While your IT system may be bulletproof from the outside, is it safe from an internal attack?

Insider threats are cyberattacking that occur from within your organization. Unlike an external attack, the threat occurs from someone who already has access to your IT system and sensitive data. Insider threats occur when legitimate access or understanding leads to compromised data and security. In most cases, threats occur when existing and former employees misuse their credentials. Because such users have authorized access, security systems often fail to trigger. This means misuse can go unnoticed until it’s too late.

Companies that suffer from inside threats can lose trade secrets, have their intellectual property sold, leak customer data, and compromise employee confidentiality. This can land companies in trouble with the law as well as stakeholders and customers.

Attackers are motivated by four main factors:

  • Financial gain
  • Whistleblowing
  • Revenge
  • Espionage

With such big stakes on the line, it’s essential for businesses to take insider threats seriously.

Types Of Insider Threats
Insider threats are notoriously difficult to detect. This is because attacks can come from a number of different directions.

Anyone with access to or knowledge of your company’s IT system can potentially be an insider threat. This includes:

  • Employees
  • Former employees
  • Contractors
  • Associates
  • Third-party vendors

Making it even more difficult to detect threats is that not all attacks are malicious. Some insider threats are unintentional but are a security risk all the same. Despite this, insider threats can be broadly categorized into three types:

  • Unintentional threats expose an organization to attack through negligence or accidental behavior. Negligent insiders have access to IT systems and are familiar with your company’s security. These employees or contractors ignore security policies and give external threats an access point. This could be something as simple as saving sensitive data to a laptop that is then left in a café. Accidental insider threats occur, too, and are difficult to address. For example, sending a confidential file to the wrong email address, falling for phishing scams, or opening unsafe attachments.
  • Intentional threats deliberate attempts to harm an organization. This is typically for self-gain or due to a grievance against your company by a disgruntled employee. Such “malicious insiders” may wish to sell data to competitors for financial advantage. They may also be motivated by revenge for feeling unappreciated, having their contract terminated, or for personal misgivings against the company. Intentional insider threats see sensitive information stolen, code and equipment sabotaged, and security systems compromised.
  • Collusive threats are more coordinated. Third parties, rival organizations, and even competing nations can infiltrate companies. Organizations can become compromised by third parties approaching existing or former employees. In some cases, third parties will have their own staff employed by rivals. This can be for the sake of undermining a business, fraud, and espionage.

Insider Threats Are A Growing Concern
A report issued in 2022 found that the number of insider threats is increasing all the time. Since 2020, insider attacks have increased by 44%. It’s also taking longer to address insider threats. While addressing threats took 77 days in 2020, 85 days are now needed to contain inside attacks. Inside threats are costing more to contain, too. Costs to businesses have increased to address issues now cost 34% more over the same period. While most cases are dealt with internally, some of the bigger insider threats have become headline news:

  • Facebook 2018: a security engineer working for Facebook was using his privileged access to stalk women online. Alarmingly, it wasn’t Facebook who detected the threat but an outside security company.
  • Tesla 2018: confirmed by Elon Musk himself, a former employee had undertaken “very substantial and devastating sabotage” against Tesla. This included directly changing code within the company’s manufacturing OS.
  • Coca-Cola 2017: a former employee stole $119M worth of intellectual property from Coca-Cola using her own cloud storage.

It’s not just huge companies that need to look out for insider threats, however. Organizations of all sizes are vulnerable to inside attacks and should take precautions.

How To Detect Insider Threats
Detecting insider threats can be more difficult than external threats. This is because threats will typically look like legitimate use to cyber security systems. While this does make detection difficult, there are some indicators to look out for. Some insider threat signals include:

  • Unintentional
    • Storing data on unapproved devices.
    • Losing data-sensitive equipment through theft or loss.
    • Using phone’s camera in sensitive locations.
    • Bringing sensitive data home or outside the office.
  • Intentional
    • Large data volume downloads, especially out of work hours.
    • Data access outside of work requirements.
    • Unnecessary requests for privileged access.
    • Unrecognized storage devices connected to network.
    • Unexpected searches for sensitive data.
    • Repeated copying of important data.
    • Attaching sensitive data to outbound emails.

Protecting Your Business Against Insider Attacks
Countering insider threats is largely preventative and starts with diligent hiring. Companies should ensure all staff are properly vetted to prevent intentional attacks and trained to prevent unintentional threats. The best ways to reduce insider threats include:

  • Background Check All Staff
    It’s important to run background checks on all staff. This includes existing and new hires as well as contractors. This can help weed out malicious insiders. Look for red flags such as working for rival companies or sudden contract terminations.
  • Use An Endpoint Manager
    Mobiles, laptops, tablets, and many other mobile devices will connect to your network every day. Without safeguards, these can pose both intentional and unintentional insider threats. An endpoint management solution monitors devices connected to your network. You can then set policies to decide what access devices are granted, protecting your data.
  • Use Good Password Practices
    One of the best ways to circumvent malicious threats is to use strong passwords. This makes it a lot more difficult for bad actors to access data they are not supposed to. Network access should also be accompanied by multi-factor authentication.
  • Train Staff Adequately
    Staff should also be trained in good data security practices. This helps reduce the risk of a compromised IT system through carelessness or negligence. Training should include information on handling and destroying data correctly, spotting malicious attachments, and what to do if they suspect someone to be a malicious insider.
  • Active Network Monitoring
    Intelligent network monitoring tools can also help spot insider threats. These actively monitor your network and alert administrators to unusual behavior. This can include accessing sensitive information, downloading large volumes, and logins from unusual locations.

Insider threats are difficult to detect and can have devastating consequences for your organization. Often masked as legitimate access, such threats fly below the radar or most cybersecurity systems. This means a proactive approach is necessary to mitigate the risks of both intentional and unintentional insider threats.

Please reach out to our President, Frank Stephens, at [email protected], or our Service Delivery Manager, Simon Jakubzcak, at [email protected] now to arrange an insider threat checkup now and start protecting your organization.