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.

What is an Insider Threat?

As technology continues to advance, the threat landscape of data breaches evolves. Organizations can be vulnerable to attacks from both external and internal sources. While most security measures are concentrated on external threats, organizations must be aware of insider threats, which pose a significant risk.

So what exactly is an insider threat? An insider threat is a security risk posed by an individual within an enterprise's network or organization. Insiders who may cause harm can either be current employees, former employees, contractors, vendors, or any other individual who has authorized access to the organization's network, system, or data.

Insider threats can be malicious or unintentional. The former refers to individuals or groups who intentionally cause harm to the organization or its assets. The latter is a threat that arises from staff who inadvertently cause harm due to negligence or human error.

Understanding the Types of Insider Threats

There are different types of insider threats that organizations need to be aware of:

• Malicious Insiders: These are employees or contractors within the organization who intentionally cause damage to the company's reputation, finances, or sensitive data.

• Accidental/Unintentional Insiders: These are employees who inadvertently cause a breach due to negligence or human error.

• Disgruntled Insiders: These are employees who may harbor negative feelings toward their employer or colleagues and might use their access privileges to carry out an attack.

• Third-Party Insiders: These are vendors, contractors, or partners who have authorized access but may pose a threat to the organization due to their negligent or malicious behavior.

• Compromised Insiders: These are insiders whose credentials, systems, or devices have been compromised, allowing an attacker to use their access to cause harm.

What Makes Insiders a Threat?

Insiders typically present a more significant risk than external threats because they already have access to the organization's data, systems, and network. This means they have a more in-depth knowledge of how to navigate through the system and what information controls to target.

Moreover, insiders are harder to detect than external threats because they are likely to avoid behaviors that could raise suspicion. They may also use their seniority, position, or technical expertise to cover up their tracks.

But what motivates insiders to cause harm? There are various reasons why insiders pose a threat to organizations:

• Financial Gain: Insiders might steal and sell confidential information to make quick money.

• Loyalty to Competitors: Insiders might have an allegiance to competing organizations.

• Revenge: Insiders may harbor negative feelings towards the organization and wish to cause harm.

• Personal Grudges: Insiders may want to dish out revenge on colleagues or managers for personal reasons.

• Ideological Reasons: Insiders may have a cause they believe in and feel that exposing the organization's data will further their agenda.

• Negligence: Sometimes, insiders may unwittingly cause harm due to carelessness or a lack of training.

Case Examples of Insider Threats

The rise in insider threats can be attributed to a lack of awareness and oversight of authorized users. Let us analyze some of the famous insider threat incidents that have hit the headlines over the years:

1. Edward Snowden: The former National Security Agency contractor leaked classified documents that revealed the United States government's surveillance techniques. Snowden's actions led to a significant public relations crisis and colossal damage to the agency's reputation.

2. Chelsea Manning: A US army private, Manning, released classified military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, exposing sensitive information. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison but was later granted clemency by the United States President Barack Obama.

3. Equifax Data Breach: In 2017, the credit reporting company faced a data breach that exposed the personal information of over 100 million customers. The breach was caused by the company's failure to patch a software vulnerability, which insiders exploited, leading to a devastating cyber-attack.

4. Capital One: A former software engineer was arrested and charged with carrying out one of the largest data breaches in US history. The attacker exploited a misconfigured web application firewall, stealing the data of over 106 million customers, including Social Security numbers and bank account details.

Preventing Insider Threats

Preventing insider threats requires a combination of physical, technical, and administrative controls. Here are some best practices that organizations can implement to mitigate the risk of an insider threat:

• Implement Access Controls: Access controls ensure that only authorized persons have access to sensitive information. Organizations can achieve this by using identity and access management systems that use multifactor authentication, role-based access control, and audit trails.

• Training and Awareness: Employees must be trained on the proper use of company systems and data and made aware of the consequences of mishandling company data.

• Background Checks and Screening: Conducting background checks and screening processes on new and existing employees can help prevent malicious insiders.

• Implement a Security Policy: A comprehensive security policy can guide employees on how to handle sensitive data and reduce the likelihood of insider actions.

• Monitoring and Detection: Implementation of monitoring and detection tools can help organizations detect and thwart insider threats before they cause damage.


