More people are becoming aware of cyber threats and the damage they cause. Topics such as social engineering, phishing, malware, hackers, and others are getting a lot of attention. However, it seems like discussions surrounding cybersecurity are often focused more on external threats rather than internal threats. Throughout this article, we will explain the importance of identifying insider threats as well as how to prevent them.
Insider threats are individuals within an organization that leak information or perform other acts that result in security incidents or even a full-blown breach. Notice how I did not say that insider threats are malicious. While there certainly are insider threats with malicious intentions, more often than not, this isn’t the case. To better understand insider threats, we will briefly explain the three kinds of insider threats and their motives.
Malicious - A malicious insider threat is what that most people think of when they hear the words insider threat. These individuals are motivated to harm their own company and understand exactly what they are doing. For example, an employee who knows that they are about to be fired and wants to get revenge may leak company data containing sensitive information.
Negligent - Negligent insider threats are individuals who fail to take the necessary precautions to protect company data. This insider threat includes individuals who carelessly go about their workday and have no regard for security. For example, this might be someone who threw out old company files into a public dumpster. While they were not intentionally trying to harm the company, they still did so by being careless, and now someone could dumpster dive and recover those important files.
Accidental - Accidental insider threats are people who were trying to protect company data but made a mistake resulting in an incident or breach. This type of insider threat is a person who truly did not mean to harm the company in any way.
Now that we have a better understanding of each type of insider threat, it is important to understand how to prevent these threats from occurring. One of the biggest ways to prevent malicious insider threats is by fostering a better culture within your company. This is something that is often overlooked but plays a major role in the behavior of employees. In order to help prevent insider threats, a company’s culture must be supportive as well as inclusive. Employees must work in an environment that builds them up and that makes them feel welcomed. This will cause them to develop better relationships with coworkers, and they will have more pride and joy in working for the company. When an employee feels appreciated in their organization, they will take extra care not to do anything that could damage the company or cause harm to their coworkers. Another way to prevent malicious insider threats is to limit access from the start and revoke access as soon as an employee is no longer with a company. For example, companies should follow the principle of least privileged access so that all employees only have access to the resources they need to have in order to do their job. Moreover, as soon as the company decides to remove an employee, they must revoke any rights the employee has to sensitive data. This will prevent the employee from accessing important data before leaving the company.
Preventing negligent insider threats comes down to hiring good employees and removing bad employees. For example, companies should always be looking to hire people who are passionate about what they do and pay close attention to detail. Attention to detail is a major quality that is necessary among employees. Employees must adhere to all security policies and procedures and work in a cautionary manner, so they do not carelessly violate the security of the organization. Moreover, companies should find and take steps to remediate any employees that act carelessly and do not have strong attention to detail. This can be accomplished through phishing simulations that test your employees and allow you to directly analyze the results as well as assign courses for remediation. If those employees are unable to show improvement, they should be removed as they pose too much of a risk to the company.
Lastly, preventing accidental insider threats requires proper security training. Employees must be knowledgeable of all security policies and procedures and must know how to prevent themselves from accidentally leaking data or anything else harmful to the company. Proper security training will break down common ways that data is leaked and should cover how each employee can secure their data.
Insider threats can be devastating to companies. Fortunately, there are many steps a company can follow to identify these threats and prevent them from happening in the first place. Companies must create a positive work environment that allows employees to take pride in their workplace. They must also hire good employees with attention to detail and remove careless employees who have no regard for security policies. Lastly, all companies should invest in a good security training program so that employees know what to watch for and how to prevent these threats.
Written by Blake Potter
Blake Potter is a Cyber Security Intern at TechGuard Security where he assists with security related tasks. He is currently a senior at Maryville University studying Cyber Security and plans on becoming a security analyst once he graduates. Blake has a background in IT Support, customer service, and Cyber Security support. In his free time, Blake enjoys working out, playing sports, and spending time with friends and family.