Insider Threat

What is an Insider Threat?  

An insider threat is a security risk that involves someone within the targeted organization. They can include, but are not limited to current and former employees, business associates, and contractors. Insider threats are hazardous for organizations because they can access private information or privileged accounts. Traditional security measures typically focus on external threats, meaning they often miss insider threats. 

Types of Insider Threat

There are three main types of insider threats: 

The Malicious Insider  

A malicious insider is someone, typically a disgruntled employee, who intentionally abuses their position inside an organization to steal information for personal gain. They pose the most significant threat to an organization because they have access to privileged information, are familiar with security policies, procedures, and vulnerabilities, and colleagues often trust them.

The Accidental Insider

The most common form of insider threat, accidental insiders, are people who unwittingly expose private information or systems to an outside threat. Examples include:

They are also known as negligent insiders or inadvertent insiders. 

The Mole  

A mole is an outsider masquerading as an employee or partner so they can gain access to privileged networks or information. Unlike the malicious insider, they typically join an organization with the sole purpose of exploiting their employment to compromise the organization. 

How to Protect Against Insider Threats

To protect your organization from insider threats, consider the following steps: 

Provide Cybersecurity Awareness Training

While less useful for protecting against malicious insiders, consistent, comprehensive cybersecurity awareness training can reduce the risk of moles or accidental insiders. Ensuring that all employees can, for example, spot a phishing link, recognize a scam, or even spot and report a potential mole could save an organization from dire reputational and financial consequences. 

Carry Out Company-Wide Risk Assessments  

Understanding your critical assets, their vulnerabilities, and the threats that could affect them goes a long way towards protecting them – including against insider threats. Performing a risk assessment also allows you to implement fail-safe mechanisms or safeguards against potential insider threats, ensuring you can react quickly should the worst happen.

Implement Strict Access Management Policies 

By putting strict access controls in place, you can protect your essential assets from insider threats. Access controls ensure that sensitive data or networks can only be accessed by those who need them, as well as preventing them from carrying out any unauthorized or unnecessary activities. 

Look Out for Suspicious Behavior 

Staying vigilant for unusual or suspicious behavior is the most effective way of protecting against insider threats. Behaviors such as mass file uploads or downloads typically indicate malicious intent, and detecting this early can seriously mitigate damage.

The Future of Insider Threats

Insider threats are on the rise. Part of the reason for this is that sensitive data is more accessible than ever. Gone are the days when staff would have to rifle through mammoth filing cabinets, in full view of their colleagues, to steal company information; today, employees can access sensitive data from the safety of their desk – or even home – making becoming an insider threat both easier and less risky.

Moreover, corporate disillusion is more pervasive than ever. As the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, many employees may view acting as an insider threat as an attractive opportunity to supplement their income and level the playing fields with employers. We’re also likely to see an increase in large-scale layoffs in coming years as organizations look to cut costs amidst a declining global economy and staff who feel they have been unfairly dismissed may become an insider threat to seek revenge against their former employer. For more essential cybersecurity definitions, check out our other blogs below:

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Insider Threat
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