INSIDER THREATS: Meaning, Prevention, Program & Importance


The smooth operation of today’s modern enterprises depends on a large number of employees. But this implies that sensitive organizational information is always accessible to hundreds or thousands of current or former workers, vendors, partners, or contractors. “Insider threat” is what cyber security professionals refer to this as. These people are insiders because they are permitted access to information, data, or resources that might be shared or utilized to harm the organization. The entire topic of insider threats in cyber security will be covered in this essay, including what they are, how to identify them, why they are dangerous programs, and how to prevent them.

What are Insider Threats in Cyber Security?

A person working for your company who compromises the availability, confidentiality, or integrity of critical information is considered an insider threat. They might accomplish this by unintentionally disclosing private information, falling for a hoax, breaking property, losing company equipment, or purposefully disrupting systems.

A possible insider threat is somebody who has access to sensitive data or resources. Included in this are personnel, subcontractors, and partners. If former workers continue to have access to confidential information after leaving the company, they could pose an insider threat.

Types of Insider Threats

Insider threats to cyber security can be classified as either malicious actors or negligent personnel. In this part, we discuss how they differ from one another and why they pose a threat.

#1. Malicious insiders

A malicious insider is someone who purposefully obtains confidential information or undermines a company. They often do this for financial benefit, either by utilizing the stolen data to perpetrate fraud or by selling it to a third party, like a rival business or a hacker gang.

Retaliation is another driving force behind malicious insiders. This most frequently occurs with recently fired individuals who harbor resentment toward their former company. The individual is likely to cause trouble if they still have access to important systems, whether it be because their building’s key is still in their possession or their workplace login credentials are still valid.

Revenge might also inspire current workers. This frequently occurs when they feel undervalued or have been passed over for a promotion. They can disrupt operations or steal confidential data by using their access to the company’s systems.

#2. Negligent insiders

Employee errors like losing a work device or falling for a phishing scam might result in negligent insider risks. These episodes can be divided into two subcategories. First, some workers use sound judgment yet violate data security laws because of extenuating circumstances. For instance, they might have erred as a result of being overworked or distracted.

Contrarily, some negligent insiders consistently break the law and show little interest in staff awareness programs. They frequently use the argument that the organization’s policies and processes are unduly bureaucratic or too inconvenient to defend their behavior.

They might even cite the absence of a data breach as support for their claims. If so, a data breach will almost certainly happen at some point, and it’s more likely due to luck than judgment.

How Common Are Insider Threats?

Insider threats are a constant concern for cyber security. In the 2021 Insider Threat Report from Cybersecurity Insiders, nearly all businesses (98%) stated that they felt exposed to insider attacks.

Even though these occurrences are frequent, it is challenging to interpret them. In many instances, the precise source of the data breach is unknown, and it is challenging to estimate the harm. According to a study by Cybersecurity Insiders, just 51% of firms were able to identify insider threats, or they could only do so after the data had been compromised.

In the meantime, 89% of respondents said they didn’t think their ability to monitor, detect, and respond to insider threats was effective, and 82% said it was difficult to assess the true cost of an assault.

How to Detect Insider Threats

The best way to spot insider risks, whether you’re looking for malicious or negligent conduct, is to watch out for unusual employee behavior.
An employee might behave less professionally in person and writing if they appear to be unhappy at work, for instance. They might also produce less-than-stellar work and display other acts of disobedience, such as arriving late or departing early for work.

Working at odd hours might sometimes be a sign of suspicion. An employee may be doing something they don’t want their company to know about if they log into their systems in the middle of the night.
Similar to the last example, if there is a lot of traffic, it can mean that an employee is copying private data to a personal hard drive so they can utilize it fraudulently.

The employee’s use of resources they wouldn’t typically need for their job is what is most illuminating, though. This implies that they are using the information for improper purposes, such as fraud, or sharing it with a third party.

How to Prevent Insider Threats

You can defend the digital assets of your company against internal danger. How? Read on.