Insider threats pose a significant risk to businesses of all sizes and types. With the level of access insiders have, the potential damage that insiders can cause is immeasurable. Organizations must take the necessary steps to design and implement robust security controls to prevent or mitigate insider threats' impact. With the right tools and processes in place, companies can significantly reduce the likelihood of an insider threat occurrence.

What is an Insider Threat?

In today’s time, cybersecurity is not a choice but a necessity. With increasing connectivity and digitalization, the risks of a cyber-attack are higher than ever. Many different types of threats exist in the digital world, including phishing, ransomware, and data breaches. While these may be the most commonly heard of, one of the most dangerous cyber threats remains insider threats. Insider threats are attacks that come from someone within the company itself. This article will take a deep dive into what constitutes insider threats, how they occur, and how to prevent them.

Insider Threats – an Overview

Insiders are employees or anyone else with access to sensitive data, information, or systems. These insiders become a threat when they intentionally or unintentionally misuse their privileges for malicious purposes or expose their sensitive information (such as company trade secrets) to the outside world. This threat can include anything from knowingly stealing trade secrets to mistakenly leaving valuable company information unprotected.

For example, if an employee who has access to the company's sensitive data decides to leak this information to a third party, then this insider becomes a potential threat. Another example may be an employee who accidentally shares confidential data with an unsecured network, allowing the data to be exposed and breached by a third party attacker.

Insider threats can be malicious (when someone intentionally causes harm) or accidental (where employees might unknowingly create a vulnerability or security weakness). Either way, the damage caused by an insider threat can not only affect the company's reputation but can also lead to the loss of critical data and intellectual property.

Types of Insider Threats

There are several types of insider threats in today’s digital world. Malicious insider threats are caused by employees who intentionally exploit their abilities to do harm. This may include stealing company data and selling it to a competitor or tampering with systems in the organization.

The accidental insider threat is an equally significant threat that results from negligence or unawareness on the part of insiders and not from any malicious intention. This type of threat could be sharing passwords, misplacing devices containing sensitive data, or following incorrect security procedures.

Many companies also have former employees, contractors, and third parties, who continue to hold sensitive information about the company even after they have left the company. These insider threats are known as the third party threats, which can cause potential damage if they misuse their access to the company’s secrets.

Another type of insider threat is the cybercriminal insider threat, where attackers pretend to be a part of the organization and exploit the vulnerable positions to launch attacks. For instance, in the Target breach of 2013, an outsider hacker stole the login credentials of a third-party HVAC vendor and used them to breach Target’s network.

How Do Insider Threats Occur?

An insider threat can occur at any time due to both technologically and behaviorally induced factors. Attackers often use a wide range of tactics such as social engineering, blackmail, and bribery for initiating insider threats.

The use of USB drives or malicious software can also cause or facilitate insider threats. A simple example could be an employee who unknowingly installs malware onto their computer that allows attackers to capture login credentials or gain remote access to their system.

However, it is essential to note that not all insider threats are due to malicious intentions. Innocent mistakes and errors made by staff in adhering to security protocols can also lead to insider threats. Employees often unknowingly share confidential information with third parties or store data on their insecure devices, all of which can create vulnerabilities and risks to the entire organization.

How to Prevent Insider Threats?

Insider threats can be prevented by taking a proactive approach towards protecting sensitive data and educating employees about the importance of cybersecurity. Some ways to detect and prevent insider threats include:

● Monitoring employee activity - Monitoring the activity of employees by tracking their access to data and activity on the network is an essential tool in identifying and preventing insider threats.

● Establishing strong security protocols- Implementing strict security protocols, such as password management guidelines, two-factor authentication, and access management policy, reduce the risk of accidental breaches and promote overall cybersecurity hygiene within the organization.

● User Awareness Training – Educating employees about the threat of insider attacks and providing training on cybersecurity best practices is a crucial aspect of protecting against insider threats. This training should focus on the various types of insider threats and their warning signs.

● Regular Security Analysis- Conducting regular security assessments for vulnerabilities highlights any weak areas and provides an opportunity for the company to take action accordingly


An insider threat is a severe risk that companies significantly underestimate. Detecting and preventing insider threats should be a critical part of a company's cybersecurity protocol. Whether through malicious intent or accidental behavior, insider threats endanger a business’s reputation, assets, and can ultimately result in significant financial losses.

