What is Insider threat?
Insider threats are security risks that arise from the people within organizations. These threats are associated with not just current employees but also with former employees, vendors, and partners. Insider threats can result in devastating data theft, leak, or exposure. However, not all of these incidents are deliberate. Existing employees or business associates can also cause security incidents unintentionally, either through careless action or by inaction.
Since insider attacks originate from individuals within the organization, they are difficult to detect and respond to. Read on to learn more about these threats.
Insider threat statistics
68% of organizations feel moderately to extremely vulnerable to insider threats.
71% of organizations are concerned about inadvertent insider breaches.
Types of insider threats
Insider threats can be classified based on the intention or motive behind them. They are either caused by rogue employees harboring malicious intent or by unwitting actions of a negligent employee.
Malicious intent of insiders can be driven by:
- Dissatisfaction with current employers or with organizational policies.
- Corporate espionage or for financial gains.
- Influence of hackers or external entities who convince insiders to sabotage the organization.
Unintentional security risks created by employees include:
- Unauthorized data transfer outside the organization for personal convenience.
- Falling victim to phishing sites that imitate formal websites.
- Side-stepping corporate security policies on removable media usage, accessing unwanted websites, etc.
Insider threat detection
Security threats caused by insiders are difficult to detect when compared to external hacking and malware infections. Below, we'll dive in to why both unintentional and deliberate insider threats continue to go undetected.
Unintentional insider threats
Current employees or business affiliate often aren't aware of the security risks they pose to the organization. A single click on a harmful website can download dangerous code or start a malware infection. Hackers can also gain access to the network through outdated patches or outdated authentication methods that are easy to crack.
Malicious insider threats
Insiders with a motive to expose critical business information may do so for financial gain or retaliation. They already have access to sensitive data and know the security measures they have to bypass to get their loot. These insider activities may take years to discover or may go completely undetected.
Unintentional or deliberate, these threats are cause for alarm in any organization. Owing to the difficulty in detection, comprehensive measures must be taken to nip insider attacks in the bud.
Insider threat indicators
It is essential to spot telltale signs of an insider attack as early as possible. Be on the lookout for:
Increase in security incidents
Track and inspect critical systems and processes in your organization for vulnerabilities. Spot and investigate the source of every incident to eliminate even the slim possibility of an insider attack.
Suspicious employee behavior
Spot suspicious behavior of employees such as disengagement at work and lack of collaboration. Monitor these employees' activities such as unauthorized file accesses or changes with more caution.
Use of orphaned or stale user accounts
Locate and roll back the privileges and access rights of former employees. Isolate and analyze any orphaned user accounts showing activity.
Suspicious data transfer activities
Be on alert for sudden spikes in data transfer activities. Identify who transferred the file, why, and when to investigate the action further, and determine if it was necessary.
Overexposed critical data
Periodically review what and how much of your critical data is accessible to vendors and third parties. Ensure the transfer of data to such entities is safe and secure.
Unusual data access patterns
Monitor files accessed during non-business hours or in high volumes. Investigate data requests that exceed job requirements.
Insider threat prevention
Pursue a holistic approach to effectively defend business-critical information from insider attacks. Be diligent in detecting early signs and safeguarding organizational data to avoid data loss.
Evaluate data privacy policies implemented in your organization periodically. Review what data is in use, where, and how it flows in and out of the authorized network. Fighting insider threats is a continuous process. Ask yourself the following questions when considering data security strategies:
- Are you implementing the principle of least privilege throughout your organization?
- Are your employees and partners well informed and educated on security risks?
- Do you have data discovery software to find instances of sensitive data to secure their use and access?
- Do you review unusual user activity?
- Do you have insider threat detection software for prompt detection of suspicious file activity?
If the answer to even one of the above questions is "no," it's time to reevaluate your data security strategies against internal threats. Employ a combination of physical controls and software tools to shield your organization from data loss. Focus on constantly monitoring data, users, and security incidents, so you can take swift remedial action when needed.