#1. Safeguard important assets

Determine the most important logical and physical assets for your company. These consist of networks, systems, private information (such as client data, employee information, schematics, and intricate business plans), physical assets, and personnel. Determine the present state of each asset’s protection, rate the assets in order of importance, and comprehend each key asset. Naturally, the maximum level of insider threat protection should be provided for the assets with the highest priority.

#2. Establish an average of normal user and device activity.

Insider threat tracking software comes in a variety of forms. These systems function by initially gathering data from access, authentication, account changes, endpoint, and virtual private network (VPN) records to centralize user activity information. Utilize this information to model user behavior associated with particular events, such as the downloading of private information on portable media or a user’s unusual login location, and give risk scores to that behavior.

#3. Increased awareness

More than one-third of respondents to a 2019 SANS poll on advanced threats acknowledged not having visibility into insider misuse. Deploying tools that continuously track user behavior as well as compiling and correlating activity data from various sources is crucial. For example, you may employ cyber deception tools that set up traps to entice nefarious insiders, monitor their behavior, and deduce their motivations. To recognize or prevent existing or future assaults, this data would subsequently be supplied to other business security solutions.

#4. Enforce policies

The security policies of the organization should be defined, documented, and shared. It also creates the proper framework for enforcement, preventing uncertainty. No employee, contractor, vendor, or partner should be uncertain about what conduct is appropriate for the security policy of their firm. They should be aware of their obligation to refrain from sharing privileged information with unauthorized people.

#5. Encourage cultural shifts

Although identifying insider risks is crucial, it is wiser and less expensive to discourage users from improper conduct. The goal in this regard is to encourage a cultural shift toward security awareness and digital transformation. Instilling the proper values can help prevent carelessness and deal with the causes of harmful behavior. Employee satisfaction should be continuously measured and improved to detect early warning signals of discontent. Employees and other stakeholders should frequently take part in security training and awareness programs that inform them of security issues.

Insider Threats Program

A tried-and-true method for identifying insider threat early warning signs, preventing insider threats, or minimizing their effects is developing an effective and consistent insider threat program. According to The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Special Publication 800-53, an insider threat program is “a coordinated group of capabilities under centralized management that is organized to detect and prevent the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information.” Frequently, it is referred to as an “insider threat management program” or “framework.”

An insider threat program often consists of steps to identify internal risks, address them, mitigate their effects, and raise insider threat awareness inside an organization. But first, let’s look at why it’s worthwhile to invest your time and money in such a program before delving more into the components of an insider threat program and best practices for putting one in place.

Steps to Create an Efficient Insider Threats Program

We’ve developed this 10-step checklist to assist you in getting the most out of your insider threat program. Here are 10 methods you can take to safeguard your business from insider threats.

#1. Prepare to create a program to combat insider risks.

Building an internal threats program successfully requires preparation, which will also save you a ton of time and work in the long run. Gather as much data as you can about current cybersecurity measures, compliance standards, and stakeholders during this step and decide what outcomes you want the program to provide.

#2. Make a risk analysis.

The foundation of an insider threat program is defining which assets you consider sensitive. These assets, like client and employee information, technological trade secrets, intellectual property, prototypes, etc., can be both tangible and intangible. The best way to find such assets and potential dangers to them is to conduct an external or insider threat risk assessment.

#3. Determine how much funding is required to develop the program.

It takes time and effort to create a successful insider threat program. Before you begin, it’s crucial to realize that implementing this kind of program requires more than just a cybersecurity department.

#4. Obtain the backing of high management.

At this stage, you can use the data acquired in the earlier steps to win the key stakeholders’ support for putting the program into action. The CEO, CFO, CISO, and CHRO are frequently on the list of important stakeholders.

#5. Assemble a team to respond to insider threats

A team of workers in charge of all phases of threat management, from detection to remediation, is known as an “insider threat response team.” Contrary to popular belief, this team shouldn’t just be made up of IT professionals.

#6. Determine the best ways to detect insider threats.

