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Updated: Dec 11, 2023   |   Lauren Koppelman

5 steps to building an effective insider risk management program

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Insider risk is a huge concern for cybersecurity teams operating in all types of businesses. Security Magazine reports that over half of the surveyed companies had a problem with an insider threat in 2022. Consequently, companies must prioritize the development of an effective insider risk management program to both manage the risk and minimize its potential impact.

In this article: 

What is insider risk? 

Insider risk is the potential for an individual with access to an organization’s data resources to intentionally or accidentally perform an activity that negatively impacts the organization. The insider may be authorized or have compromised the credentials of another individual to gain access to data assets. Typically, the threat involves the security, availability, or integrity of sensitive enterprise data.

Insider risks can be accidental or malicious: 

  • Accidental: Accidental insider risk is often the result of ineffective user training or inadvertently misusing elevated privileges. While this type of insider risk is not intentional, it can still be extremely damaging to the affected organization.
  • Malicious: Malicious insider risks may come from current or former employees who have retained credentials and understand the company’s operations. They can leverage this knowledge to exploit system resources even after they are no longer associated with a given organization.
A Communications Framework for Insider Risk Management: The Insider Risk Management (IRM) world is filled with buzzwords. Phrases like “insider threat”, “the human element”, “zero trust” and “data exfiltration” have come to prominence as our community of…
— CS Threat Intel (@cipherstorm) May 26, 2023

Why is insider risk dangerous?

Insider risk is dangerous for a variety of reasons. The risks can be broadly categorized as being either malicious or accidental.

Malicious insider risks include:

  • Sabotage that deletes data, causes system outages or defaces a website
  • Theft of intellectual property such as source code, trade secrets, and confidential customer data
  • Fraud by misusing company data for personal gain
  • Nation-state-sponsored espionage attacking government contractors
  • Unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information that can harm individuals or the organization

Unintentional insider risks include:

  • Accidental disclosure of sensitive data
  • Loss of company resources such as a laptop containing enterprise data
  • Falling victim to a phishing scam that introduces malware into the IT environment

Insider risk may be harder to address than external threats because the privileges that can be abused are also necessary for an individual to perform their job. It’s virtually impossible to eliminate insider risk from a computing environment completely.

Steps to building an effective insider risk management program

While insider risk may never be eliminated, the risks and damage it may cause can be reduced through effective management. Companies need to take insider risk seriously and expend the necessary time and resources to develop an insider risk management program.

The need for such a data security program may be initiated from a general sense of the risks involved in implementing strong cybersecurity protection for the IT environment. It may also grow out of the need to address regulatory requirements, an organizational risk assessment, or in response to a cybersecurity incident.

The following steps form a solid foundation for managing insider risk and enhancing the security of an IT environment.

  1. Initial planning - In this step, stakeholders are identified across the organization. The group should be diverse and collaborative, including C-suite executives, cybersecurity experts, and IT management. It’s critical to gain support from company leadership when implementing the program.
  2. Threat and risk assessment - Once a team has been assembled and have received the necessary executive support, a thorough threat and risk assessment needs to be performed. In this step, the organization’s critical assets should be identified. The threats to these assets and vulnerabilities that can potentially be exploited must be identified to be used as input for the next step.
  3. Policy creation - An organization then needs to create or modify existing cybersecurity and data handling policies based on the outcome of the risk assessments. The policy conditions should strive to mitigate identified vulnerabilities and define how employees and especially privileged users may access and use sensitive data.
  4. Training - Constructive employee training on the types and dangers of insider risks can be a major factor in minimizing incidents of accidental threats. Individuals need to understand how their privileges can be compromised and the ways they may inadvertently put the organization at risk. Unfortunately, training does not address malicious insiders.
  5. Technology - It’s essential to implement the appropriate technology to address the enforcement of data handling policies. Advanced technological solutions can provide the additional benefit of offering training while preventing risky activity if the policy is violated.
Incorporating an insider risk and data protection solution

Technology is an important component of an insider risk management program. Next offers organizations a cloud-based solution that detects risks, instructs employees and ensures compliance with regulatory requirements. The Reveal Platform by Next provides advanced functionality that addresses insider risk in multiple ways that include:

  • Automated enforcement of an organization’s data handling policy
  • A smart agent that employs machine learning at the endpoint
  • Real-time content-level and contextual inspection of data to identify sensitive data
  • User training at the point of risk
  • A consolidated and user-friendly interface

Learn how Reveal can become an important part of your insider risk management program by contacting the experts at Next. You can book a demo to see the solution in action and learn how valuable it can be in defending against insider risk. Want to assess the effectiveness and accuracy of your data loss prevention policies? Try our DLP Policy Testing Tool

Frequently asked questions

What is an insider risk management program?

An insider risk management program is a detailed strategy designed to safeguard an organization’s sensitive data, intellectual property, and digital infrastructure from threats posed by insiders.

Insiders include: 

  • Employees
  • Contractors
  • Vendors
  • Anyone with authorized access to the company’s network

Insider threats include: 

  • Intentional malicious activity
  • Unintentional data breaches
  • Negligence leading to exploitable vulnerabilities

The purpose of an insider risk management program is to deter, detect, and mitigate actions by insiders who represent a risk to the organization, whether malicious or unintentional. This involves measures such as: 

  • Network monitoring
  • Data loss prevention (DLP)
  • User behavior analytics (UBA)
  • Continuous security awareness training
  • Thorough onboarding and offboarding processes
  • Background checks of potential hires
  • Security assessments of third-party vendors or partners 

What is an example of an insider threat program?

The U.S. government’s National Insider Threat Task Force (NITTF) is an example of an insider threat program. It was established by Executive Order (E.O.) 13587 in October 2011 under the joint leadership of the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. 

The Executive Order required federal departments and agencies that have access to classified information to establish programs to detect and prevent insider threats, with NITTF assisting them in development and implementation. A Presidential Memorandum, the National Insider Threat Policy and the Minimum Standards, was issued in November 2012 to establish common expectations and best practices.  

The NITTF aims to develop an insider threat program that:

  • Deters, detects, and mitigates insider threats
  • Safeguards classified information from unauthorized exposure, exploitation, or compromise
  • Accounts for risk levels of various types of threats and data
  • Accounts for individual agencies’ unique needs or systems 

What is the difference between insider risk and threat?

When it comes to insider risk vs insider threat, an insider threat occurs when an insider — an employee, contractor, or anyone with authorized access to sensitive data — introduces potential harm to the organization's data, digital infrastructure, or operations. It’s focused on the individual or employee engaging in the activity that creates the potential for harm. Threats can be: 

  • Intentional: Intentional insider threats include things such as an employee deliberately stealing or damaging data.
  • Unintentional: Unintentional insider threats include things such as an employee accidentally clicking on a phishing link and introducing malware into the system.

Insider risk refers to the potential for damage to an organization due to the actions taken by insiders. This includes the vulnerabilities that arise from having individuals inside the organization with access to sensitive information or systems, whether they intend to misuse that access or not. Insider risk is not tied to a specific individual but rather represents a general potential for harm.


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