Cyber Security Security Clearance – Before We Get Into The Topic, Let’s Learn Some Basic Of This Topic
Applying for a government position in cybersecurity? You’re going to see a lot of requirements for security clearances in the job descriptions.
Security clearance procedures are both time-consuming and paper-intensive. So, to make things a little easier for you, we’ve put together a crash course on how to prepare for them.
We also recommend the excellent PDF Security Clearance FAQs from ClearanceJobs. This book is jam-packed with useful information and advice, including how to fill out forms, definitions of acronyms and terminology, what to expect during the clearance interview, and much more.
What is a Security Clearance?
Any U.S. citizen or company who has access to classified government information must have security clearance. You may hear the term “eligibility for access” pop up in conversation. A security clearance is the same thing.
There are two types of security clearances granted by the government:
- Clearances for Personnel Security (PCLs)
- Clearances for Facility Security (FCLS)
Foreign nationals are not eligible for security clearance; naturalized citizens are. Non-U.S. citizens can work in the United States without a security clearance. A Limited Access Authorization may be granted to citizens (LAA).
Who Issues Security Clearances?
A variety of US government departments that deal with classified information provide security clearances. Departments of the Executive Branch, such as the:
The Department of Defense (DoD), which includes the DIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and the National Security Agency (NSA),
- Homeland Security Department (DHS)
- The FBI is part of the Department of Justice (DoJ).
- United States Department of State (DoS)
Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Interior, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs are just a few of the departments.
Clearances can also be issued by independent agencies such as the CIA, EPA, FCC, and USITC.
NOTE: The Department of Defense (DoD) issues more than 80% of all security clearances due to the nature of its responsibilities.
Will I Need a Security Clearance?
A security clearance is required for jobs involving the US government or military. Clearances are typically necessary for cybersecurity specialists who work for a:
- a government organization
- Contractor for the government
- a company that collaborates with government contractors
The following are some examples of jobs that require security clearance:
- Cyber Careers at the FBI
- Cyber Jobs at the National Security Agency
- Cyber Careers at the CIA
- Cyber Careers at the Department of Homeland Security
A security clearance is not required if you deal with sensitive material outside of the government or military. Many cybersecurity professions, at the very least, will require a background check.
Types of Security Clearances
The government has divided security clearances into three levels of access:
The most basic level of clearance is confidential (much military personnel has it). It implies you’ll have access to information that, if leaked, might have a measurable impact on national security.
- A full background check is required for confidential clearances, which includes verification of your criminal, educational, and job histories. Immediate family members, as well as spouses and partners, will be screened. Fingerprint and credit checks are routinely performed.
- Every 15 years, confidential clearances are re-examined.
Confidential is the next level up from Secret. You’ll be working with information that, if made public, may jeopardize national security.
- The background check is similar to a Confidential clearance in that it covers the same ground.
- Every ten years, secret clearances are re-examined.
Furthermore, you will want additional clearances if you are working on highly sensitive initiatives, often known as Special Access Programs. Consider the following scenario:
- Sensitive Compartmented Information – Top Secret (SCI)
- Special Access Programs – Top Secret (SAP)
NOTE: Access Authorizations “L” and “Q” are issued by the Department of Energy. An “L” clearance is comparable to a Secret clearance, while a “Q” clearance is comparable to a Top Secret clearance.
How to Get a Security Clearance?
To begin with, you are unable to initiate the procedure. Once you have a position that requires a security clearance (even if you are just a hired consultant), you will be sponsored by a cleared contractor or a government agency.
- You meet the employment requirements, and your potential employer is interested in hiring you.
- You’ve been given a conditional job offer.
- You will be needed to present clearance papers (e.g. SF86) to the employing agency if you do not have a Background Investigation (BI) on file.
- If you pass the hiring agency’s suitability test, you will be subjected to a full BI/background investigation.
- You will be hired if you pass your BI/background check.
If you don’t pass your background check, you’re out on your ear, to put it gently (see our section on Reasons for Security Clearance Denials below).
