Insider Threat Guide: What They Are and How To Find Them

  • By Emmett
  • Jun 03, 2022

Insider Threat

Maintaining digital safety is quickly becoming a priority for companies in every industry and sector. Utilizing cybersecurity best practices can keep your clients, employees, and management team safe from data leaks and malware attacks. But what if the threat isn’t coming from outside your company? When it comes to insider threats, you may have to deal with a cybercriminal within your own ranks.

What is an Insider Threat?

Insider Threat Definition: a cybersecurity risk originating within a company’s internal staff. 

These attackers tend to be a disgruntled former employee or current staff member with extensive access to valuable and sensitive data. This can be particularly worrisome if the employee is able to utilize privileged accounts and directly meddle with vital operating systems within a business. 

There are several types of insider threats:

  • Mole: This is an outsider who has infiltrated your organization specifically to access sensitive information, usually by posing as an employee or business associate. 
  • Malicious: A malicious insider threat is an employee who has become angry or dissatisfied and uses the information they already have to abuse their access. This can involve directly damaging essential systems, selling privileged information to competitors, or targeting specific employees or management staff for malware attacks. 
  • Careless: A non-intentional form of insider threat, careless insiders expose your company to outside threats due to incompetence. This is far more common than malicious insiders and usually involves exposure of data due to operator error. A good example of this would be an employee downloading malware by accident onto a company computer.

Insider Threat Prevention

What Are Some Potential Insider Threat Indicators?

It's essential to educate yourself on the signs of insider threats; Insider threat awareness can prevent attacks, saving you the money and time it would take to repair the affected systems. How many potential insider threat indicators your company has depends on how much you monitor your employees and what protocols you have in place for protection.

There are three primary signs of an insider threat:

  1. Traffic Volume: If you find that an employee is transferring large amounts of data and isn’t working on a project that would require that volume, that should be a red flag. 
  2. Access or Utilization at Strange Times: Unless an employee asks permission or you specifically assign them to work late hours, accessing networks at certain times can be a threat indicator. If an employee signs into your network in the middle of the night, ask them what activity was taking place. 
  3. Unusual Activity: If an employee is accessing files and systems they have no business utilizing or using resources they shouldn’t be, talk to them about this behavior. Unusual activity is one of the biggest indicators of an insider threat. 

How to Protect Against Insider Threats

It's always a good idea to establish prevention and response procedures when it comes to insider threats. That way, if the worst happens, you can protect and recover as much of your company’s data as possible. There are a couple of steps you can take to mitigate potential damage:

  1. Establish and Enforce Policies

    You should create specific policies that address insider threats, informing your employees, and addressing the behaviors that could lead management to identifying them as an issue. Every member of your staff should be aware of the correct security protocols to follow as well as what information they are allowed to share outside of work. That way employees will not only understand what systems and data they should utilize but what to look for if they notice a coworker is acting in an unusual manner. 

  2. Safeguard Your Most Important Assets

    Identifying which of your systems and assets are the most critical to your company's operation is the foundation of dealing with insider threats. These assets include: 

    By compiling a list of essential assets, you can establish priorities for how they will be protected. If something is required for your business to operate or could directly affect the experience your customers or clients have with your service, it needs to be safeguarded. Less vital systems will also have defense procedures, but allocating resources to the most important assets first can be useful if an insider threat pops up. 

  3. Improve Visibility and Increase Transparency

    Keeping a thorough record of employee actions and system access can be invaluable. If you suspect an insider attack could occur, these records will establish the basis for your inquiry. It can also help you eliminate possible suspects and avoid the awkward experience of wrongfully accusing a staff member. Employee tracking can also help with identifying an attacker after the fact. Advancements in deception technology make this more possible than ever, allowing you to detect zero-day and advanced attacks in real-time. 

  4. Address Issues With Company Culture

    One of the best ways to prevent an insider attack is to identify what issues could cause an employee to be disgruntled. Improving employee satisfaction is a great way to safeguard your assets, not to mention increase the productivity of your company. Survey employees and ask what improvements they would like to see around the workplace. You should also consider giving staff with privileged access consistent raises to keep them happy. Whatever you can do to keep your employees satisfied and working hard should be done. This can keep your business safe, profitable, and efficient. 

Insider Threats are Scary, But Manageable with the Right Tools

Educating yourself and your employees about insider threats is a great first step to avoiding them. If you suspect an insider threat has leaked your or your employees' personal data, you can conduct an identity theft scan to see what has happened to your information. Otherwise, keep an eye out for the indicators that an insider threat may be brewing. That way, you can stop the attacker before they have the chance to do real damage. 

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