The Call From Inside the House: Understanding and Preventing Insider Threat

Insider threats pose significant risks to organizations of all sizes but are unfortunately often overlooked or misunderstood by security teams. These threats come from individuals with access to an organization’s systems, networks, or data, including employees, contractors, business partners, and former staff.

One reason insider threats are disregarded is the desire to trust employees and coworkers. While some of these insiders may intentionally pose significant threats, a considerable portion of incidents are unintentional, resulting from human error. Even well-meaning staff members can make mistakes, such as unintentionally leaking sensitive data by forgetting to turn on their VPN in public settings. 

Regardless of the perpetrator, attacks caused by insider threats made up 60% of cyber attacks in 2021. They are a massive risk to every organization and thus must be regarded as such, particularly because they are quite difficult to detect. People who already have access to sensitive information generally have a level of trust built up with their company that can allow for superiors to overlook suspicious behavior. They also have a general sense of the systems and are able to maneuver the systems and cover up any obvious irregularities. 

Attacks caused by insider threats tend to hit the heart of a company for a number of reasons. For example, official credentials stolen or used authentically by a malicious insider allow unsuspicious and deep-cutting access. 

These ‘heart-hitter’ attacks and even smaller-scale attacks can lead to massive data leaks and financial setbacks. If sensitive data is leaked from a malicious actor or a ransomware organization, it could lead to massive financial reparations for victims and a lack of trust in the organization going forwards. After all, no one wants to send medical records to a hospital whose patients’ files are always being leaked. If the bad actor was skilled enough they could even stay hidden in the organization’s resources and gather sensitive information over long periods that would lead to an even greater loss for the company. 

Although the risk posed by insider threats is elusive, there are measures to mitigate or prevent such attacks:. 

  • Zero-trust policies: Networks should be designed in a way that, by default, a company assumes that every employee could be used as a point of access in an attack and implements access control. 
  • Access Control: When employees leave the company their access must be revoked immediately. Passwords should never be shared among employees.
  • Asset Inventories: Asset inventories are up to date and extensive list of critical assets. It is important to keep these kinds of lists so no assets go unmonitored or unprotected. 
  • Data Loss Prevention: Data Loss Prevention, often referred to as DLP, is a set of steps, plans, and technologies that are put in place to mitigate and alert to the misuse of data within the company. This can prevent data leakage and exfiltration.  
  • Employee Training and Security Awareness: Ensuring that your employees are aware of the risks they pose is an exceedingly important aspect of Insider Threat. Many employees aren’t aware of the potential risks they pose to the company, and making them aware of this can greatly improve your security measures.
  • Incident Response Plan: An Incident Response Plan involves having a comprehensive plan in place that a company can follow when a cyber attack occurs. An effective incident response plan is put into action immediately after an incident occurs, aims to mitigate any damage done, and prevents further harm. Depending on the nature of the company, this plan may also address handling any potential public fallout.

By adopting these practices, a company can significantly enhance its cybersecurity posture and protect itself from insider threats more effectively, setting it apart from competitors in terms of security preparedness.