Imagine you’re sitting in your office on a perfectly normal day. But suddenly, the entire office network gets compromised. 

Now there can be multiple reasons why this could have happened. One of it could be that one of the employees opened an email from an unknown source containing malware. And your entire office’s data has now been breached. 

This is one form of insider threat which is caused by the negligence of one of the employees. 

According to IBM’s 2023 Report, data breaches caused by internal threats tend to incur the highest costs, averaging around USD 4.90 million. This figure is 9.5% higher than the USD 4.45 million average cost of other types of data breaches.

Also Read: Beyond Passwords: Exploring Advanced Authentication Methods

Let’s talk about it in more detail. Buckle up. 

What is an Insider Threat?

In simple words, insider threat refers to the risk that someone within an organization could misuse their access or knowledge to harm that organization. This harm could be intentional or accidental and might affect the organization’s security, its confidential data, or its overall operations. 

Types of Insider Threats

Insider threats come in various forms, each posing unique risks to organizations. Here’re the different types of insider threats:

Unintentional Threats

Accidental: Sometimes insiders make honest mistakes that can still jeopardize security. Examples include sending an email containing personal information to the wrong person or clicking on malicious links by mistake.

Negligence: This occurs when an insider, who knows the security policies, chooses to ignore them. For instance, they might let unauthorized people access secure areas or lose devices containing sensitive information. They might also neglect to update software, exposing the organization to vulnerabilities.

Intentional Threats

These insiders deliberately harm their organization to gain personal gain or settle grudges. Motivations can include discontent over job dissatisfaction, lack of recognition, or response to job termination. Their harmful actions can range from leaking confidential info and sabotaging equipment to committing theft of proprietary data or even engaging in workplace violence.

Collusive Threats

In these scenarios, insiders work with external parties, such as cybercriminals, to harm the organization. This collaboration can lead to fraud, intellectual property theft, or espionage. These threats are hazardous because they combine internal access with external criminal intent.

Third-Party Threats

These threats come from individuals such as suppliers who, though not full-time employees, have access to an organization’s facilities or digital networks. These individuals can present immediate or potential risks, either by their actions or by being manipulated by external entities.

Key Risks and Challenges of Insider Threats

Insider threats are particularly challenging for several reasons:

  • Legitimate Access: Insiders have authorized access to an organization’s infrastructure, which they can misuse.
  • Knowledge of Sensitive Data Locations: Insiders often know where sensitive data is stored, making it easier for them to access and potentially exfiltrate this data.
  • Familiarity with Cybersecurity Systems: Having internal knowledge of cybersecurity defences makes it easier for insiders to find and exploit weaknesses.

Gartner identifies three main types of activities associated with insider threats:

  • Fraud: This includes misusing assets for personal gain, conducting phishing campaigns, and engaging in misrepresentation.
  • Data Theft: Executing unauthorized transfers of data from corporate systems.
  • System Sabotage: Altering critical system configurations to disrupt normal operations.

How to Detect an Insider Threat

Detecting insider threats involves monitoring for unusual behaviours and digital activities that deviate from normal patterns. Since insiders already have legitimate access to systems, distinguishing their malicious activities from regular duties can be challenging. 

Here’s how organizations can detect potential insider threats by observing both behavioural and digital indicators:

Behavioural Indicators

Monitoring behavioural patterns can help identify potential insider threats. Look for:

  • Dissatisfaction or Disgruntlement: An employee or contractor who appears unhappy or expresses discontent with the organization.
  • Bypassing Security: Attempts to bypass security measures or exploit system vulnerabilities.
  • Unusual Working Hours: Regularly working at times when few or no other employees are active, such as late nights or early mornings.
  • Resentment Toward Coworkers: Expressing negative feelings or hostility towards colleagues.
  • Policy Violations: Frequently breaking company rules or ignoring established protocols.
  • Career Moves: Discussing resignation, showing signs of job-hunting, or openly talking about opportunities elsewhere.