Security Clearance Process
In terms of administration, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is in charge of 90% of security clearances for federal agencies and contractors. OPM, for its part, outsources background checks to private companies (e.g. CACI, KeyPoint Government Solutions, etc.).
The complete clearance process can take anything from three months to a year, though the government is working to reduce this time.
Standard Form 86 (SF86)
Filling out the long Standard Form 86, also known as the Questionnaire for National Security Positions, is the first stage in the security clearance procedure. This form, which is almost 100 pages long, is a thorough investigation of your life.
You’ll be asked to provide information about your citizenship (including your Social Security number and passport number), where you live, your educational qualifications, work history, military service, marital status, relatives, friends, and overseas contacts/activities.
You’ll also be requested to detail any criminal histories, civil court cases, financial difficulties, subversive activities, drug usage, mental health issues, alcohol-related occurrences, and IT system misuse.
Background Investigation/Background Check
The government will perform a background investigation (BI), often known as a background check, in response to the SF86. It will go over and double-check your:
- Fingerprints scanned
- Last ten years’ criminal records
- DOB + proof of U.S. citizenship
- Degrees and certificates in education
- Employment history
- monetary situation
- Records made available to the public
Your police records may be checked by investigators in the field. Interviews with neighbors, superiors, coworkers, classmates, and/or references may be conducted by field investigators. You’ll also be subjected to a security interview.
How To Speed Up The Process?
Once your SF86 application is in the works, the wheels of American bureaucracy grind slowly, and there’s little you can do.
- However, as the authors of Security Clearance FAQs point out, there are a few things you can do to make sure your application isn’t held up:
- Prepare all of your SF86 materials. You won’t have to waste time rounding up records when you’re requested to complete the electronic (e-QIP) version.
- Be truthful and anal receptive when it comes to the information you supply. A high percentage of applications are denied due to incomplete, missing, or incorrect information. Pay close attention to the smallest details, such as zip codes!
- Before submitting SF86, get a free credit report and evaluate it. You may have credit troubles that you’re not aware of.
NOTE: The government can award candidates an interim security clearance (interim eligibility) while awaiting the findings of a thorough background investigation. If authorities find adverse information, this might be revoked at any time.
Reasons for Security Clearance Denials
There is a multitude of reasons why you can be denied a security clearance, assuming your rejection isn’t due to inaccurate or missing information.
They are as follows:
- Convictions in criminal cases often result in a year or more of jail.
- Controlled substance abuse/addiction is illegal. The incompetence of the mind
- Dismissal or discharge with dishonor
- Reluctance to give up a foreign passport
- Serious financial difficulties
- False remarks made on purpose
- Abuse of alcohol regularly
- Patterns of illegal behavior/violations of the law
- To be clear, giving incorrect information during the clearance procedure is a HUGE mistake. Investigators don’t appreciate it when people lie about their drinking, drug, or criminal histories.
If you’re honest about your faults, you might be able to get away with it (especially if it happened a long time ago).
How Long Can I Keep My Security Clearance?
In most circumstances, your security clearance will be maintained as long as:
- You are still employed by a government agency or a cleared contractor.
- You will likely require or have access to classified information.
- You do periodic re-evaluations.
As we mentioned in the section on Security Clearance Types, your clearance is re-evaluated every 15 years for Confidential, 10 years for Secret, and 5 years for Top Secret.
You’ll have to submit an updated security package, and the government will undertake another background investigation. As a starting point, they’ll leverage your prior BI.
The government has three levels of clearance:
- A clearance that has not been terminated is said to be active.
- Current: a clearance that has been revoked but is still eligible for reinstatement.
- Expired: a clearance that has been revoked and is no longer available for reinstatement.
Clearances that have expired are simple to obtain. If you leave a job that requires a security clearance, you will lose your clearance as well.
Let’s pretend you’re still employed by the same government agency, but you’re no longer dealing with classified information. Your clearance may be downgraded to Current at that point. This allows the government to reintroduce it at a later date.