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Digital Threats to Background Check Systems Continue to Increase

By Michael Klazema on 12/3/2019

A fast, effective process for hiring and onboarding new employees is an essential tool for any business. Time is money, as the saying goes, and minimizing the amount of time that it takes to fill open positions can help businesses to reduce the strain caused by short staffing. Hiring practices involve more than a fundamental consideration of an applicant's credentials and an interview: hiring requires taking steps to ensure that applicants are safe and trustworthy.

Criminal history assessments are a vital tool in making those determinations. Today's resources, such as the instant-report US OneSEARCH from backgroundchecks.com, primarily rely on digital systems maintained by authorities at the state or county level. While the ability to pull information from these servers electronically allows for rapid results, it also means that the servers are open to attacks from bad actors. In recent years, attacks on government computers have increased dramatically, with thousands of attacks occurring nationwide every day. 

Though these attacks are rarely targeted directly at criminal systems, common security failures and exploits can allow destructive malware into sensitive servers. 

In late 2019 in Louisiana, state law enforcement temporarily lost access to background checks and searches for active warrants after ransomware infected state computers—malware that encrypts valuable data automatically and makes systems unusable until the operators receive a ransom in exchange for the data. According to a local chief of police, the downtime, which continued for almost a week, created some safety risks, and employers hoping to run background checks encountered long delays.

Earlier in 2019, ransomware disabled the Georgia Administrative Office of the Courts' ability to process information or provide state background checks. Other municipalities ranging from Florida to California suffered from downtime as a result of malware infections, too. 

When these attacks occur, the background check process can grind to a halt, and there is little that a business owner can do except to wait for the operators to determine a viable solution for restoring access. In some cases, officials have opted to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom fees in hopes of bringing their computers back online more quickly. 

There is good news despite the rising threat posed by ransomware. Because there is no one central repository for criminal history data, it is impossible for one malware attack to take every resource offline at once. As a result, though some systems may be inaccessible for a time, employers can still conduct vetting on their applicants during a shutdown. 

At backgroundchecks.com, our highly secure servers make it easy for employers to access relevant county and state-level background checks at any time of the day or night. However, in an interconnected world, it is crucial for the operators of each jurisdiction's systems to remain vigilant and implement robust security standards and fail-safes. 


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