Insider threats: How to spot them and stop them

One of cybersecurity’s most daunting hurdles is recognizing and stopping insider threats. Employees don’t need to hack in, they already have access to systems from within, so it’s a matter of copying the data and not hacking in to get it. Defending against this vulnerability is a must for organizations, and it often requires organizations to change their mindset concerning access and access control regarding resources and data to improve security.

Insider threats, simply defined

insider threats

Simply put, an insider threat or risk is often posed by employees or contractors who bring a risk of fraudulent activity or data breach from within the organization, and that has the potential to endanger the organization. This threat could be deliberate — to cause harm, however, could also be accidental. Nonetheless, it being an accident does not reduce the resultant impact. The threat could target certain sensitive information, programs, or operations, disclose intelligence, or target and harm a particular person or particular organization.

Therefore, an insider threat can take many forms, from absent-minded employees that fail to follow basic security protocols to an employee intentionally trying to harm the organization (a malicious insider) to a credential thief. Any action by an insider that could adversely affect an organization falls into the category of insider threat.

Most organizations know how to defend themselves against external threats; however, it’s vital to note that insider threats can do severe damage to a business, and appropriate defenses should be considered. If information is stolen or exfiltrated, this can also leave an organization vulnerable to insider attacks.

As insider threats are sometimes based on negligence or lack of understanding, it is vital to educate employees about cybersecurity and the importance of cybersecurity.

The insider threat is one of the most critical vulnerabilities in cybersecurity. Moreover, it is challenging to defend against, as it involves an insider. Primarily, organizations tend to aim most security measures at protecting the company and its customers, and do not focus as much on their staff or the risk that they may pose. This is often a result of many security measures only being implemented when a risk prevails to the customer’s system and not the company’s structure itself.

This threat must be defended against to prevent arising risks, which could include theft or loss of critical information, loss of productivity, damage to organizational assets, financial impacts, legal impacts, loss of customer and stakeholder trust, and compromise of brand reputation. Many of which can have lasting consequences.

Risk evaluation

ISO 27001 certification

The following aspects tend to increase an organization’s risk of insider threats, so if organizations prioritize defending against or resolving these aspects, security improvements can be made.

  • Employees are not adequately educated or trained to understand and apply laws or regulatory requirements related to their work, affecting the organization’s security.
  • Employees are unaware of the steps they should continuously take to ensure that the devices they use for work purposes are always secured.
  • Employees are sending highly confidential data to unsecured locations, exposing the organization to risk.
  • Employees do not comply with the organization’s security policies to simplify daily work tasks.
  • Employees expose the organization to risk through not ensuring devices and services are patched and upgraded to the latest versions at all times.

Defense measures to consider

  1. Build a security culture

The first step towards effective and secure system security is to build a culture of information security; this starts at the top – at the C-level and the C-level needs to lead the culture, so it permeates throughout the organization’s DNA.

Employees must be made aware of their roles and responsibilities within the company. They must know how their work affects other systems of the business, the networks, and the business’s security. Everyone should understand that the data that they input into the system has to be kept secure at all times.

  1. Employee education and training

Additionally, employees need to be educated on how to protect the company’s infrastructure. If they feel that they are being targeted and being excessively managed and monitored by the management, they may become lax and irresponsible or bypass cybersecurity controls in their job. So, it is essential to get the balance right.

If the company does not take due care with regards to its employee’s security and usability aspects, then they may not be able to provide employees with adequate and necessary protection.

However, if the system administrator and the IT department are aware of the risks and the importance of keeping their systems secure, then they will make sure that they monitor the network regularly and monitor the security of every computer. They will also ensure that all employees understand the risks and responsibilities they need to fulfill to prevent their systems from being compromised by outsiders.

  1. Privileged access and networks

Regarding network security breaches, hackers will use various tactics to gain access to a company’s systems. They may try to gain access to the network through the systems administrator or use the system’s default passwords to get onto the network. They could gain access via employee’s usernames and passwords. Social engineering is a tactic that is often utilized.

Network administrators need to know where the employees are working at all times so that they can detect any security risks immediately. The network administrators should also be informed of any changes to the system, which will help prevent intruders from acquiring unauthorized access.

Employees should be made aware of their responsibilities with regards to securing the network and should ensure security policies are adhered to and followed at all times. The employees should be responsible enough to report any security risks as soon as possible so that management can react accordingly.

Access to systems should be limited to what is required for job function, and the principle of least privilege should always be utilized.

  1. System

    insider threats

A good system monitoring program can detect a breach before the system is accessed. Therefore, the employees must be aware of the associated risks of insiders, partners, and outsiders intruding into their systems. They should know what to look out for and learn how to report it. This knowledge will help them to avert problems in the future.

There are many types of security systems that can protect a company’s information from intruders. However, there are certain things that the network monitoring software should be able to do. It should identify any network-related problems such as security threats, unauthorized access, illegal activities, and other forms of misuse of the system.

Additionally, network monitoring software should be able to alert an employee of security issues that are present in the network. The software should be able to stop unauthorized use of the system so that the network will not be abused or manipulated in any way.

A monitoring system is essential to keeping a network safe from threats.

  1. Early detection — behavioral analytics

Early detection of potential insider threats can increase the likelihood that they will be detected and prevented. By understanding attackers’ motivation, security teams can be more proactive in their approach to countering insider threats, and overall security will improve, regardless of insider threats.

Synchronizing insider threat programs with people, policies, processes, and technologies will help in the understanding and deterring of risks posed by insiders within the organization.

Tools that use behavioral analytics can be powerful cybersecurity; they can profile users and predict insider threats based on employee’s behavior.

Working together to tackle insider threats

To tackle or at least stay abreast of the risk brought by insider threats, organizations must raise awareness of the insider threat among employees. This will help organizations identify, deter, and mitigate risk.

Insider threats continue to pose a serious risk to organizations. It’s important to realize that the risk expands to the organization’s customers as well. Conversely, organizations can implement several strategies to mitigate the risk and potential security incidents arising from the threat.

While the insider threat risk can’t be eliminated if organizations take the appropriate steps and make security a priority, the risk can be reduced. Given that people mostly initiate insider threats within the organization (employees), that is where organizations should focus their security efforts most.

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