How to Secure Applicant Tracking System

The Human Resource landscape has revolutionized immensely. There has been increasing pressure for Human Resource departments to pay more attention to value-adding activities. Furthermore, organizations have realized the essence of integrating Information technology into their HR functions. The integration has resulted in the birth of Electronic HR management (E-HRM), which relies heavily on cutting-edge technology that ranges from corporate portals to state-of-the-art intranets. And all these should be credited to the intense competition in the HR sector, the need to improve service delivery of human resources, save on HRM costs and manage human resources on a global scale. One great technological disruption in the HR sector is the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

With ATS, the conventional method of managing and organizing HR data into piles of papers and files stacked on desks is eradicated. And with ATS comes the luxury of drawing premium insights and decisions from the data. And talking of data, you should know that it attracts all forms of nemesis. From hawk-eyed hackers who want to get hold of the information for no-one-knows what to insider threat actors doing all they can to settle a beef with their colleagues by compromising their vital employment data or deleting their names from the list of shortlisted candidates.

Even so, ATS continues to dominate recruitment environments, with 75% of hiring agents preferring to use ATS for recruitment purposes. Besides ATS, employee engagement strategies are also important, which are to be taken care of by the HR department once the employee joins the company. It includes recognizing top performers, promoting them, offering growth opportunities, getting feedback from the team, etc.

While adopting applicant tracking systems is a noble endeavor, doing it without proper security infrastructure could put the organization and its data on the hackers’ trail. With high-profile data breaches hitting the news headlines almost daily, you have a reason to be worried. But not as much as you should when you have adequate infrastructure to protect ATS from such threats. This article comes to your aid by explaining some of the reliable methods and techniques for your Applicant Tracking System security. Before we look at the tips, it is essential that we start by understanding what an ATS system is and how it works.

What is Applicant Tracking System?

So, what is an applicant tracking system (ATS)? Although there is no universal definition of an applicant tracking system, it is better to look at it as a software system created to enhance the recruitment process while saving the time taken for the recruitment process and improving employee productivity. Therefore, the system helps simplify and hasten the entire recruitment process.

How Applicant Tracking System Works

Different organizations have different recruitment needs and requirements. The functionality of ATS will vary depending on different organizations. For example, some ATS majorly focus on keyword searches while others focus on resume parsing. However, despite organizations’ needs requiring different ATS, the basic process tends to be uniform across all applicant tracking systems.

First, the organization will have to get the applicant tracking system software and have it configured. Candidates applying through the applicant tracking system will need to answer a few knockout questions. The aim is to filter out candidates who give unsatisfactory answers and instantly narrow down the applicant pool. In other words, the ATS will flag the filtered candidates as rejected and put the applicants who pass the test to the next recruitment phase. ATS also has a keyword option that allows HR personnel to search for resumes with specific words. The keywords could be based on different skills, locations, academic qualifications, former employers, etc. In the end, the ATS will be able to bring up recruiter profiles that meet specific job descriptions.

Applicant Tracking System Security Issues

The fact that ATS collects and stores sensitive applicants’ data is enough reason to make it vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks and threats. Even more threatening is that most ATSs have integrated cloud-computing technologies. The Cloud computing environment, as we know it, has the tendency to invite all sorts of attacks. The moment you deploy cloud-based ATS solutions, your security goes at stake.

applicant tracking system

The level of security the ATS needs will vary depending on its nature and requirements. All in all, you must ensure the ATS meets the following three pillars of a secure system.

Confidentiality- All data and information contained in the ATS should only be visible to the intended people. For instance, applicants should be denied visibility into their fellow applicant’s data. Moreover, attackers should not be able to access ATS data.

Data Integrity- Data contained in the ATS system should remain accurate and consistent throughout its stay in the ATS.

Availability- The system’s operationality should be protected from all sorts of security interference. At no point should a hacker gain the ability to restrict hiring agents and other system users from accessing their portals or accounts. Moreover, system data should be readily available whenever needed.


5 Tips for Securing Applicant Tracking System

At this juncture, the essence of securing the ATS should be quite clear. The next thing to do is to adopt proper tools, mechanisms, techniques, and methods to secure the ATS. Here are some tips you can employ for this task.

