What you need to know about insider threats

Cyberattacks and data breaches are often portrayed in the news as if they’re always performed by cunning hackers. Just this year alone, ransomware attacks have taken center stage, as they have become more sophisticated and frequent. These trends usually result in companies employing multiple security measures to protect their network perimeter from external attackers. However, what many companies need to know is that their personnel are just as much of a threat. That’s why your security framework must also account for insider threats.

What is an insider threat?

An insider threat is a cybersecurity risk posed by individuals who intentionally or accidentally misuse their access privileges to harm an organization. These insiders could refer to anyone who has authorized access to company assets, including employees, company executives, and business partners. In fact, there are five main types of insider threats:

  1. Malicious insiders – These are employees who deliberately harm your company through data breaches, theft, and cyberattacks.
  2. Negligent employees – These are workers who unintentionally expose the company to security risks, whether through clicking on fraudulent emails, using weak passwords, and leaving devices unattended.
  3. Inside agents – These are typically corporate spies or employees who were coerced by an external group to sabotage or breach your company’s systems.
  4. Third-party partners – These are contractors or trusted business partners that may intentionally or accidentally compromise your data due to having elevated access permissions on your systems.
  5. Former employees – These are ex-employees who may want to exact revenge on your company by stealing intellectual property or using their still-active company accounts.

How can businesses prevent insider threats?

Mitigating insider threats requires businesses to utilize a combination of management and technical strategies. Here’s what you need to do to protect your business:

Monitor your systems for abnormal behavior

Security monitoring and analytics tools allow you to identify insider threats early. These tools use machine learning technology to understand network performance baselines and how your systems typically behave on a normal day. When security monitoring software detects abnormal user or network activities, it will immediately alert you of the potential issue so you can immediately take decisive action. Abnormal behaviors indicative of an insider threat include:

  • Increased attempts to self-escalate access privileges
  • Attempts to disable security software to evade detection
  • Attempts to access data unrelated to job functions (e.g., production staff trying to access financial data)
  • Unusual data deletion and modification activity
  • High data download and upload volume
  • Large amounts of data copied into storage devices or emailed to recipients outside the organization
  • Using unsanctioned storage devices and apps for work

If the system detects attempts to exfiltrate company data, administrators should instantly disable network access to particular users and filter outbound emails.

Keep an eye on your high-risk employees

Observing your employees’ behavior patterns, especially if they have high authorization levels, may also help you spot a potential insider threat. In many cases, employees who have resentments toward the company could turn into malicious insiders or former employees seeking revenge. The source of these resentments could be a number of reasons such as frequently having to work during off-hours, burnout, or even a lack of engagement with work. Other employees may have had a sudden change in financial status or debt, which may motivate them to pursue illegal behavior like selling company secrets.

Implement access controls

Multiple access controls are necessary to protect your physical and digital assets from unauthorized access. For starters, issuing security passes and installing biometric or ID scanning systems on doorways can prevent rogue insiders from infiltrating critical areas of your business like server and archive rooms.

As for securing digital assets, you can use access management software to adopt the principle of least privilege. This means that workers and third parties should only have access to apps and data they need to perform their job. An entry-level sales representative, for example, shouldn’t be able to access trade secrets, financial information, and system administrator platforms. You can even deny access to sensitive data if users connect to unsecured networks without connecting to the company’s virtual private network or are using vulnerable and outdated devices.

Related article: Cybersecurity tips for small- and medium-sized businesses

Establish a structured exit process

When employees leave the organization, you should have clear exit procedures in place. This involves changing passwords, decommissioning user accounts, and revoking access privileges to company systems. You’ll also need to collect any company-issued equipment, such as laptops, phones, and security badges. You may also have to get former employees to sign a nondisclosure agreement and discuss the legal ramifications of noncompliance. These exit processes minimize the chances of a disgruntled former employee exacting revenge on your company.

Provide comprehensive security training

Regular security training programs are one of the best solutions for preventing data breaches caused by negligent employees. These programs cover topics like following password best practices, implementing data sharing and device usage policies, avoiding public Wi-Fi networks, and recognizing social engineering scams like phishing. An effective security training program should also include practical exercises and phishing simulations so that the good habits you’re trying to instill in your employees sink in.

What should you do if an insider breach occurs?

Equally important to preventing insider threats is knowing what to do when a data breach occurs. Your first priority, in this case, should be to contain the threat by tightening access restrictions and disabling accounts. You’ll then need to restore any deleted data with data backups, scan and remove malware from your computers, and reactivate any disabled security measures.

When you’ve remediated the threat, you’ll need to perform a forensic investigation and appropriately reprimand the insiders responsible. Finally, you must notify regulatory agencies and the individuals whose information was compromised about the security incident and what actions you’ve taken.

While there are plenty of elements that go into preventing and responding to insider threats, you don’t have to worry about doing it all alone. SpectrumWise is a top-notch managed IT services provider that offers the tools and services necessary to keep your business safe from insider threats. Call us now to get full-scale protection.


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