What is an insider threat?

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Today's organizations face numerous challenges in securing their sensitive data and digital assets against evolving cyberthreats. While large-scale cyberattacks often dominate the headlines, insider threats can be equally devastating to organizations.

What is an insider threat?

Insider threats are security risks that originate from users having legitimate access to an organization's network and databases. These users can be current or former employees or third-party vendors or partners with legitimate user credentials. Insider attacks are not easy to identify since the user who causes them has valid access and authorization to the network, thereby making it difficult to distinguish them from normal users.

Classification of insider threats

Not all insider threats are caused by users with a malicious intent. Sometimes, lack of awareness and negligence of insiders can result in compromised security. Depending on the user's intention, insider threats can be classified into the following types:

1. Malicious insider threats

These threats are caused by insiders who seek to harm their organization or exploit confidential data for their personal gain. Their insider knowledge often makes it easier to carry out damaging attacks without raising suspicion.

2. Unintentional insider threats

These threats are accidental and often caused due to inadequate training and lack of security protocol awareness. They can include actions like mishandling sensitive data and falling for phishing emails.

3. Negligent insider threats

Negligent insiders may not have a malicious intention but their careless actions cause significant harm. This could involve failing to follow security policies, misconfiguring systems, or using weak passwords. Careless users can be of two kinds:

  • i. Pawns: These are the users who are tricked into malicious acts through social engineering practices. For example, a user who has been manipulated by an imposter to disclose sensitive data.
  • ii. Goofs: These are users who don't adhere to security procedures. For example, a user who stores sensitive client data on their personal device, knowing that it is against security principles.

The impact of insider attacks looms larger than other cyberattacks due to the combination of legitimate access, inherent trust, and advanced privileges possessed by insiders. With an intimate knowledge of the systems and the ability to navigate around defenses, they can operate undetected for extended periods.

A recent major insider attack happened at Twitter in 2020, when several high-profile accounts, including Elon Musk, Barack Obama, and Bill Gates, were compromised. Attackers illicitly accessed these accounts and posted tweets endorsing a Bitcoin scam where users were promised double returns if they sent Bitcoin to a particular address. As these misleading tweets went viral, they created significant unrest and uncertainty among the platform's users. The breach stemmed from a well-executed social engineering strategy, wherein attackers used phishing techniques on Twitter employees to secure login details. Twitter's security personnel acted swiftly to take down the fraudulent tweets and regain control of the affected accounts. The incident raised serious questions about the security of social media platforms and highlighted the risk of insider threats.

A typical insider attack flow

The steps in an insider attack can be outlined as follows:

  • 1Define the goal of the attack and identify target systems that align with the motives.
  • 2Leverage the legitimate access to breach the system.
  • 3Escalate privileges and use the knowledge about the organization's infrastructure to exploit vulnerabilities that grant higher access.
  • 4Identify and collect the targeted data.
  • 5Obscure traces by deleting logs and altering timestamps to avoid detection.
  • 6Exfiltrate the stolen data from the organizaton's network and exit the system.

Detecting insider threats

Detecting insider threats can be an exhaustive job as it demands a constant watch for any anomalous user behavior.

Some of the indicators and behaviors to detect insider threats are:

  • Unusual access patterns, such as employees trying to log in to systems or files outside of their assigned duties or working hours.
  • User behavior that suddenly changes, such as accessing an abnormally large amount of data or copying private material to portable storage devices. Any unauthorized use or efforts to escalate privileges should set off alarms.
  • Major changes in an employee's behavior at work, attitude, or unexpected financial difficulty may point to possible insider threat motivations.
  • Indicators of unauthorized activity can also include a spike in failed login attempts, odd login locations, or recurrent access to prohibited regions.

Mitigating insider threats

A multi-layered defense plan is necessary to deal with insider threats. Security tools with features like user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) and threat intelligence can be crucial aspects of this strategy. By creating baselines of typical user and entity behavior, ML-based UEBA can detect deviations that can be indicative of malicious behavior. This, combined with real-time network monitoring, allows for the prompt detection of aberrant activity, giving security personnel the chance to take action before any serious harm is caused.

A SIEM solution that can integrate UEBA with threat intelligence and incident response will help your organization deal with insider threats.

Furthermore, the danger of unauthorized access can be decreased by adopting stringent access restrictions, the least privilege principle, and continuous surveillance of privileged accounts.

Regular staff education and awareness campaigns are also essential parts of mitigation. Fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness encourages employees to feel responsible for reporting questionable activities right away, allowing for timely intervention.

How to detect and mitigate insider threats with Log360
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Detect and mitigate insider threats using Log360

Learn how you can utilize powerful features, including UEBA, correlation rules, and incident workflow, and customize them to detect and remediate insider threats.

  • Detection insider threats through UEBA
  • Detection insider threats through correlation
  • Real-time alerts
  • Investigation through reports

Detection insider threats through UEBA

With the help of advanced analytics, Log360's UEBA develops a baseline of typical behavior patterns in order to spot anomalies like erratic login times. Contextual analysis reduces false positives by considering elements like resource types and user roles. Prioritization is achieved via risk scoring, and by correlating diverse data sources, you can get a full picture of your network security. Generate alerts and reports for suspicious activities, aiding the swift investigation of potential insider threats. Continuous machine learning refines the system's understanding of evolving threats in your network.

Detection insider threats through correlation

Insiders can carry out attacks in multiple steps that are not obviously related to each other using multiple devices. Log360's powerful correlation engine can track activities across various devices and connect these not-so-related events seamlessly into a coherent pattern, which can indicate an insider attack.

Event ID: 4624 indicates a successful logon attempt from a local computer.

Event ID: 4663 monitors the access attempts to critical file system objects which have their own system access control list.

Real-time alerts

By continuously monitoring user and entity behavior and setting correlation rules, Log360 can quickly identify anomalies that might indicate an insider's malicious intent. Real-time alerts are triggered based on predefined rules, such as unusual data access, unauthorized system changes, or abnormal login patterns. Once an alert is raised, predefined workflows can be implemented and security teams can promptly investigate and take appropriate actions to mitigate risks before they escalate into security events.

Here's an example workflow:

1. Containment: Disable user or device; suspend the suspected user account and system temporarily.

2. Network safeguarding: Block the suspected system's inbound and outbound traffic to mitigate data transfer attempts.

3. Notification and alerting: Notify the suspected user that their activities are being monitored and alert the security team to take immediate action.

4. System analysis: Review the running processes on the suspected system and run cleanup scripts if any unauthorized malware is detected. Restart the system to ensure that the malicious process is terminated.

Investigation through reports

Log360 offers a thorough overview of user behavior by collecting and visualizing data from numerous sources over time. This helps security teams find trends, anomalies, and correlations that can point to risky behavior. Analysts can delve into certain events and circumstances with the help of filtering capabilities for thorough investigation. Reports from Log360 make it easier to spot odd access patterns, data transfers, or system interactions, assisting organizations in efficiently identifying insider threats in advance.

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