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.