The Five Types of Insider Threats to Look Out For

Insider threats can be just as damaging as external attacks. Knowing how to identify and prevent these attacks is critical for organizations of all shapes and sizes.

Nowadays, the dangers of external cybersecurity threats are well-known and appreciated. While it’s great that organizations are prioritizing protection against outside threats, the dangers of insider threats are often overlooked as a result. These threats are on the rise, with 70% of organizations reporting more frequent insider attacks in the past year — making them equally deserving of a place in the cybersecurity conversation.

Insider cybersecurity incidents can be perpetrated by anyone with a connection to the inner workings of an organization. This includes everyone from interns to regular employees and even to business leaders. Insider attacks involve the exploitation of internal data and system access privileges. Given that these internal threat actors are operating from a position of trust, they are often able to circumvent security measures. That means that the attacks and the individuals behind them are often only discovered months after the incident.

According to Verizon’s 2019 Insider Threat Report, 57% of data breaches that organizations experienced during the last year involved insider threats. More specifically, the report showed that 20% of all cybersecurity incidents and 15% of data breaches are due to a misuse of privileges. While it’s not always possible to predict how users might abuse privileges, taking proactive steps against insider threats can reduce organizational vulnerabilities. To understand how to identify and prevent insider security threats, it is important to first review the different types of threats to look out for.

The Five Types of Insider Threats to Watch Out For

In its recent annual report, Verizon identified five broad types of insider threats that can affect an organization. These are:

The Careless Worker: These are employees who engage in inappropriate behavior, much of which can fall into the category of “Shadow IT.” This behavior tends to not be malicious, but can include misappropriating resources, breaking acceptable use policies, using unapproved workarounds, and installing unauthorized applications — all actions which can open up new vulnerabilities in an organization.

The Inside Agent: This is an insider who is approached by external bad actors and used as part of a larger scheme. Bad actors will recruit or bribe susceptible insiders to steal information on their behalf.

The Disgruntled Employee: These are insiders who try to harm their organization by destroying data or disrupting business activity. They often feel that they have been wronged by the organization in some way, and attempt to lash out as an act of revenge.

The Malicious Insider: These actors have access to corporate assets and use existing privileges to access information for their own personal gain. This might involve leaking sensitive information to the press for compensation or selling data on the black market.

The Feckless Third-Party: These are business partners and third-party organizations that compromise security through misuse, negligence, or malicious use of company assets.

Identifying and Preventing Insider Threats

Given that all of the above attacks involve people who have gained some level of trust within an organization, it can be difficult to both identify and prevent them from happening. In order to reduce the likelihood of an attack — or mitigate its impact if it does occur — it is important to constantly be on the lookout for potential indicators of malicious activity.

Some suspicious behaviors to watch out for are:

  • Attempts to access data or systems that are unrelated to an individual’s typical role and responsibilities.
  • Attempts to bypass security.
  • Violating corporate policies.
  • Displays of disgruntled behavior toward coworkers.
  • Data hoarding and copying files from sensitive folders.

In addition to simply being on alert for suspicious behavior, there are some more active countermeasures that can be taken both to reduce risk and to improve response in case of an attack. These include:

  • Performing penetration testing and vulnerability scanning to identify gaps in a security strategy, including potential ways that insider threats might be able to maneuver within the business.
  • Refining and conducting threat-hunting activities including behavioral intelligence, Dark Web monitoring, and endpoint detection and response (EDR).
  • Applying data security measures as well as identity and access management measures to increase confidentiality and protect access to the business environment.
  • Implementing security measures for personnel. These can involve security awareness training for all staff, as well as human resource controls such as employee exit processes. This goes hand-in-hand with implementing physical security measures to reduce access to sensitive information.
  • Employing endpoint security measures to better deter, monitor, track, collect, and analyze user-related activity.

With all of these countermeasures, it is essential that all efforts be coordinated with strong communication between departments and individuals. This can increase the likelihood of identifying a potential insider threat in its early stages — and will improve security overall, regardless of insider threats.

Fighting Insider Threats With a Partner

Given that insider threats are initiated by people already within your organization, you can’t rely on traditional perimeter security measures alone to protect your business. The only way to secure yourself against these threats is to take the right cybersecurity approach. That means having high-quality, multifaceted security solutions in place to detect insider threats and reduce their impact.

At Turn-key Technologies, Inc. (TTI), our certified team of experts are ready to help your organization tackle insider threats head on. With our managed services offerings, you can implement all the best countermeasures, from threat intelligence to role-based access management. With nearly 30 years of experience in network management and security, TTI gives you the best chance of staying secure as you work to avoid potentially devastating insider breaches.

By Craig Badrick


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