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Updated: Dec 15, 2023   |  

What are 5 insider threat indicators?

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Identifying insider threats to an organization’s IT environment presents a difficult problem for cybersecurity teams. The fact that the threats come from employees or contractors who already have some degree of access to enterprise systems and data makes identifying insider threats even more complex. 

This post will look at using insider threat indicators to minimize the risks to the business posed by insiders.

In this article:


Indicators of Insider Threat
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Th‎e problem of insider threats


Research indicates that over half of all companies were impacted by an insider threat in 2022. The threats can be caused by accidental or deliberate actions that risk enterprise systems and data. An insider threat can come from a variety of sources, including:

  • System administrators with elevated access privileges
  • Service providers and contractors
  • Employees with standard privileges
  • Privileged business users

Any of these entities can deliberately or accidentally put an organization at risk by mishandling enterprise data. While it is difficult to prevent all risks of insider threats, there are threat indicators that can alert an organization that there may be a malicious or negligent insider with access to the IT environment.

Wh‎at is an insider threat indicator?

An insider threat indicator is some type of abnormal or unexpected behavior demonstrated by an individual within an organization when they interact with the computing environment. 

An insider is an individual with authorized access to sensitive information, so simply accessing that data isn't a red flag. Thorough analysis of behavioral indicators and other threat indicators is necessary to differentiate insider threats from normal activity.

Some behavioral indicators of insider threats include working at odd hours, frequent disputes with coworkers, sudden changes in finances, declining performance, and frequent absences from work. However, these warning signs are not always reliable on their own for detecting insider threats.

In some cases, the signs of suspicious behavior generated by a malicious insider can be extremely subtle and hard to detect. At other times, an accidental insider threat may leave obvious signals, such as accessing resources that's not required to perform their job duties or repeatedly requesting escalated access privileges to data that's irrelevant to their role.

Organizations that can recognize the indicators of insider threats have the opportunity to take proactive measures to minimize the risks to the business. 


In‎sider threat motives

Several motives drive insider threats, some internal and some external. For example, accidental insider threats don't have a specific motive, but they are driven by factors such as a lack of adequate cybersecurity training, misplaced technology devices, or compromised accounts.

Negligent insiders account for 62% of insider threat incidents, according to the 2022 Ponemon Institute Cost of Insider Threats: Global Report, and credentials stolen from negligent insiders account for 25% of all incidents.

Motives for negligent insiders include convenience or ease of use, which is often the case when an employee uses unsanctioned software. Negligent insiders may also access data they don't require to perform their job duties for their own personal use.

For example, if a sales representative is leaving the company for another, they may take data on their clients and contact information for use in their new job.

When it comes to malicious insiders, the motivation is often financial gain. Other common malicious insider threat motives include:

  • Espionage
  • Anger or revenge
  • Political or ideological differences

Ad‎dressing insider threat indicators to reduce risk

Effective insider threat detection and identification requires a proactive approach. For example, regular risk assessments and audits are an essential component of an insider threat management program.

These evaluations help to identify vulnerabilities and gaps in your company's security measures. Addressing these gaps and strengthening the cybersecurity processes and procedures that protect a company’s valuable data reduces the risks from insider threats.

Modern insider risk management solutions like the Reveal Platform by Next leverage advanced analytics and threat intelligence to identify early indicators of potential insider threats.

Reveal automatically restricts risky and malicious activity, such as preventing a user from downloading sensitive data to a removable storage device. The platform also performs actions such as automatically encrypting data before it's sent via email to protect an organization's sensitive data.

Addressing the threats may involve identifying the specific individuals responsible for generating the indicators. With Reveal, security teams can conduct scoped investigations using pseudonymization and other data minimization techniques to maintain employees’ data privacy and confidentiality, only identifying users when necessary. 


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Co‎mmon insider threat indicators

Security personnel should be monitoring the IT environment for the following insider threat indicators. In the majority of insider threat cases, only a few of these indicators will be present.

Unusual login behavior

Users typically access the same systems regularly to perform their work duties. Over time, a pattern is established that can be observed by monitoring system logs. Individuals who suddenly vary from their usual patterns may be doing so for nefarious reasons.

For example, repeated attempts to log into systems for which they are not authorized may indicate a malicious insider is trying to compromise enterprise resources. Similarly, attempts to log into systems at odd hours may be occurring because the user is trying to act covertly.

Repeated attempts at accessing unauthorized applications and data

An increase in the number of unauthorized access attempts for mission-critical systems or applications that contain sensitive information can indicate the presence of an insider threat. 

An organization should have strict access management procedures in place that ensure that only those with a business need to know can view or process sensitive data. These resources hold heightened value to the company and potentially to a malicious insider.

A malicious insider may spy on an authorized user and then try to gain access by using password variations based on what they observed. This type of threat indicator should provide the identity of the user so they can be watched more closely by security personnel.


A woman looks over her shoulder as she works on a laptop computer
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Excessive data downloads

Excessive and unexpected downloads may be an indicator of an insider threat. Users attempting to download large databases or sensitive files may be trying to steal valuable information from the organization. 

These downloads become even more suspicious if they are conducted outside of regular business hours or from remote locations. However, these suspicious behaviors are especially challenging to identify in remote work settings, as remote employees may engage in these activities regularly.

That's why establishing a baseline of normal activity for each user and device is necessary to effectively distinguish anomalous behavior. Security personnel should investigate the users responsible for the download attempts to determine if they have a legitimate reason for this activity.

Escalating privileges

Requests for escalated privileges that fall beyond the scope of an individual’s work duties may be an indicator of an insider threat. The person may be trying to gain access to sensitive information or systems that pose a risk to the organization. 

Privileges should only be granted for business reasons. Anyone making repeated, abnormal requests should be carefully monitored.

Non-technical indicators

Indications that an insider may pose a threat to an organization can also be derived from personal behavior or issues that are not directly related to their job. For example, individuals under financial distress or who are angry at corporate decisions may become an active threat.

Us‎ing a DLP solution to identify potential insider threats


A locked tablet screen
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay


A data loss prevention (DLP) solution provides a method of identifying and addressing some classes of insider threats before they impact your business. By enforcing the organization’s data handling policy, a DLP platform keeps unauthorized users away from sensitive resources. 

A comprehensive DLP solution also provides reports that can be used to investigate potential insider threats before they cause damage to the company.

The Reveal platform by Next is a modern data loss prevention solution that employs machine learning-powered endpoint agents to classify sensitive data so it can be effectively protected. It’s a cloud-native solution that promotes security consciousness by providing user training at the point of risk.

To see how Reveal can help guard against insider threats against your organization, contact Next today and schedule a free demonstration.

Fr‎equently asked questions

Are accidental insider threats dangerous to an organization?

Yes, accidental insider threats can be extremely dangerous to an organization. A trustworthy employee can inadvertently cause a data breach and expose sensitive enterprise information through a combination of a lack of knowledge, negligence, and carelessness.

Can a DLP tool address all insider threat indicators?

No, a DLP tool will not protect an organization from deliberate physical sabotage or damage caused to IT systems by a malicious insider. Identifying this type of insider threat requires the attention of supervisors and coworkers who can take the necessary actions to mitigate the threat. Employees who suddenly change their demeanor and attitude toward work may need to be monitored as a potential threat

Why is it important to notice insider threat indicators?

Noticing insider threat indicators may allow an organization to address the issue before the threat manifests itself and damages the business. For instance, users who consistently attempt to subvert security measures may need to be given additional training. In some cases, these individuals may need to be disciplined by removing them from the environment to mitigate the threat.


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