorough investigation to understand the scope and impact, and a clear communication strategy to inform all affected parties. This not only helps in mitigating the damage but also in maintaining transparency and trust.

Ethical considerations

When dealing with personal data, especially in background checks, ethical considerations are paramount. This includes ensuring fairness in how the data is used and maintains transparency in the background check process. 

Candidates should be informed about what their data will be used for and how it will be handled. This ethical approach helps build trust and demonstrates the institution's commitment to respecting individual rights.

Future trends

Looking ahead, financial institutions must stay abreast of emerging trends and future challenges in data security. The evolving nature of cyber threats means that security measures must constantly adapt. New technologies, such as advanced encryption methods, machine learning for threat detection, and enhanced cybersecurity protocols, will play a crucial role in safeguarding data. 

Additionally, the rise of remote working and mobile access to sensitive data will require new strategies to ensure security outside the traditional office environment. Financial institutions must be proactive in anticipating these changes and preparing for the new challenges they bring.

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