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Updated: Dec 8, 2023   |   Christina Florkey

Insider risk mitigation: Strategies to protect your business from internal threats

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Insider threats represent a serious problem for all types of organizations, and companies that store and process sensitive or valuable data resources are particularly at risk from malicious and unwitting insiders. A simple mistake by a trusted employee or a single security vulnerability leveraged deliberately by an insider can have devastating consequences.

As such, companies must take effective insider risk mitigation, a crucial component of an overall insider risk management program. Adopting the strategies discussed in this guide will help protect your business from deliberate and accidental insider threats. First, let's review what insider risk mitigation is and why it's important.

In this article:

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Wh‎at is insider risk mitigation?

Insider risk mitigation is one component of a comprehensive insider risk management plan. Insider risk management encompasses identifying, assessing, and mitigating internal risks. The insider risk mitigation component involves responding to and removing or minimizing insider risks that have been identified and assessed.

Insider risks can include theft of sensitive data or intellectual property, unauthorized access to systems, fraud, sabotage, espionage, or other malicious activities that can harm the organization. These risks are often difficult to detect because insiders have legitimate access to your company's systems, so their actions may not be immediately identified as risk indicators.

The consequences can include damage to your organization's reputation, financial stability, or operational efficiency, so mitigating insider threats is vital to protect your business's interests.

Wh‎at are the three main types of insider threats?

To develop and implement an effective insider risk mitigation program, it's important to understand the various types of insider threats that could impact your business and the risk activities they may engage in. There are three main types of insider threats: malicious insiders, unintentional or accidental insiders, and negligent insiders.

  • Malicious insiders: These are individuals who intentionally misuse their access privileges to harm the organization. They may steal sensitive data, sabotage systems, or engage in fraudulent activities. Malicious insiders often have a deep understanding of the organization's systems and can exploit vulnerabilities for personal gain or to cause harm.
  • Unintentional or accidental insiders: These insiders do not have malicious intent but inadvertently cause harm to the organization. This can occur through actions such as mishandling sensitive information or falling victim to social engineering attacks such as phishing scams. These insiders may not be aware of the potential consequences of their actions, making them vulnerable to exploitation by external threat actors.
  • Negligent insiders: These insiders fail to follow security protocols and best practices, putting the organization at risk. They may disregard policies, share sensitive information without authorization, or fail to update software and systems. Negligent insiders often create vulnerabilities that internal and external threat actors can exploit.

To effectively mitigate insider threats, organizations must implement comprehensive security measures that address each type of threat. This includes implementing technical controls such as access control, monitoring user behavior for risk indicators, providing security awareness training, and enforcing strict security policies and procedures.

Let's review some of the most effective insider threat mitigation strategies.

Pe‎rform periodic insider threat risk assessments

Organizations should begin by conducting a comprehensive insider threat risk assessment. The assessment is necessary to identify and categorize enterprise data resources and systems to provide them with the necessary security and protective measures. 

In addition to inventorying your company’s assets, the assessment should strive to identify the possible intentional and unintentional environmental threats.

Existing security and data protection measures should be reviewed to see if they sufficiently address the identified threats. If not, new security procedures should be developed and implemented to provide the IT environment with improved protection. 

Assessments should be performed regularly and whenever significant changes are made to the IT environment or the workforce.

De‎velop and enforce an enterprise data handling policy

A data handling policy should be developed based on the information regarding enterprise resources obtained from the risk assessment. 

The policy should strictly define the ways individuals within the organization can access sensitive information and restricted systems and should also include how, where, and when data resources can be used.

The data handling policy will be used as the foundation of a data loss prevention (DLP) solution, which we will discuss shortly. One of the purposes of a DLP tool is to enforce an enterprise data handling policy automatically. Your DLP solution may offer policy templates to streamline the policy creation process.

Im‎plement strong identity and access management procedures

Strong identity and access management (IAM) procedures should be in place that restrict access to enterprise resources. Ideally, an organization should implement the principle of least privilege, which provides users with the lowest level of permissions necessary to do their jobs. 

The IAM procedures should consider the data handling policy to ensure that sensitive data is not misused.

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Pr‎omptly remove obsolete credentials

Login credentials should be removed from the environment as soon as they become obsolete. This can occur when an employee moves to a new role within the organization and no longer needs a specific set of permissions. 

Leaving these privileges in place unnecessarily opens the door to potential internal threats.

Credentials should also immediately be deleted when an individual leaves the organization. Malicious ex-employees may attempt to use obsolete but undeleted credentials to access the environment and cause damage to the business.

Tr‎ain employees and contractors to identify and prevent insider threats

Training and education designed to help identify and prevent insider threats should be provided to all employees. This will foster a positive security culture and help employees recognize the indicators to identify risky behavior before it impacts the business.

Additionally, training regarding the company’s data handling policy should be mandatory. Accidental threats can be significantly minimized through training emphasizing how everyone in the organization contributes to protecting the business by properly handling data.

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Se‎gment your IT network

Organizations should strongly consider segmenting their network to facilitate restricting access to sensitive data resources. Creating a segmented network simplifies the measures to prevent unauthorized entities from accessing restricted systems and information. 

Only individuals with a business need should be granted entry to a network segment.

A segmented network also makes it easier to identify potential insider threat indicators. Employees who repeatedly attempt unauthorized access to the network may be a threat that needs to be addressed by the cybersecurity team. 

Network segmentation will also mitigate the chances of a careless insider threat causing damage to the company.

Im‎plement a data loss prevention solution

A data loss prevention solution provides an organization with an automated method of enforcing its data handling policy. The tool can perform activities such as restricting access to sensitive data sets, encrypting data before it is allowed to be transmitted, and prohibiting files from being printed on unauthorized devices. 

Many of the activities in the scope of a DLP tool directly address deliberate and unwitting insider threats by making it impossible to subvert the data handling policy and by supporting early detection of potential risk indicators.

The Reveal platform by Next is a modern, cloud-based DLP solution that helps protect your business from all types of insider threats. The platform provides machine learning-powered endpoint agents that identify and categorize data at the point of risk. 

It also promotes proper data handling policies by offering users timely training when they violate the policy. Rather than just being restricted from performing an action, the tool lets the user know the details of the violation so they can refrain from repeating it.

The experts at Next offer a free demonstration of the tool in action. Schedule a demo today and enhance your protection from insider threats.

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Fr‎equently asked questions

Is it mandatory for a business to develop a data handling policy?

While businesses don't need to develop a data handling policy, it is strongly recommended and considered a best practice when trying to mitigate the dangers of insider threats. A data handling policy codifies how data can be used throughout an organization. It is also essential for effectively using a data loss prevention tool.

How can a company ensure that obsolete credentials are deleted from the environment?

An organization should make credential deletion an integral part of all off-boarding procedures for employees and contractors as they leave the organization. 

Processes should also be in place to eliminate proper credentials when an individual moves to a new job that requires different permissions. They may no longer need access to restricted data, and that access should be removed from the system.

Why is a segmented network a good defense against internal and external threats?

A segmented network provides enhanced protection from internal and external threats by making securing valuable and sensitive data resources and mission-critical systems easier. Additional firewalls and intrusion detection solutions can be implemented to protect the restricted segment from unauthorized external threat actors. 

The enterprise data handling policy can be constructed to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to the network and its resources.


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