The most crucial aspect of your defense against insider threats is early identification since it enables speedy action and lowers the cost of repair. That’s why software for PCI DSS, HIPAA, and NIST 800-171 compliance frequently includes a threat detection component.

#7. Create incident reaction plans.

Your response team must practice typical insider attack scenarios to respond swiftly to a danger that has been recognized. The most crucial aspect of an insider threat response strategy is that it should be practical and simple to carry out.

#8. Plan the investigation and remediation of incidents.

Plan your process for looking into cybersecurity issues as well as potential corrective measures to mitigate insider risks.

#9. Inform your staff.

A training course’s topics will vary depending on the security threats, resources, and methods employed by a certain firm. The evaluation of the insider threat awareness training’s success is the last step. You can do this by conducting employee interviews, creating tests, or simulating an insider attack to observe how your staff members react.

#10. Review your program regularly.

Making an insider threat program is a continuous process. For your program to be effective, insider threats must change and become more sophisticated and dangerous.

Why are Insider Threats so Dangerous

Major gaps in insider threat defense have been found, according to a SANS report on advanced threats. These gaps are caused by a lack of baseline data on normal user conduct as well as poor access control management of privileged user accounts, which are prime targets for brute force and social engineering attacks like phishing.
The best security teams still have difficulty identifying insider threats. By definition, insiders have legal access to the assets and information of the company. It’s difficult to tell the difference between legitimate activity and harmful behavior.

Roles-based access management is an inadequate control since insiders frequently know where sensitive data is kept and may have legitimate access demands, which exacerbates the problem.

Therefore, an insider-caused data breach is substantially more expensive than one brought on by external threat actors. Researchers found that the average cost per record for a malicious or criminal attack was $166, compared to $132 for system bugs and $133 for human errors, in the Ponemon Institute’s 2019 Cost of a Data Breach Report.

You can understand why creating an insider threat program is a wise investment when you consider that insider threats are responsible for roughly a third of data breaches (Verizon) and 60 percent of cyberattacks (IBM).

Insider Threat Detection Solutions

Since they are hidden from typical security solutions like firewalls and intrusion detection systems, which focus on external threats, insider threats might be more difficult to detect or prevent than outside attacks. The security measures in place could not notice the unusual behavior if an attacker took advantage of an authorized login. Furthermore, if malicious insiders are familiar with an organization’s security protocols, they can evade detection more readily.

Instead of relying on a single solution, you should diversify your insider threat detection strategy to safeguard all of your assets. An efficient insider threat detection system integrates several methods to not only monitor insider activity but also to weed out false positives from a large number of warnings.

Applications for machine learning (ML) can be used to assess the data stream and rank the most important alerts. To assist in identifying, analyzing, and notifying the security team of any potential insider risks, you can employ digital forensics and analytics technologies like User and Event Behavior Analytics (UEBA).

While database activity monitoring can help spot policy infractions, user behavior analytics can create a baseline for typical data access activities.

What is the most common insider threat?

The most typical insider threats

  • Excessive Privileged Access
  • Privilege Abuse
  • SQL Injection
  • Weak Audit Trail
  • Database Inconsistences
  • Phishing Attacks

What are the 3 major motivations for insider threats?

  • Malicious: Pursuing financial gain or seeking retribution for an offense
  • Negligent: Careless or ignorant
  • Compromise: Unaware of the danger they represent

What are the 3 phases of an insider threat?

The key steps to mitigate insider threats are to define, detect, identify, assess, and manage.

What are the top 5 indicators of an insider threat actor?

  • Types of insider threats
  • Inadequate training
  • Ineffective processes.
  • Dissatisfaction at work.
  • Financial difficulties.

What are the three main types of threats?

Natural threats (like earthquakes), physical security threats (like power outages destroying equipment), and human threats (like blackhat attackers who can be internal or external) are the three most broad categories.

What is not considered an insider threat?

An attack is not regarded as an insider threat if it comes from an unreliable, unidentified, external source. To identify any abnormal traffic habits, advanced monitoring, and logging systems are needed to protect against insider attacks.


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