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Updated: Dec 4, 2023   |   Alan Brown

5 best practices to protect and prevent insider threats

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Most organizations utilize an IT environment to store information, address customer requests, and maintain business operations. Securing enterprise data resources and mission-critical systems is vitally important, as threats from inside and outside an organization can exploit security vulnerabilities and put valuable data and the business's survival at risk.

This article will discuss some of the best practices organizations can implement to protect themselves from and prevent insider threats.

Understanding the scope of insider threats

Insider threats refer to individuals with authorized access to an organization's systems and internal information who can potentially harm the organization.

Two distinct types of insider threats and risks must be considered when developing best practices to protect the IT environment. They both pose a substantial risk to the business by exposing valuable data or impacting systems responsible for critical operations.

Deliberate insider threats

This type of insider threat is deliberately perpetrated by employees or contractors intent on stealing data assets, disrupting business operations, or damaging important systems. Their motive may be industrial espionage or personal gain. 

A malicious insider with elevated system privileges can cause extensive damage to a company's IT environment and its business.

Negligent insider threats

Accidental or negligent insider threats can be equally damaging though the perpetrator has no malicious intent. A simple oversight by a trusted employee can result in an expensive and damaging data breach. 

One of the difficulties in addressing this type of insider threat is that an accident can happen at any time, even to the most highly-trained individuals.

Do‎es your business need to be concerned about insider threats?

Insider threats are a significant concern for organizations of all sizes, as they can result in data breaches, financial losses, and reputational damage. The number of insider-related incidents rose by 44% from 2020 to 2022, and insider threats are the primary cause of 60% of all data breaches. In addition, Verizon's 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report found that there's a human element involved in 74% of data breaches.

According to Cybersecurity Insiders' 2023 Insider Threat Report, 74% of cybersecurity professionals consider their organization to be moderately or extremely vulnerable to insider threats, and 60% of companies experienced an insider threat in 2022.

Insider threat incidents are costly. According to Ponemon Institute's 2022 Cost of Insider Threats Global Report:

  • Negligent insiders accounted for 56% of insider threats over a 12-month period, with an average cost of $484,931 per incident.
  • Malicious insiders caused 26% of insider threat incidents, costing an average of $648,062 per incident.
  • User credential theft (compromised insiders) accounted for 18% of insider threat incidents, with an average cost of $804,997 per incident.

Wh‎y is insider threat detection challenging?

In Cybersecurity Insiders 2023 Insider Threat Report, nearly half (48%) of respondents agreed that detecting and preventing insider threats is more challenging than external threat detection and prevention.

Detecting insider threats can be challenging because insiders have legitimate access to the organization's systems and critical data. Privileged users require a certain level of trust and access to perform their job duties.

The Ponemon Institute's 2022 Cost of Insider Threats Global Report found that it takes an average of 85 days to contain an insider threat incident. Just 12% of insider threat incidents are contained in less than 31 days, 34% of insider attacks take more than 91 days to contain.

Insiders may also have knowledge of where sensitive data is stored and what security measures are in place. Sometimes, they know or discover ways to bypass existing security measures.

Implementing security policies, procedures, and technologies can help prevent privilege misuse and minimize the risk of sensitive data compromise.

Actively monitoring user activities, implementing strong access controls and encryption, and providing security awareness training to employees and contractors are also essential strategies for detecting and mitigating insider threats.


Employee using a laptop with an access granted notice on the screen
Image by DC Studio via Shutterstock

5 ‎best practices for protecting against and preventing insider threats

Following these best practices will help an organization protect itself from the risks of insider threats. In many instances, best practices offer similar protection from both unwitting and deliberate insider threats.

Inventory and classify data resources through the environment

All organizations should conduct a comprehensive inventory of their data resources throughout the IT environment. The inventory needs to include all onsite data as well as everything stored in public or private cloud infrastructure. 

Companies can then implement the appropriate cybersecurity measures to protect valuable or sensitive information.

Data resources need to be classified so they can be used efficiently throughout the organization. Access to sensitive information and the critical systems that process it should be restricted to those who need it to perform their jobs, while strong identity and access management (IAM) is required to restrict unauthorized access to enterprise data.

Develop an inclusive data handling policy

An organization should develop a data handling policy that addresses enterprise information that has been identified and classified. The policy should define who can use specific data resources as well as where, when, and how they can be used. 

Violations of the data handling policy may indicate the presence of insider threats and should be investigated by system admins and security personnel.

Provide security awareness and data handling training

This best practice is meant to reduce the occurrences of unwitting insider threats and risks. All employees should be given security awareness and data handling training to ensure they understand their role in protecting enterprise resources. 

Trustworthy employees will benefit from this training by making fewer errors when handling data, while the training is liable to be ignored by malicious insiders.

For example, the video below provides an introduction to data management and is the first part of an online course.

Monitor systems for insider threat indicators

While most insider threat indicators will be generated from malicious insiders, providing user training at the point of risk greatly reduces incidences of these indicators by unwitting insiders. 

Insiders deliberately subverting security and putting the organization at risk often remain hidden for an extended time, but eventually have to perform some type of suspicious behavior.

By monitoring the company's IT environment for any suspicious behavior or unauthorized access, organizations can identify potential insider threats and take appropriate action. This requires implementing security measures such as intrusion detection systems, privileged access management systems, and user behavioral analytics. 

By proactively investigating unusual activities in the company's IT environment, organizations can mitigate the risks posed by insider threats and protect their sensitive information.

These insider threat indicators may be a sign that a malicious insider is making a move:

  • Unusual login behavior at odd hours or attempting to access retricted systems
  • Multiple attempts to access restricted data or applications
  • Inordinate download activity that may indicate an attempt to steal data
  • Privilege escalation, or unusual requests for elevated privileges that may be used to access restricted resources

Implement a data loss prevention platform

A data loss prevention platform addresses all types of insider threats by automatically enforcing an organization’s data handling policy. This functionally blocks deliberate and accidental attempts to mishandle enterprise resources that put the business at risk. 

Comprehensive DLP solutions classify data as it is ingested into the environment and ensure it is provided the level of protection it warrants.

Pr‎event insider threats with a ‎modern and effective DLP solution

The Reveal platform by Next is a modern and effective DLP solution that helps protect an organization from insider threats. It addresses deliberate and unwitting threats by automatically enforcing an organization’s data handling policy. 

The platform provides user training at the point of risk to help promote increased security consciousness and reduce accidental insider threats.

Reveal is a cloud-native solution that employs machine learning-powered endpoint agents that identify and categorize data. The tool develops baselines to identify anomalous behavior, while the agents ensure consistent data protection even when a device is not connected to the network.

Contact Next’s security experts and set up a demo to learn how Reveal can protect your organization from insider threats.


Manager having a discussion with an employee in front of a computer
Image by SeventyFour via Shutterstock

Fr‎equently asked questions

What actions can a DLP tool take to protect against insider threats?

A DLP tool can take a wide variety of actions to protect an IT environment from insider threats. The actions it takes are related to its enforcement of the organization’s data handling policy. Examples of the automated actions a DLP tool platform can perform include:

  • Encrypting sensitive data before it is permitted to be transmitted;
  • Restricting unauthorized individuals from accessing sensitive data resources;
  • Blocking attempts to print sensitive information on unauthorized devices.

When is the most effective time for user training?

The most effective time to provide user training is at the point of risk when an individual is engaged in risky behavior or activities. Reminding the user of how they have violated the data handling policy while restricting the intended activity drives home the point and will reduce accidental insider threats.

Why is a data handling policy essential for protecting enterprise resources?

A data handling policy documents how information can be handled throughout a company. Using the data handling policy as its guide, a DLP solution can ensure that data resources are not misused intentionally or accidentally by anyone in the organization. The policy helps protect against deliberate and unwitting insider threats.


See how Next protects your employees and prevents data loss