What is an Insider Threat? Definition, Types, & Examples

By Haseeb Awan

The most significant cybersecurity risk comes from employees already working for the company, even though modern businesses are increasing their defences against external attacks. Insiders cause more than half of all cybersecurity incidents, which poses a severe risk to practically every company.

The Rising Cost of Insider Threats

So who are insiders exactly? Why should your business be worried, too? In a nutshell, insiders would be any users of an organization's internal systems who unintentionally or knowingly abuse, alter, or remove sensitive information. It can include independent contractors, personnel, outside vendors, and associates in the supply chain.

Check the case of Tesla, where a worker accuses of disclosing business proprietary information outside the corporation to comprehend the harm insiders may cause. The organization sued the former worker for hacking Tesla's production operating system and sending gigabytes of material to unaffiliated parties, comprising hundreds of private photos and videos of Tesla's manufacturing techniques. He further charges with continuing to routinely export data from Tesla's system to other parties even after leaving the business. Tesla claimed the former worker was retaliating after being forcibly transferred to a new position inside the business.

Similarly, an ex-Apple worker accuses of obtaining intellectual property related to the company's self-driving car effort and giving it to Xmotors. This rival business recruited him in China. According to reports, the worker stole Apple data and airdropped several of it from his smartphone to his wife's laptop. He also accuses of stealing a box of electronics that contained a circuit board and Linux server. After the worker's network activity "rose rapidly" following a journey back from China, Apple became aware of the incident.

These are only two instances of how insiders can jeopardize a company. Insiders are storing and accessing corporate information on a range of cloud storage sites and personal devices as more businesses adopt digital workplace and remote work, causing a new collection of cybersecurity concerns that are challenging to recognize and control.

As per the Ponemon Institute, the frequency of insider-caused cybersecurity breaches grew by 47% between 2018 and 2020. Additionally, the average annual cost for insider attacks has skyrocketed to an incredible $11.45 million.

Insider Threats: Types

Insider threats are a people issue more than a technical issue. Additionally, those who violate an organization's data may do so unintentionally or deliberately. Three types of individuals can usually categorize as insider threats:

Contractor and Employee Negligence:

The most prevalent form of insider threat is negligent contractors and employees. Maybe one of the employees needed to follow the organization's security procedures. They should have asked for multi-factor verification to configure. Or maybe they had information on their device or private cloud. Careless employees cause the bulk of insider security breaches, and the average occurrence costs businesses approximately $300,000.

Disappointed Workers:

Disappointed workers can arise for various reasons, such as being passed up for a promotion, having disagreements with coworkers or bosses, or being fired from the company. While most workers choose to leave the organization, others may seek retaliation against it by compromising its information and systems or stealing data.

Criminal Insiders:

These insiders frequently steal intellectual property and confidential information for monetary benefit. They got hired by online criminals to work for a firm. In other instances, they take independent action and sell a corporation's private data on the underground market. Criminal insiders are the least common type of insider attack, but they also have the potential to do the most economic damage. The Ponemon Institute estimates that a thief or an imposter who obtains credentials costs more than $870,000 on average for each incidence.

Techniques to Detect Insider Threats

Because conventional insider threat detection techniques are ineffective and flawed, companies frequently need help identifying these dangers. It takes a lot of work to investigate and verify insider risks. The sheer volume of alarms from various security solutions has already overburdened SecOps staff. Although these techniques are required to confirm potential risks, analysts must explore each tool separately to comprehend the situation completely.

Furthermore, companies discover that it can be challenging to identify insider threats because the threat action typically mimics typical conduct. Actual credentials use and the typical signals of an "attack" are absent, preventing systems from alerting SecOps. Additionally, attacks typically affect several different systems. It is particularly challenging to recognize and comprehend the breadth of an insider attack due to these factors.

Insider Threat Indicators

The digital and behavioural indicators are the key. Both activities can hint at possibly malicious behaviour that you must check. However, these patterns might be challenging to spot without adequate insight throughout your IT stack.

Which situation can be a sign of a severe insider threat? Among the most typical examples to look for are listed below:

Behavioral Indicators

  • Dissatisfied or disgruntled contractors, workers, or vendors
  • Working during hours that are odd for their time zone
  • Multiple attempts to evade security
  • Grudges or resentment against coworkers and managers
  • Repeatedly breaking the rules of the company
  • Speaking about resigning verbally

Digital Indicators

  • Online behaviour at unprompted, random times
  • Transmitting private or sensitive information via email to unauthorized accounts
  • Looking for confidential material on purpose
  • Accessing information that is either forbidden or unrelated to their work duties
  • Large-scale data downloads are the cause of the unexpected network traffic volume.

The Risks Associated With Insider Threats

Insider threats can be challenging to detect since insiders are frequently trusted individuals with access to private information. Contractors and employees have plenty of opportunity to cause damage before the organization discovers and takes action because it typically requires 77 days for businesses to discover an insider event.