  1. Scheduled Penetration Testing

Penetration testing is a fundamental cybersecurity practice that could save your supplicant tracking system from many security threats. In penetration testing, the organization will employ cybersecurity experts to act as ethical hackers. Through ethical hacking, they will use all forms of tricks and techniques, such as those used by hackers, to try and get past your security walls. From penetration testing, it would be easy to unearth potential loopholes that hackers could leverage to get into your ATS. Penetration testing is also important where there is a need to test the reliability of a newly implemented security infrastructure.

It is also important to address the question of how often you should do pen tests for your ATS. Usually, the frequency of penetration testing should vary depending on the nature of your ATS system and security requirements. An average Applicant Tracking System requires penetration testing at least once a year. Moreover, good penetration testing should be accompanied by immediate responses that seek to patch the unearthed security loopholes.


  1. Adopt HTTPS Encryption mechanisms (SSL Certificate)

HTTPS-enabled ATS is so paramount in today’s age. If your system is still operating on the conventional HTTP protocol, then it is just a matter of time before lethal attackers come knocking. HTTPS systems are usually secured because of the SSL certificates, the small cryptographic tools that are undoubtedly the backbone of cybersecurity. The best way to confirm if your ATS is running on encrypted sessions is to click on the URL and see if it commences with HTTPS. If not, you should move with speed to acquire the SSL certificate because you never know when hackers will attack.

applicant tracking system

Luckily for you, your ATS security has been made easy and affordable with the many SSL certificate options that range from domain validation certificates to organization validation certificates. You have absolutely no reason not to have an SSL certificate. So make sure that your Applicant Tracking System is HTTPS-enabled by buying an SSL/TLS certificate to boost your security. Note that SSL works by initiating encrypted sessions. Hence no intruder will be able to access data without the proper decryption keys.


  1. Strict Compliance with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Regulations

ATS holds very sensitive user data that range from academic qualifications to employment history and other personal data required for recruitment purposes. With such data, there is enough reason for ATS to have the highest level of security protocols to safeguard the data. Before finally integrating the ATS into your human resource management strategy, you must ensure that the system and data security tools you have in place should comply with General Data Protection regulations.

GDPR is a recent novice law that requires all types of businesses, large and small, to implement specific mechanisms to protect the privacy and sensitive data of EU citizens. Noncompliance with GDPR could come with some high costs. For instance. GDPR will impart heavy fines that go up to 4% of the global annual turnover for noncompliance. You must know that the major reason why GDPR exists is to address the public concern for data privacy. There are several elements of GDPR that could impact your ATS security. They include the following.

  • GDPR requires organizations to integrate several security mechanisms and controls, such as incident management, data encryption, system integrity, and resilience.
  • Security breach notifications that must be done without undue delay
  • Frequent security audits and monitoring


  1. Have Proper Mechanisms to Address Cloud-Related Security Issues

Since most ATSs boast cloud-computing abilities, they are vulnerable to cloud-related security threats. Such threats include misconfigurations, unauthorized system access, Insecure Application Programming Interfaces, account hijacks, nonauthorized external sharing of data, insider threat, and distributed denial of service attacks, among others. How these attacks could affect your applicant tracking system is something we will learn in our subsequent posts. But in the interest of this article, it is wise to spell out some of the cloud computing security best practices you can adopt to protect your ATS. They include the following.

  • Watch out for system misconfigurations
  • Encrypt all cloud data
  • Enforce access controls
  • Choose the right cloud hosting company


  1. Have A Reliable Backup Facility

Because nothing in the cyber realm is guaranteed, you must have a backup option you run to in case things go haywire. Even after having all these security measures to protect your ATS, hackers might still find their way into your system. The best thing to do will be to have a backup facility for your secondary data storage needs.

Side Note- These are not the only security measures to employ on your applicant tracking system. However, these are ATS-specific. Other basic security practices such as using strong authentication such as passwords and two-factor authentication, using firewall applications, frequently updating the applicant tracking system software, and installing anti-malware software are still applicable.


Thanks to technology, the applicant tracking system has simplified the hiring process for HR departments. Although its implementation could bring lots of low-hanging fruits to HR, ATS is also vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. This article has explained what an applicant tracking system is, how it works, its associated security threats, and some tips to protect it from such threats.

however, today, business intelligence software has made making data-driven decisions a much easier process. Even users who do not have deep technical expertise are able to easily extract insights from data using these application tracking system

Dan Smiljanić

Dan is a practitioner of project management and our resident geek. With a background in computer science, Dan is the lead product tester at Binfire. When Dan not writing code, you will probably find him cycling and hiking with friends.

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