Ever since cybercrime has become a profitable industry, organizations have been defending themselves against increasingly complex threats. Many of the threats they face are external and designed to slip through the gaps in cybersecurity protection.
Examples of external threats include carefully crafted phishing emails that can trick even sophisticated spam filters, zero-day attacks against widely used applications, or SQL injections capable of making a web database reveal its greatest secrets.
But cybersecurity threats can also come from within your organization and cause as much (and more) damage as external threats. To make matters worse, threats that come from users with legitimate access to data and sensitive information are much more difficult to detect and protect against, which only makes it more important to understand them and take the steps necessary to keep them at bay.
6 Critical Cybersecurity Policies Every Organization Must Have
What Are Insider Threats?
According to the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), an insider threat is the potential for an insider to use their authorized access or understanding of an organization to harm that organization.
Insider threats can be subdivided into the following three categories based on their action and intent:
- Malicious insiders: When an employee, contractor, or someone else who is authorized to access an organization’s systems and data decides to use their access against the organization, they become a malicious insider. Often, employees turn into malicious insiders when they lose their jobs, which is exactly what drove Christopher Dobbins to sabotage its former employer, a medical device packaging company, by tampering with shipping data for desperately needed healthcare PPE during the height of the initial response to coronavirus.
- Negligent insiders: Authorized individuals can cause harm to an organization even when they don’t intend to do so, such as by neglecting proper IT procedures and best practices. One of the most commonly cited examples of a negligent insider causing a major data breach comes from 2006. A computer analyst took home a hard drive with personal data on more than 26 million U.S. veterans in clear violation of policies and procedures, only to have the hard drive stolen from him during an apparently random burglary.
- Compromised insiders: Cybercriminals know that employees are the weakest links in many cybersecurity chains, making it much easier to compromise them compared with the effort it takes to exploit the weaknesses in information technology systems. A single phishing email with a link to a credential-stealing website is often all it takes for an attacker to compromise an employee and gain the information necessary to breach the organization’s internal network. That’s exactly how Twilio, a San Francisco-based provider of two-factor authentication services, was breached last month.
Regardless of whether caused by the desire to seek revenge, ignorance, or carelessness, the potential impact of insider threats is the same, and it includes:
- Loss of important data
- Financial losses
- Reputational damage
- Intellectual property theft
- Business disruption
- Compliance violations
Needless to say, insider threats are not to be taken lightly. A single insider incident can quickly rob an organization of its competitive edge, and it can be costly and time-consuming to get it back.
Insider Threats Are (Still) on the Rise
Cybersecurity experts have been raising awareness of insider threats for years, but historical data shows that their success has been limited.
According to enterprise security company Proofpoint, the frequency of insider-led incidents is up by 44 percent in 2022 compared with 2020. The cost of addressing an insider security problem has also increased—by 34 percent, from $11.45 million in 2020 to $15.38 million in 2022.
In 2016, IBM found that 60 percent of all attacks were carried out by insiders, with three-quarters of insider attacks involving malicious intent and one-quarter involving inadvertent actors. Since then, many organizations have embraced the hybrid work model and furthered their digital transformation, creating even more opportunities for malicious, negligent, and compromised insiders to cause harm.
But just because insider threats are still on the rise doesn’t mean that organizations are defenseless against them. It’s just that many have been focusing largely on external threats, ignoring those that come from within.
Strategies for Mitigating Insider Threats
Insider threats represent a unique cybersecurity challenge, one that necessitates a holistic approach to threat mitigation. Let’s take a closer look at the key components it should include.
There are ways to prevent each of the three categories of insider threats described earlier in this article. Cybersecurity awareness training helps employees understand the consequences of their actions (or lack thereof), so it can effectively reduce the number of incidents caused by negligent or compromised insiders.
Incidents involving malicious insiders can be prevented as well, such as by instructing HR to always warn the IT team when someone is about to leave the company or not receive a raise so their activity can be more closely monitored and their access rights withdrawn.
There are many telltale signs of insider threats organizations should pay attention to, including unusual access patterns, large data transfers, and attempts to log in to restricted systems.
Modern cybersecurity monitoring tools with machine learning capabilities can look for these signs in real-time and trigger alerts as soon as anomalies occur to give the IT team a chance to react while there’s still time to prevent a data breach, fraud, theft of intellectual property, and other painful consequences.
In a way, insider threats are inevitable because it’s impossible for employees not to have access to any data and sensitive information and still be able to do their work. Knowing this, it makes sense to focus on insider threat containment and the prevention of movement with the same network.
Organizations should practice the least privilege security model when creating user accounts to give employees the lowest-possible access to do their jobs. They can also implement the Zero Trust model, which eliminates trust using micro-segmentation.
Don’t Let Insider Threats Sabotage Your Business
You need to keep a close eye on insider threats and be ready to act as soon as you notice anything abnormal. Fortunately, there are effective strategies that you can implement to mitigate the threats posed by malicious, negligent, and compromised insiders.
We at OSIbeyond would be happy to help you with their implementation to prevent insider threats from sabotaging your business. Schedule a free consultation with us to get started.