Pay Attention to These Insider Threat Indicators

Publication date: May 07, 2021

Last Published: Feb 11, 2022

Table of Contents
Read Time : 5 minutes

From data encrypting ransomware to cleverly disguised phishing attempts, there are many cyber threats organizations actively defend themselves against to avoid any disruption in their operations. However, there’s one security risk that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves: the insider threat.

That’s bad news because insider threats cause 34 percent of data breaches, according to data from the 2019 Verizon Data Breach report. What’s worse, the figure has likely only increased since the coronavirus containment measures forced employees to leave their offices, completely upending long-established work routines.

If this is your first time reading about the insider threat, then this article will serve as a concise primer, equipping you with essential knowledge so that you can avoid a costly data breach. And if you already know a thing or two about insider threats, then you can skip to the section describing the most common insider threat indicators for a quick refresher.

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What Are Insider Threats?

As the term suggests, insider threats are security threats that originate from within the targeted organization. They can be roughly subdivided into two categories:

  • Malicious insider threats: Many employees have access privileges that let them copy, modify, and delete sensitive data, and they may decide to abuse them for personal profit or when seeking revenge.
  • Accidental insider threats: Seniority doesn’t make her immune to mistakes, so even employees who have been with your organization for many years can accidentally make a mistake, such as sending a confidential email to the wrong person or deleting a whole bunch of important files.

Together, these two main categories of insider threats are responsible for thousands of data breaches every year, and the number of insider threat incidents increased by a staggering 47 percent in just two years, from 3,200 in 2018 to 4,716 in 2020.

Regardless of the motivation behind them, insider threats represent a major security risk that must be proactively addressed to avoid the potentially massive financial and reputational damage it can cause.

3 Common Insider Threat Indicators

Insider threats are notoriously difficult to detect because they originate from inside sources.

Still, there are certain digital warning signs and behavioral abnormalities that can fairly reliably indicate possible insider threat activity, so keeping an eye on them is a must.  

1. Signs of Dissatisfaction and Disgruntlement

Verizon’s Insider Threat Report has revealed something interesting: 1 in 10 insider incidents is motivated by a grudge. Such incidents are typically caused by employees who frequently get into conflicts with their coworkers and superiors, as well as employees whose performance has been steadily declining, along with their job satisfaction.

Extremely dissatisfied employees who feel strong resentment toward the organization they work for may decide to vent their resentment by purposefully infecting the organization with malware, sharing access credentials online, or deleting important documents and other data.

Employees that show signs of dissatisfaction and disgruntlement should be closely monitored and not allowed to access any parts of the organization’s IT infrastructure except for those they need to do their work.

2. Downloading Large Quantities of Data

There’s a huge demand for confidential data on the dark web, the hidden collective of internet sites only accessible by a specialized web browser. Cybercriminals from around the world are willing to pay a lot of money for anything from login credentials to employees’ personal information because they can then use this data to launch targeted attacks.

Considering that 71 percent of malicious insider breaches in 2020 were financially motivated, any occurrence of an employee suddenly, and for no apparent reason, downloading large quantities of data should set alarm bells ringing.

Particularly suspicious are any large data transfers happening during off-hours or when the employee is on vacation. The good news is that modern network activity monitoring tools make it easy to spot this common insider threat indicator, allowing you to act before it’s too late.

3. Frequent Security Policy Compliance Failures

The 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Study revealed that around 25 percent of all data breaches were recognized as carelessness or user error. While anyone can make an unfortunate mistake with far-reaching consequences, employees who either don’t attend training at all or who perform poorly on cybersecurity assessments are statistically far more likely to fail to comply with basic security policies.

Typical examples of security policy compliance failures include consistently using weak passwords, downloading and installing software that hasn’t been approved by the security team, or storing sensitive work files on all kinds of personal devices.

To eliminate security policy compliance failures as much as possible, employees should be periodically reminded of their existence and importance. Individuals with most failures should be required to complete additional cybersecurity awareness training and familiarized with the potential consequences of their behavior.

Defeat Insider Threats with OSIbeyond

We at OSIbeyond understand that stopping insider threats isn’t easy. That’s why we equip our customers with the best tools for identifying malicious intent and mitigating dangerous threats, including:

Equipped with these tools, your organization will be able to detect the most common digital warning signs and behavioral abnormalities indicating an ongoing insider attack. Contact us for more information on how we can help you recognize insider threat indicators without making it difficult for you to do what you do best.

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