Insider Threat Awareness: Avoiding Internal Security Breaches

The “insider threat”, a potential cybersecurity breach within your organization, has been a matter of intrigue for cybersecurity professionals for many years and continues to be a significant concern today. Not only do we need to defend against Internet attacks from cybercriminals, hackers, and many other threat actors. We need to keep a watchful eye on our offices, control rooms, data centers and many other areas under our protection – on the lookout for the insider threat.

You might think that insider threats are only a problem in large companies, but the truth is that they are also a major problem for small businesses.

An insider has access to sensitive information because they are an employee, contractor or partner. They could potentially use this information to harm the company or its customers.

The Intelligence Community uses the term “insider threat” to describe employees who disclose or share information with unauthorized parties. Insider refers to someone working in your organization who may pose a risk to you if they make an error in data handling procedures.

Insiders are not limited to people who work in IT. They can be administrators, engineers, developers, project managers, sales people, customer service or finance representatives… anyone with access to information that is not intended for the public. . Whether or not they have privileged access credentials, these individuals have access that allows them to view confidential files and systems.

They may have too many permissions, usually acquired over a long period of employment, where they have had multiple roles, and have retained permissions as they move around – this is called the “Privilege Creep”. Having access to data that is not necessary for their current role puts a person in a prime position to steal intellectual property, a trade secret, proprietary designs, or financial records.

The insider threat exists for several reasons. Those with malicious intent are obviously a real problem for companies, but there are also implications for employees who unwittingly leak information.

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Types of insider threats

Unintentional violations

Your trusted employees may not know how their negligence or negligent actions may affect the company or its employees. For example, they may not know that clicking on an innocent-looking link can lead to malware entering the network, or sharing sensitive hard copies of documents with other colleagues who do not have the necessary levels. appropriate access may result in a breach. Or they might think it’s okay to share it with others because the document wasn’t sensitive.

Often people don’t consider that data aggregation can represent a massive amount of information, making it a valuable commodity for a competitor. If this data is compromised, it can cause serious damage to the business.

Malicious offenses

There is a key distinction between insider threats; one is unintentional and the other is a malicious threat actor. Malicious insiders can include disgruntled employees or staff working their notice period who intentionally take company data with them.

Or it could be an engineer who misconfigured a system setting that exposes your internal environment to the internet, now visible on Shodan. Or the developer who failed to consider security from the start and left a backdoor in the application code discovered by a malicious insider threat. Access to any sensitive information (i.e. corporate documents, financial records, personal customer and employee information), regardless of source, is commonplace for a malicious insider.

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Insider threat statistics

According to an independent study conducted by the Ponemon Institutethe average global cost of insider threats has increased by 31% in two years to $11.45 million, and the frequency of incidents has increased by 47% over the same period.

Here are some highlights from the report:

The highest overall cost center for organizations is containment, averaging $211,533 per business per year.

The fastest growing cost center is surveys, which are costing organizations 86% more than just three years ago.

The longer an incident lasts, the more expensive it is. An average incident takes 77 days to contain. Incidents that took longer than 90 days to contain cost organizations an average of $13.71 million on an annualized basis.

Insider threat indicators

  • Increase in phishing attacks, including Business Email Compromise (BEC).

  • Download or access substantial amounts of data.

  • Access sensitive data not associated with their job function.

  • Access data outside of their unique behavioral profile.

  • Multiple requests for access to resources unrelated to their function.

  • Use unauthorized storage devices (e.g. USB sticks).

What should you do if you suspect a potential insider threat?

There are different ways to identify unusual behavior in your employees, such as suspicious actions or behaviors or signs of manipulation. You can also determine if the behavior is consistent with the employee’s job task and if it is normal or deviates from normal user behavior. Whatever the circumstances, report it immediately!

Insider Threat Detection

Identify business patterns: Pay attention to abnormal communication patterns, especially those involving large volumes of traffic. For example, someone who sends hundreds of emails might indicate that something fishy is going on. Notify your Data Loss Prevention (DLP) team to monitor suspicious activity.

Prevent an insider from being a threat: You need to identify the signs of abnormal behavior. Identify the gaps in your security, the gap between what is required and what exists in your organization. In other words, you need to know if your environment is secure enough to protect confidential data from malicious actors and unintentional errors. If you haven’t already, implement additional security measures such as file access management, just-in-time (JIT) access, behavioral analysis, email security for outgoing emails, protection against being sent to the wrong recipient. Protect users from malicious incoming emails containing suspicious links.

Monitor user behavior: To detect insider threats, you need to keep a close eye on who enters your physical and network perimeter. For example, you may observe someone trying to access sensitive data that they have no legitimate business need or permission. You should also be careful if someone outsources information without permission, such as a disgruntled employee trying to leak information about a company. Watch for any suspicious attempt to plug an unauthorized or malicious device into a network point – consider Network Access Control (NAC)

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Insider Threat Countermeasures and Solutions

According to point of proofthe main ways to block insider threats are:

  1. Insider Threat Detection – Discover risky user activities by identifying abnormal behavior.
  2. Investigate incidents – Investigate suspicious user activity in minutes, not days.
  3. Prevent incidents – Reduce risk with real-time user notifications and blocking.
  4. Protect user privacy – Anonymize user data to protect employee and contractor privacy and comply with regulations.
  5. Satisfy Compliance – Meet key insider threat compliance requirements in a simplified way.
  6. Integrate tools – Integrate insider threat detection and management with SIEMs and other security tools for better understanding.


This article has addressed the question of what to do if you suspect an insider threat. You can detect signs of unusual behavior to prevent an insider trying to access sensitive information from becoming a threat. Your security vulnerabilities are waiting to be discovered; make no mistake, an insider threat will find them, accidentally or intentionally.

There are many different insider threats, and the malicious insider can be the hardest to detect. You can implement specific security measures to help predict and prevent insider threats. But ultimately, there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll always prevent malicious insiders from taking advantage of a security hole, vulnerability, or unsuspecting member of your staff.

Consider implementing the principle of least privilege or even zero trust. Close those gaps today, build a multi-layered defense, and stay vigilant.