Therefore, it is vital to maintain strict security protocols and educate staff about cybersecurity and its importance. Insider threats cannot be completely eliminated, but companies that invest in sufficient preventive measures can significantly reduce the occurrence of these risks.

The Threat Within: Understanding Insider Threats

When we talk about cybersecurity threats, our minds often jump to images of hackers in dark rooms, relentlessly cracking codes and breaking into networks to steal valuable data. We seldom think about security breaches that come from within an organization – from trusted and authorized users with access to sensitive information.

These internal security threats – commonly referred to as ‘insider threats’ – are often overlooked by organizations, but they can pose a significant risk to their cybersecurity. In fact, insider threats have become one of the most significant threats to cybersecurity today.

So, what exactly is an insider threat, and why do organizations need to be concerned about them?

Defining Insider Threats

Insider threats are security risks that come from unauthorized or malicious activities within an organization by employees or other trusted users. It’s a situation where someone who has been given access to an organization’s sensitive information, data, or systems, either intentionally or unintentionally, misuses that access to cause harm to the organization. Basically, it is the threat from an individual within the company who is authorized to access company resources.

Insider threats can come in various forms, including:

- Malicious insider threats: These are insiders who purposefully try to harm the organization, usually for financial gain or revenge. Examples include employees who steal sensitive data, commit fraud, or sabotage critical systems.

- Accidental insider threats: These are insiders who unintentionally put the organization at risk. These can include employees who mistakenly send sensitive information to the wrong person or click on a malicious link.

- Compromised insider threats: These are insiders who are coerced or tricked into performing actions on behalf of an attacker. Cybercriminals use social engineering techniques, such as phishing or spear-phishing, to trick insiders into giving up sensitive information.

There are many reasons why an employee might become an insider threat. It could be a lack of loyalty to the organization, personal issues, financial difficulties, or simply an opportunity to gain financially. Whatever the reason, the result can be devastating for the organization.

The Risks of Insider Threats

An insider threat is a serious problem for organizations, and the consequences can be expensive and damaging. It can result in loss of revenue, damage to a company’s reputation, and loss of valuable information or data.

The 2021 Cost of Insider Threat Report estimates that on average, the cost of an insider threat can be around $2.6 million per incident. This includes direct and indirect costs such as legal fees, data loss, intellectual property theft, and reputational damage.

If an insider threat is not dealt with promptly, it can cause significant damage over time. It could lead to a company’s financial losses, non-compliance with regulatory requirements, and even bankruptcy.

Examples of Insider Threats

Insider threats have occurred in organizations of all sizes and industries, and the consequences have been devastating. Here are a few high-profile examples:

- Edward Snowden: One of the most famous insider threats is Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor. In 2013, Snowden leaked classified NSA documents to the media, revealing the extent of the U.S government’s surveillance programs.

- Capital One: In 2019, a former Amazon Web Services (AWS) employee, Paige Thompson, was accused of stealing sensitive data from Capital One bank’s cloud-based storage. Thompson was able to access the data due to a misconfigured firewall on the server.

- Tesla: In 2018, a Tesla employee was accused of changing the code in Tesla’s manufacturing system to export data to an unknown third-party. This data was allegedly stolen and then disclosed by the employee to his former employer.

How to Prevent Insider Threats

Preventing insider threats is a critical part of an organization’s cybersecurity strategy. Here are some ways organizations can prevent and detect insider threats:

1. Background Checks: Conducting background checks on employees can help organizations avoid hiring people prone to risky behaviors or with a history of malicious actions.

2. Access Control: Organizations should implement access controls to ensure that employees can only access data and systems for which they have permission.

3. Employee Training: Providing regular training to employees can help prevent accidental insider threats. Employees should be trained on how to identify and report suspicious behavior, phishing emails, and other security risks.

4. Behavior Monitoring: An advanced behavior monitoring system can help detect unusual or suspicious activity by continuously analyzing employees’ actions.

5. Incident Response Plan: Have an incident response plan in place to help mitigate the impact of an insider threat incident quickly.


Insider threats are a worrying reality for organizations, but with the right measures in place, they can be prevented. Organizations need to be vigilant about the risks associated with insider threats and ensure that they have effective strategies in place. By implementing effective cybersecurity measures, monitoring employees’ behavior, and having clear incident response plans, organizations can mitigate the risks of insider threats and protect their sensitive data and systems against both internal and external threats.

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