The risk of insider threats

It's not just external actors that pose a threat to cyber security. There are more cases of insider threats, where you get hit inside the walls.

29-11-2023 - 6 minute read. Posted in: hacking.

The risk of insider threats

As the cyberthreats increases, we improve and enhance our cyberdefenses with better cybersecurity. Organizations invest in significant resources to protect their assets from external threats, however they often overlook another danger that lurks inside their defensive walls - the insider threat is just as brutal as an external threat.

The Many Faces of Insider Threats

When we say insider threat it stretches across many kinds of insiders. It can be employees of the organization - both current and former - it can be contractors or business partners who have gotten access to organizational information. This information can be about security practices, computer systems and company and customer data. This, of course, poses a great security threat to any organization.

Insider threats are not only limited to a specific type of threat. They can take many forms which thus makes it even more difficult to prevent and detect. Some of the more common types of insider threats are:

  1. Employees who accidentally compromise company security, which often is the result of the lack of awareness training or missing information about company security. They can, for instance, click on phishing emails, use weak passwords or share sensitive information without thinking about it.

  2. Opposed to the unintentional harm an employee can cause in an organization, there are the intentional harm that some people want to cause on an organization. They e.g. seek revenge for something, they can be tempted by financial gains, or they can have ideological motivations to harm or damage the organization.

  3. Outsiders, who wish to damage an organization, are usually the ones doing the most harm. It can be third-parties or vendors that have access to an organization’s data. They might want to exploit this access and leak sensitive information in order to get a financial or business profit out of it.

Why an insider threat is dangerous

Insider threats are one of the most damaging threats to any organization. When an insider decides to misuse their trust from the organization, they can exploit their access to sensitive information, security practices and systems. They can bypass much of the security the organization has implemented since they know how it works, and most likely have gotten access to the database.

Inside threats have a more targeted approach which oftentimes focus on high-value assets because they know how the organization operates and where their high-value assets are. It can be difficult to detect an insider threat since their activities might resemble a routine task - when they in fact are stealing or damaging company data.

Insiders will exploit the trust they have built with the organization, which makes it even easier to get access to operating systems and data. Their attacks can cause severe reputational, financial and operational damage. This can often affect a company for a very long time. Insiders can furthermore plan their attack over a longer period of time, since they raise no suspicion when they are an insider.

Organizations should implement thorough security measures to prevent this; they can implement the principle of privilege, which will limit the amount of data access each employee has.

Challenges in Detecting Insider Threats

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to discovering an insider threat is, that the threat is already within the organization, and they may execute the attack in a manner that might not be obviously out of character to their tasks. Other challenges are:

  • Trying to recognize unusual behavior for each employee. It’s hard to monitor every employee in the organization and how they access files or use systems a certain way. Furthermore, the organization has to keep an eye out for any unusual use of software and data, people working odd hours, or a sudden download of a large amount of data. This can all be indicators of an inside threat.

  • Another thing you should be cautious of in an organization is to analyze and monitor what data leaves the network or internal storages. This can help detect unauthorized data transfer which can be a sign of a malicious insider attempting to steal data or sensitive information.

  • As we’ve mentioned above, user privileges is a good thing to monitor and control if you want to protect your data. It can be time consuming and difficult to monitor and supervise each employee, but it will benefit an organization in the long run.

Prevent insider threats

Preventing insider threats requires a multi-faceted approach that combines technology, policies, and employee education.

It takes a lot of energy and resources to prevent insider threats as they’re more difficult to prevent and detect. However, there are a few things you can do to minimize the risk of becoming a victim of an insider attack.

You can first and foremost educate yourself and your employees with awareness training. This will equip the employees to spot any irregular behavior and online threats they might face. They will furthermore learn the importance of strong passwords, how to identify phishing and how important it is to report suspicious activities.

Secondly, access control is essential to know which employee has access to what in your organization. When their access is minimized to the necessary level for each employee, you reduce the risk of losing important information because an employee was inattentive. You can furthermore see if you’re missing data from a specific area, and monitor the employees who have access to this area to find the culprit. When you’re monitoring the data activity you can use machine learning to identify and analyze any unusual patterns to catch potential exploits.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to make a work culture where every employee feels safe reporting any suspicious activity. They shouldn’t fear reprisal or severe consequences by reporting the activity - it should be encouraged. If you can detect unusual activity early on, you can minimize the damage insider threats can afflict on an organization.

Understand the threat

It’s important to understand the threat that lies within organizations. We might not think that any of our colleagues would want to damage the organization - we might not know every former employee or third-parties.

When and if you invest in thorough cybersecurity, including awareness training and monitoring, the organization can reduce the risk and vulnerability that insider threats pose.

It’s not just about protecting data and sensitive information, it’s also about creating a work culture where everyone in the organization plays a role in securing your data and success. One of the best defenses against cyberthreats are awareness, proactivity and vigilance - with this, you can minimize the risk of becoming a victim of an insider attack.

Author Caroline Preisler

Caroline Preisler

Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.

View all posts by Caroline Preisler

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