What Is An Insider Threat?
The term ‘insider threat’ refers to an act of sabotage or data theft committed by an individual within an organization who has authorized access to the organizational systems and data. An insider threat is a major concern for businesses today, especially since such threats are increasing in frequency and severity. Essentially, an insider threat is any instance of an employee, contractor, or associate using their positions to compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of organizational data and systems.
There are various types of insider threats, including malicious insiders, negligent insiders, and unintentional insiders. Malicious insiders are individuals who deliberately cause harm to an organization by stealing data or causing damage to organizational systems. Negligent insiders, on the other hand, are individuals who cause harm to the organization without intending to do so. Unintentional insiders are individuals who inadvertently cause harm to an organization by not following established procedures and protocols, or by being careless with data.
The impact of an insider threat can be significant. Not only can it result in the loss of sensitive data, but it can also harm an organization’s reputation. Furthermore, insider threats can also be financially costly; in 2019, the average cost of a data breach caused by an insider threat was around $8.2 million.
Real-Life Examples of Insider Threats
One of the most high-profile incidents of insider threats in recent times was caused by Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA). In 2013, Snowden leaked confidential and classified information regarding the US government’s surveillance program. Because he had access to the information as a system administrator, Snowden was able to steal millions of documents from the NSA undetected and subsequently flee to Russia.
Another well-known incident of an insider threat is the RSA security breach of 2011. RSA, a cybersecurity company, was hacked after an employee opened a targeted phishing email containing malware. This enabled the attackers to gain access to RSA’s SecureID tokens, and subsequently, to the systems of their clients.
A more recent example of an insider threat is the InsideSherpa data breach that occurred in 2020. InsideSherpa is an online training platform for students looking to gain experience and start their careers. In February 2020, hackers managed to access the platform’s databases and steal information on 1.3 million users. The breach was the result of a mistake made by an employee who had inadvertently shared login credentials with a contractor, who then used them to access the platform’s databases.
How Can Insider Threats Be Mitigated?
Given the high frequency and severity of insider threats, organizations need to take steps to mitigate them. One of the most effective ways of doing so is through employee training and awareness. Employees need to be educated on how to identify potential threats, such as phishing emails or social engineering attacks. This can be achieved through regular training sessions, mock phishing campaigns, and the adoption of security awareness programs.
Another way of mitigating insider threats is through the use of monitoring and auditing tools. Such tools can help organizations detect and prevent insider threats by monitoring user behavior, noting unusual activity, and detecting any unauthorized access attempts. Furthermore, technical controls, such as data encryption, privileged access management, and data loss prevention, can also be used to curb insider threats.
An insider threat is a major concern for organizations of all sizes and types. Given the frequency and severity of insider threats, organizations must take steps to mitigate them. This requires the adoption of strict security protocols, the use of monitoring and auditing tools, and the implementation of technical controls. Ultimately, the key to preventing insider threats is through employee education and awareness. By ensuring that employees are trained to identify potential threats and by cultivating a culture of security, organizations can ensure that their data remains protected.