A company can suffer numerous types of harm from insiders. Employees may unintentionally put their login credentials in a dangerous location, which opens the door for a cybercriminal to obtain them. And nefarious insiders can do a range of unpleasant things that can result in thousands of dollars of money damages. Intentionally stealing trade secrets that take years to build might cost a business its competitive edge. They can destroy an organization's data or systems, interrupting business. Additionally, by stealing and selling private information for profit, hackers risk the image of a company.

Insider attacks, unintentional or deliberate, can lead to the loss of investors and consumers, eventually compromising a company's overall revenue and market share.

Guidelines for Defending Against Insider Threats

Safeguard Crucial Assets:

  • Create a solid defence to make insider threats more challenging to accomplish.
  • Decide which of your systems, people, intellectual property, technology, and confidential customer information are your most important assets.
  • Ensure that your security team knows all the details regarding your essential assets and how to safeguard them.

Boost Security Awareness:

  • Monitor employee telemetry and behaviour across many sources using cybersecurity solutions and tools.
  • Enhance siloed technology's ability to communicate with one another and assimilate data more quickly.
  • Look for a reliable case management platform to increase visibility inside your security operations department.

Establish and Uphold Corporate Security Guidelines:

Maintain up-to-date records on security rules and practices, and apply them. Make sure that everyone in the company proactively follows security procedures and knows how to safeguard sensitive information. Only 18% of survey participants from the SANS Institute said they included insider assaults in their incident response strategies.

Foster Culture Expectations: 

In the case of cybersecurity, the adage "an ounce of precluding is worth a pound of treatment" is accurate. Frequent cybersecurity training should enlighten personnel. Work with different teams in your company to raise employee morale and satisfaction.

How to Prepare for Insider Threats?

Insider threats are increasingly more often than you imagine as their number keeps rising. The research found that 61% of businesses had had at least one insider attack in the previous year, and 22% had had at least six consecutive attacks. Sadly, below 20% of companies have created a specialized program to counter insider threats, even though these attacks are becoming more frequent.

So how can your business get ready? Consider the top recommendations below:

Create a Team to Concentrate on Insider Threats:

The process of safeguarding your company from insider threats is distinct from protecting against outside cyberattacks, and it should approach as a different endeavour. Build a dedicated team to oversee this project after securing CEO and board-level support. The team may be small, but each member must be highly reliable and can collaborate with corporate executives from all divisions of the company. Depending on the company, this team may answer to the chief security officer or human resources. Whichever your company finds most effective, make sure you spend money on education so the workforce knows how to handle harmful insiders.

Set the Basic Guidelines:

Establish the parameters for the team's actions, such as how you will keep track of employee behaviour and the kinds of events that warrant an inquiry. Additionally, you must decide how your company will handle potential insider events, control them, escalate them, and fix its networks and operational procedures in the event of insider attacks.

Filter the People and Data You Have:

All organizational data should categorize according to sensitivity, with the most significant degrees of categorization given to private information, credit card data, health-related data, and proprietary information. Employees should categorize according to their roles or functions within the company, and only those who require confidential material for their tasks should give access.

Implement Secure Password Guidelines:

Establish and implement strict regulations to limit access permissions and prevent identity theft. Multiple-factor verification should be a part of this to add additional layers of security. It should also consist of using complicated passwords and changing them frequently.

Data Backup and Encryption:

Ensure you encrypt essential data and restrict access to the credentials needed to decrypt it. Back up important data and restrict access to these backups to safeguard your company from lost data further.

Educate Your Employees:

Frequently educate your staff, outside vendors, and independent contractors on the dangers of insider threats and the measures your company has taken to defend itself. Explain the operation of your program to your staff, and ask them to notify any unusual behaviour to aid in the company's defence against such dangers.

Recognize Suspicious Behavior:

Ensure you know the signs of insider risks. Strange access attempts, recurrent failed login attempts, an abrupt rise in user rights, the downloading and storing of enormous amounts of data, and the transmission of data to unauthorized access storage devices like CDs and USB drives are a few examples. You will better equip your insider threat personnel to combat these dangers if they know what they are up to looking.

Observe Strange Behaviour Using Technology:

Use technology to notify your team of potential problems quickly and identify activity that doesn't comply with the unique regulations of your company. With the technology, monitoring and identifying confidential material should be feasible to find out who is downloading and accessing it. Recognize user risks before they harm your company. It should also be able to gather, evaluate, and notify any unusual user behaviour.

Please Respect Employees' Privacy:

Insiders generally act honourably and ought to be recognized as such. Cover the employee's identification if you see any strange behaviour until you have enough information to initiate an investigation. Keep the investigation to yourself and your insider threat team. Additionally, wait to accuse an individual until the investigation finishes. Since there are several false positives, therefore, every employee should be viewed as a valued team member until there is convincing proof to the contrary.

Conclusion

Companies must take precautions against these kinds of cyber security issues as insider threats to enterprises increase in severity and frequency. Today's organizations can increase worker productivity while protecting their company from these more damaging threats by putting the right technology and strategy in place.

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