Digital Indicators

On the digital front, certain activities may signal an insider threat:

  • Unusual Login Times: Accessing systems at odd hours, such as logging into the network at 3 AM without a valid reason.
  • Increased Network Traffic: Sudden spikes in data being transferred which could indicate large-scale data theft or unauthorized data copying.
  • Irregular Resource Access: Using files, applications, or databases that are outside their normal job requirements or accessing restricted areas.
  • Frequent Access Requests: Repeatedly asking for access to resources that are not relevant to their job duties.
  • Unauthorized Devices: Using unapproved hardware like USB drives which can be used to extract data covertly.
  • Active Searching for Sensitive Data: Engaging in network crawling or systematic searches for confidential or sensitive information.
  • External Data Transmission: Sending sensitive data outside the organization through emails or other transfer methods.

Also Read: How to Implement AI-Powered Fraud Detection in Financial Services

How To Protect Against Insider Threats

You can protect your organization’s digital assets from an internal threat. Here’s how.

Protect Critical Assets

To safeguard your organization against insider threats, start by identifying and prioritizing your critical assets. These include networks, systems, confidential data, facilities, and personnel. 

You should focus on applying heightened security measures to those deemed most critical. You should also establish specific protection protocols tailored to the significance and sensitivity of each asset to ensure comprehensive coverage.

Create a Baseline of Normal Behavior

Organizations should implement advanced monitoring systems that collect and analyze user activity data. This data comes from various sources such as access logs, VPN logs, and endpoint data. Analyzing this information is essential for modeling typical user behaviour patterns. 

It also helps in assigning risk scores to activities that might indicate a threat, such as unauthorized data downloads or logins from unusual locations. By establishing a behavioural baseline for each user, device, job function, and title, organizations can quickly detect threats.

Increase Visibility

Increase organizational visibility by continuously monitoring and correlating activities from multiple sources. This constant oversight helps detect potential insider misuse. Additionally, employ cyber deception technologies to set traps for malicious insiders.

These traps can reveal their tactics and intentions. Using this integrated approach will enhance your ability to effectively detect and respond to insider activities.

Enforce Policies

Ensure that your organization’s security policies are clearly defined and well-documented. This clarity eliminates any confusion about expected behaviours. Regularly review, update, and communicate these policies across the organization.

This ensures that every employee, contractor, vendor, or partner understands what is considered acceptable behaviour. Taking these steps is crucial for establishing and maintaining a secure environment.

Promote Culture Changes

Promoting a security-aware culture is essential for preventing insider threats. Implement regular training and awareness programs to educate employees and stakeholders on security best practices and the importance of following them.

Additionally, continuously measure and improve employee satisfaction. This helps identify early signs of discontent that could potentially lead to insider threats.

Insider Threat Detection Solutions

Adopt specialized insider threat detection software that integrates seamlessly with your existing security systems to create a comprehensive monitoring solution. This software should be specifically designed to detect signs of insider tampering or abuse.

Optimize your detection systems to minimize false positives. This ensures that your focus remains on true threats, thereby enhancing the effectiveness of your security measures.

Examples of Insider Threats

  1. A Fired Employee Retaliates

In 2021, Juliana Barile, an employee at a credit union in New York, reacted to her dismissal by deleting over 21GB of data within 40 minutes of being fired. This data included 3,500 directories and 20,000 files, some of which were critical anti-ransomware software and mortgage applications. Despite her termination, her access to sensitive systems was not immediately revoked, enabling her to also access confidential board minutes and other sensitive information.

  1. Accidental Data Exposure by an Employee

An employee at Vertafore, a technology company, accidentally exposed the data of 27.7 million Texas drivers by storing it at an unsecured offsite location. Although the breach did not include financial or social security data, it still had serious consequences for Vertafore. The company had to cover the costs associated with responding to the incident and is also facing a class-action lawsuit.

Also Read: What is Cloud Security? 9 Cloud Security Best Practices in 2024

Summing Up

Insider threats within an organization can come from anyone. These threats range from intentional sabotage to unintentional errors and are often difficult to detect. They have the potential to cause significant damage. So, organizations must monitor employee activities at all times. Also, by preparing for these risks, organizations can better safeguard themselves. This helps prevent the severe disruptions that insider threats can cause.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *