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Updated: Dec 8, 2023   |   Christina Florkey

5 reasons why it's important to identify potential insider threats

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Insider threats can pose a serious risk to a company’s valuable data resources and intellectual property. The access and knowledge possessed by insiders can make them more dangerous to an organization than external threat actors. Insiders cannot be denied access to the IT environment with measures typically used to address external threats, such as firewalls.

This article explores five reasons your organization needs to identify potential insider threats. Effectively identifying these threats is an essential component of a comprehensive security posture designed to protect an organization’s valuable resources, and failure to do so can result in disastrous consequences for a business.

In this article:

Id‎entifying 2 types of insider threats

A company must know and identify two distinct types of insider threats. While the reasons behind these threats are vastly different, the associated risks they represent to an IT environment can be equally devastating.

Deliberate or intentional insider threats

Deliberate insider threats are caused by individuals who willingly and intentionally attempt to subvert security with malicious intent. They may abuse their insider status to steal data, plant malware, or purposely damage systems to negatively impact business operations. A deliberate insider may be motivated by a wide variety of factors including:

  • Personal financial pressures
  • Anger directed toward specific individuals or the organization as a whole
  • Participation in an organized group attempting to conduct espionage

Employees and contractors can be targeted to send sensitive data to a third party by outside attackers, which is known as recruitment. This can occur when individuals are convinced or coerced into sharing classified information. 

Disgruntled or dissatisfied employees may voluntarily send or sell data to a third party without any external pressure, which is referred to as voluntary disclosure. 

Unwitting or unintentional insider threats

An unwitting insider threat comes from employees or contractors who accidentally engage in risky activities that may damage a business. The underlying factors behind unintentional insider threats include:

  • Carelessness or mistakes when handling enterprise resources
  • Lack of knowledge of a company’s data handling policy
  • Misguided attempts to streamline operations by subverting security measures

For example, individuals may unknowingly disclose sensitive information due to phishing or social engineering tactics. Users may also mistype an email address, sending sensitive information to a third party, or accidentally save a sensitive document to a publicly available storage repository.

Malicious insider threats tend to get more press attention; however, accidental or negligent insider threats occur more frequently. According to the Ponemon Institute's 2022 Cost of Insider Threats Global Report, 56% of insider threats are due to negligent or careless insiders.

Identifying potential insider threats to protect the IT environment and associated business processes is vitally important. The following reasons illustrate the importance of identifying and effectively addressing these threats before they harm an organization.

Heightened access to valuable corporate resources

Insiders necessarily can access valuable enterprise resources. A subset of individuals must handle and process a company’s most sensitive data assets to maintain business operations. 

A strong Identity and Access Management (IAM) program should restrict this access to only those who require it for business purposes.

A malicious insider may have obtained enough access to be able to steal data or damage important systems deliberately. They may be able to disguise their activities for an extended time, exploiting a system’s vulnerability to cause additional harm to the business.

An unwitting insider may inadvertently expose sensitive and valuable data resources through an action such as transmitting an unencrypted file to a colleague. A careless mistake can be as devastating to a company as a data theft planned by a malicious insider.

Knowledge of business-critical systems and processes

Insiders may have extensive knowledge regarding the critical systems and processes a business needs to operate efficiently. In cases of a malicious insider, this knowledge can be leveraged for nefarious purposes. Possessing this knowledge makes a deliberate insider threat more dangerous than most external threats.

With information regarding the most valuable data and mission-critical systems, an insider is in a position to cause substantial damage. They know which datasets to steal or which database to corrupt to disrupt operations. 

An insider will also be aware of specific times when degraded system performance can cause the most harm to the enterprise.

Elevated system privileges and permissions

Some individuals within an organization require elevated privileges to do their jobs. They may be able to restart systems or perform other acceptable activities under normal circumstances but can be damaging at other times. 

These privileges can be either deliberately or accidentally used, resulting in unexpected outages, reduced capacity to service customers, and negative public relations.

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Business requirements to handle sensitive data assets

Business requirements make it necessary for employees and contractors to handle sensitive and regulated data. Deliberate or accidental activities can put this information at risk. 

A data breach can result in the theft of valuable information or the failure to comply with regulatory standards accompanied by substantial financial penalties.

Insider threats put your business at risk

Taken together, the specific issues discussed above add up to a serious risk to your business. The access employees need to do their jobs is a major factor in making it hard to defend against insider threats. 

A business cannot function effectively without permitting a subset of employees a degree of access that can represent risk.

To learn more about how to detect and investigate malicious insider threats, check out the video below:

Ho‎w data loss prevention protects against insider threats

A data loss prevention (DLP) solution can be an instrumental component of a cybersecurity strategy. A reliable DLP platform will restrict the unauthorized use of data assets by anyone in the organization. 

Eliminating access to sensitive or valuable resources is vital in protecting an organization from insider threats.

The Reveal Platform by Next addresses both deliberate and unintentional insider threats. 

Through the automated enforcement of an organization’s data handling policy, unauthorized attempts by anyone to access restricted information will be denied. This functionality addresses both deliberate and unintentional insider threats and protects enterprise assets. 

When suspicious activity is identified, investigators can conduct a "scoped investigation" into the individual user. This limits what the investigator can see and for how long they can access it.

Scoped investigations also use a pseudonymization feature that redacts the user's personal information, protecting employee privacy while simultaneously enabling your security team to address potential insider threats. Using scoped investigations, your security team can identify potential malicious insiders that may need to be investigated further, as well as potential negligence or accidental insider threats that can be addressed with more training.

Reveal offers additional protection against accidental insider threats by offering user training at the point of risk. Users are prevented from performing risky behavior and provided with immediate feedback to improve their knowledge of the company’s data handling policy. 

Increasing the security IQ in this way helps reduce future accidental occurrences of risky activities by trustworthy employees.

Take the first steps to ensure that enterprise data resources are not misused deliberately or accidentally—talk to the security specialists at Next and schedule a demonstration today.

Employee working in an office setting with desks and laptops
Photo by Marc Mueller via Pexels

Fr‎equently asked questions

What is an insider threat?

An insider threat refers to security risks originating from individuals within an organization who misuse their legitimate access for malicious or unintentional purposes, potentially compromising data or systems.

How can organizations prevent insider threats?

To prevent insider threats, organizations should employ stringent access controls, monitor user behavior, provide cybersecurity training, enforce strong password policies, and leverage advanced technologies like the Reveal Platform by Next for early threat detection.

What should organizations do when they suspect or detect an insider threat?

When an insider threat is suspected, organizations should initiate an investigation, involve HR and legal teams, preserve evidence, revoke access, and consider law enforcement involvement for appropriate response and mitigation. Effective communication among stakeholders is vital during this process.


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