An insider threat is a cyber threat that happens within an organization. Insider threats occur when current or former employees, partners, contractors or vendors cause sensitive data and systems to become compromised or steal data for their own malicious purpose. Insider threats can be intentional or unintentional, depending on the goal of the insider and if the insider is working with someone else.
Read on to learn more about insider threats and what organizations can do to mitigate the risks of them.
Types of Insider Threats
The types of insiders fall into three general categories.
Insider with malicious intent
An insider with malicious intent is someone who has access to internal information at an organization, such as an employee or contractor, and uses this information to compromise sensitive data. Their goal is to sabotage the organization, steal information or steal money for their own benefit. For example, an employee could sell confidential information to their organization’s competitor, simply for financial gain.
Insiders with malicious intent fall into one of two categories: collaborator or lone wolf. A collaborator is a malicious insider who works with a third party, such as a competitor, to harm an organization by leaking confidential information or disrupting business operations.
A lone wolf is a malicious insider that works independently. Lone wolves most often have personal reasons as to why they want to target their organization, such as resentment against the company and a desire to disrupt their organization’s operation.
Insider who is negligent
A negligent insider is someone within an organization who is careless about security practices. Because of this, they may make a human error or poor judgment call that leads to a breach of data. For example, an employee may fall for a phishing scam and click on a malicious link that compromises the entire organization’s network and systems.
Outsider with insider access
An outsider who has gained access to an organization’s systems and data is another common insider threat. This is also referred to as a mole. To gain access to these systems, which they would otherwise not have access to, moles pose as employees or vendors so they are not easily caught. Moles are often able to gain access to these internal systems by compromising an employee’s account or by gaining access to the organization’s physical building.
Are Insider Threats Always Intentional?
No, insider threats are not always intentional. While there are insiders whose intent is to harm the organization they work at, there are also insiders who are simply negligent. Negligence causes them to commit errors that harm an organization.
For example, there could be an employee who logged into a spoofed site without knowing. Because they did this, they provided a cybercriminal with legitimate credentials to access the legitimate account. The cybercriminal can then use that information to compromise the employee’s account. While the employee may have fallen for this, they did not do so intentionally.
Why Insider Threats Are Dangerous
Here are a few reasons why insider threats are dangerous for organizations.
Can lead to a data leak
A data leak is when sensitive data is exposed accidentally, which makes it easy for cybercriminals to gather and use for malicious purposes. Data leaks are extremely dangerous for organizations because they may not even notice the leak for days or even months. Data leaks place all of an organization’s sensitive data at risk, including their customers’ Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
Can lead to a data breach
A data breach is when a cybercriminal or insider steals sensitive data without the knowledge or authorization of the individual or organization who owns the data. Similar to a data leak, organizations may not notice a data breach until after multiple days or months have passed. This provides enough time for cybercriminals to use the breached data for malicious purposes.
According to a report by Soft Activity, over the last 2 years, insider incidents have increased 47% and the average cost of an incident was $15.38 million. Depending on the impact of the insider threat, the financial losses an organization faces can vary.
A successful insider threat causes many organizations to lose credibility, which then makes it more difficult for them to attract customers and partners. This leads to a loss in revenue and may even lead to an organization shutting down altogether.
Insider threats can also lead to legal consequences for organizations, especially if they didn’t have procedures in place to protect their most valuable assets, such as customer data. Legal consequences are costly, which may cause an organization to lose a significant amount of money.
How to Detect Insider Threats
There are two main categories for detecting insider threats: digital and behavioral. Digital indicators are those you’re able to notice on computers or other devices. Behavioral indicators are those you notice based on a person’s real-life actions.
Here are a few digital indicators to look out for:
- Unusual login attempts
- Excessive data downloads
- Use of unapproved software and tools
- Renaming files to names that don’t match the content
- Viewing content that doesn’t pertain to their role
Here are a few behavioral indicators to look out for:
- Asking for access to sensitive information not needed for their role
- Changes in work habits or performance
- Frequent security incidents
- Disgruntled behavior
- Refusing to follow company security policies
Behavioral indicators should not be the only indicators of insider threats to look out for and should be investigated before jumping to conclusions.
How To Mitigate the Risks of Insider Threats
Here’s how organizations can mitigate the risks of insider threats.
Privileged Access Management (PAM)
Privileged access management refers to how organizations manage and secure access to their highly sensitive data, systems and accounts. These include things such as payroll systems and IT administration accounts. PAM solutions aid organizations in centralizing access to privileged systems and accounts making it easier for IT teams to track and control who has access to them. This also makes it difficult for cybercriminals or malicious insiders to gain access.
Other ways a PAM solution can help organizations mitigate the risks of insider threats include the following:
Implementing the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP): The principle of least privilege is a cybersecurity concept in which users are given access to only the information and systems they need to do their jobs, and nothing else. This means users are only provided with the access they need. Limiting privileged access helps organizations minimize the risk of insider threats due to malicious activity, negligence or employee errors, which could otherwise lead to privileged data being leaked or stolen.
Managing and securing privileged credentials: A main benefit of PAM solutions is that they allow organizations to securely store privileged credentials in a secure vault. Many PAM solutions can also rotate passwords at a set frequency and be used to enforce Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) on accounts so they have an extra layer of security. Managing and securing privileged credentials prevents insiders from being able to access sensitive data which they can use for malicious purposes.
Monitoring and auditing privileged access: PAM solutions provide organizations with a way to constantly monitor privileged accounts and systems. This aids organizations in identifying suspicious activity. It also provides them with full visibility into who has access to privileged accounts, what they are doing with them and when they are accessing them.
Recovering from insider threats: Recovering from an insider threat is difficult if you don’t have tools in place to help you investigate the attack. After experiencing an insider threat, a PAM solution provides organizations with detailed audit logs that can be used to investigate the incident and determine the root cause of the attack.
Employee awareness and training
Employees should be made aware of and follow cybersecurity best practices. They should also be trained on how to spot common scams such as phishing and Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks to prevent falling victim to them. Teaching your employees about insider threats will help them become more aware of what to look out for. Let them know that if they suspect a coworker of being an insider, they should let the IT team know right away.
You can also provide employees with resources on where they can keep up to date with the latest cybersecurity news.
Keep Your Organization Protected From Insider Threats
Insider threats continue to be a cyber threat that many organizations face. Without the right tools and knowledge, it becomes difficult for organizations to spot and mitigate these threats. Privileged accounts, systems and data should be the first assets that organizations secure because they contain an organization’s crown jewels.
While there is no way to stop insider threats from happening altogether, a privileged access management solution can be an important prevention tool. Keeper Security has its own PAM solution called KeeperPAM™ that unifies Keeper’s Enterprise Password Manager (EPM), Keeper Secrets Manager (KSM) and Keeper Connection Manager (KCM) into one easy-to-use platform.
To learn more about KeeperPAM and how it can help your organization mitigate the risks of insider threats, request a demo today.