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Updated: Sep 28, 2023   |   Tuval Chesler

5 steps to conduct an insider threat risk assessment

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Businesses need to take the same proactive approach toward assessing insider risks as they do when protecting their resources from external threat actors. Insider threats to an IT environment are becoming more prevalent and potentially damaging.

Failure to effectively address these threats put an organization’s valuable data resources at risk. All companies should protect themselves by conducting a thorough insider threat risk assessment.

In this article: 

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What are insider threats?

Threats to an IT environment can come from either external or internal entities. In the case of external threats, the perpetrator is typically trying to compromise systems or data for financial gain or to cause damage to the victimized organization.

Stopping external threats is not a trivial exercise but can be accomplished by ensuring that there is no unauthorized access to the environment.

Insider threats come in two general varieties. The fact that they are initiated by individuals who already have access to the environment makes them harder to effectively address. Organizations need to have comprehensive security tools in place to minimize the risks of both types of insider threats.

  • Intentional actions by malicious insiders: The first category of insider threats consists of deliberate actions taken by malicious individuals intent on compromising enterprise resources for some type of personal gain. These threats can be incredibly damaging, as the perpetrator has information about the environment that allows them to easily identify high-value targets.
  • Accidental actions by trustworthy employees: The second type of insider threat comes from careless or accidental actions performed by otherwise trustworthy employees. Risks include inadvertently disclosing sensitive data or causing a data breach by not following company procedures.
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Steps in an insider threat risk assessment

Protecting an organization from insider threats begins with a comprehensive assessment of the potential risks to the environment. The following steps are essential in conducting an insider risk assessment that enables a company to strengthen its defenses against deliberate and accidental threats.

1. Identify and categorize IT systems and data resources

The first step in protecting any IT environment is to identify and categorize its assets and resources. Identifying all systems and assets can be complicated when cloud service providers (CSPs) or other third parties are involved in delivering IT functionality. It is impossible to effectively protect the environment without a complete inventory of its data and systems.

The purpose of this categorization is to differentiate the systems and data that may require additional security measures to protect them from insider threats. Not all data requires the same level of protection, and companies need to allocate resources wisely to secure the environment while stretching their IT budgets.

2. Identify threats to the environment

The threats to the environment need to be determined after identifying the assets that need to be protected. Insider threats can manifest themselves in a wide variety of ways.

  • Unintentional threats: Unintentional threats are the result of negligence or accidental actions taken by internal entities. Examples include sending sensitive information to an incorrect email address or falling victim to a phishing campaign and exposing credentials that can be used by external threat actors.
  • Intentional threats: Intentional threats are deliberate actions taken by disgruntled employees to damage the organization or to achieve some form of financial or personal gain. These threats include purposely leaking sensitive information to rivals, stealing intellectual property, or sabotaging computing equipment.

3. Assess the risks and business impacts posed by the threats

The next step is to assess the risks and business impacts posed by the identified threats. Questions to ask during this assessment include:

  • Has the environment been previously affected by any of these threats?
  • What is the likelihood of the threat occurring?
  • How will the business be impacted by specific insider threats?
  • Can the business withstand the repercussions of particular threats?

4. Review existing measures to mitigate insider threats

The answers to the previous questions provide the basis for a review of the security measures in place to mitigate insider threats. The objective is to ascertain if the security tools, processes, and procedures currently in place are sufficient to protect the environment.

5. Develop and deploy additional measures to further mitigate threats

It is quite likely that the review of existing measures indicates that stronger defenses need to be implemented to mitigate insider threats. This may include providing additional security awareness training, deploying new software platforms, and moving employees perceived as risky to new positions that eliminate their access to sensitive data resources.

How a data loss prevention solution minimizes insider threats

A data loss prevention (DLP) solution is designed to protect an IT environment by categorizing data and enforcing an organization’s data handling policy. It’s a valuable tool for minimizing insider threats by restricting deliberate or accidental actions that pose a risk to IT resources.

Next offers customers a cloud-native and advanced DLP solution that helps organizations protect themselves from insider threats. The Reveal platform by Next delivers machine learning capabilities to the endpoint as it identifies and categorizes data at the point of risk and is ingested into the environment.

The tool automatically performs actions such as encrypting sensitive data to conform with a company’s data handling policy. Reveal also provides real-time user training when risky activities are attempted to promote a security-focused culture.

Contact Next and book a demo to discover how Reveal can address the insider threats that pose a risk to your company’s sensitive data. 

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Frequently asked questions

How often should an organization perform an internal threat risk assessment?

Internal risk assessments should be performed regularly to address changing personnel and an evolving IT environment. An assessment should also be conducted whenever substantial changes are made to a company’s environment or its personnel.

Threats change as an environment grows and measures that were previously sufficient to protect IT resources may need to be updated to ensure a secure infrastructure.

What are the best ways to minimize unintentional insider threats?

The best ways to address unintentional insider threats are implementing a data loss prevention platform and promoting an enhanced security IQ by providing extensive awareness training. The training will hopefully reduce the incidence of employees making mistakes that risk harming the environment.

A data loss prevention solution automates the enforcement of a data handling policy, eliminating many accidental and unintentional threats.

Why are internal threats hard to effectively address?

Internal threats are hard to address because employees require a certain level of access to sensitive IT resources. Running a business efficiently demands that some employees have the system permissions necessary to accidentally or deliberately exploit sensitive data resources or cause unexpected outages.

A DLP solution adds additional protection by automatically enforcing a data handling policy, making it impossible for employees to mishandle enterprise data.


See how Next protects your employees and prevents data loss