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Updated: Oct 10, 2023   |   Katie Crowell

7 ways to defend your business against malicious insiders

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Cyberattacks or data exfiltration performed by insiders can be extremely damaging to businesses, thanks to the level of access these individuals have to sensitive enterprise resources. However, some insiders need to handle valuable data and operate business-critical systems to do their jobs.

Businesses must take the necessary measures to protect their valuable data from malicious insiders. Failure to address these insider threats can expose a company to serious risks, including data theft, sabotage, and even espionage.

This article will discuss the best ways a business can defend itself against malicious insiders. We’ll cover: 

Wh‎o are malicious insiders?

The term malicious insider can be used to describe a variety of individuals who can threaten a company’s IT environment and data assets. These individuals can be current or former employees, contractors, or business associates who have or had access to an organization’s important systems, privileged accounts, and valuable data resources, such as trade secrets.

In some cases, malicious insiders leverage privileged access that should have been eliminated when their role changed or their employment was terminated. Insider threats resulting from negligence or mistakes, on the other hand, are not inherently malicious, but these threats may result from inadequate training and supervision and other factors.

Malicious insiders may be motivated by misguided anger, financial pressures, or personal reasons that are hard to detect through observation. They may be working alone or be associated with an organized external group or rival company. 

An attack by a malicious insider can include:

  • Purposely damaging systems and impacting business operations
  • Stealing intellectual property for financial gain or engaging in industrial espionage
  • Initiating a data breach to damage a company’s brand and reputation
  • Installing malware that can lie dormant and be used to attack vulnerabilities at a later time

Formerly trustworthy employees may become a problem due to issues unrelated to their jobs, and, unfortunately, most malicious insider threats are hard to detect until they attempt to perpetrate an attack or compromise enterprise data. This fact makes it essential that companies take the threat of malicious insiders seriously.

Be‎havioral indicators of malicious insiders

Detecting behavior indicators of malicious insiders is crucial for preventing security breaches. Behavioral indicators can help identify potential threats, such as non-compliance with corporate policies, unprofessional behavior, conflicts with colleagues, and misuse of resources.

Technology plays a vital role in detecting insider threats through user activity monitoring, incident investigations, access management, and user behavior analytics. Additionally, implementing robust monitoring systems like intrusion detection systems and security information and event management tools can promptly identify potential incidents.

Analyzing relevant data, such as log files and network traffic, helps determine the severity and scope of the threat. A comprehensive insider threat risk assessment is essential for protecting valuable data resources.

Security professional reviewing logs and data
Image by por_suwat via Shutterstock

7 ‎methods of defending against malicious insiders

The potential problems posed by malicious insiders can never be totally eliminated, but they can be mitigated with effective defensive measures

The following are some of the best defenses against malicious insiders.

Understand where valuable resources are located

Protecting valuable data requires an organization to understand where it is located in the environment. A critical first step in defending against malicious insiders is attaining visibility into the enterprise data ecosystem, including the cloud.

With this knowledge in hand, decision-makers and administrators can take the necessary measures to protect these items.

Apply the principle of least privilege

Effective access controls are vital for reducing malicious insider threats. All employees and contractors should have the minimum access necessary to perform their jobs.

Restricting privileges in this way reduces the potential risk of otherwise trustworthy employees going rogue and stealing enterprise data.

Monitor user behavior and activity

Continuous monitoring of user behavior and activity can help to identify insider threat indicators. These may manifest themselves as repeated failed attempts to access restricted data and other types of unusual activities.

If indicators of a threat are discovered, the individual in question can be given additional training or disciplined based on the circumstances of the specific case.

Disable all accounts of former employees

All accounts of former employees should be disabled and, ideally, removed from the environment. Dormant or orphaned accounts provide malicious insiders with potential entry to the environment and access to enterprise data.

Perform periodic risk assessments

Risk assessments should be carried out periodically to determine the most attractive targets for insider threats so they can be addressed before they are exploited. The assessment should include the applications, services, and personnel involved in maintaining the IT environment.

Require multi-factor authentication

Requiring multi-factor authentication (MFA) throughout the environment reduces the chances that compromised credentials are used by a malicious insider to gain unauthorized access to valuable information.

With MFA in place, it is not enough to just steal someone’s password to access restricted systems and corporate resources.

Implement a data loss prevention (DLP) solution

A DLP solution that enforces an organization’s data handling policy can be instrumental in protecting it against malicious insiders. DLP tools automatically perform activities such as restricting the use of sensitive information or ensuring that it is encrypted before being transferred outside the company via email or through other channels. 

Mi‎tigating damage from malicious insider attacks

Mitigating damage from malicious insider attacks requires a multi-faceted approach. First, organizations should encourage the reporting of illegal activity to law enforcement.

Auditing systems for malware and viruses is crucial to identify any potential threats. Lastly, revising security policies and incident response procedures is essential to strengthen defenses against insider attacks.

Implementing a strong security awareness employee training program, monitoring employee activity for unusual behavior, and utilizing cybersecurity tools can further enhance protection. By taking these steps, organizations can minimize the impact of malicious insider attacks and safeguard their digital assets.

Person typing on a laptop
Photo by Sora Shimazaki via Pexels

An‎ advanced DLP tool to defend against malicious insiders

The Reveal platform by Next is an advanced DLP solution that helps defend an organization from the risks of malicious insiders. Reveal employs next-gen endpoint agents to identify and categorize data at the point of risk. 

The tool exposes risky behavior and protects against data exfiltration by restricting unauthorized users from handling sensitive data. 

With Reveal, security teams can conduct a scoped investigation that limits an investigator's authorized access to a specific user, specific date range, or specific event streams. Additionally, Reveal employs other data minimization techniques such as pseudonymization and scoped investigations to protect user identity, allowing businesses to balance information security with users’ data privacy.   

Built with today’s technology, Reveal also provides user training at the point of risk to promote a more security-conscious workforce. Talk to the experts at Next and schedule a demo to see how this advanced DLP solution can help your organization protect itself from malicious insiders.

Fr‎equently asked questions

How often should risk assessments be performed to guard against malicious insiders?

Risk assessments should be performed every year or when substantial changes are made to the environment. The types of assessments designed to protect against malicious insiders should also be considered when there are personnel changes within the IT department. Additionally, if any indicators of insider threat are detected, a focused risk assessment should be conducted to address the issues.

Does a DLP solution help against accidental insider threats?

Yes, a DLP solution is equally effective in preventing accidental insider threats as it is in protecting against malicious insiders. The automated enforcement of an organization’s data handling policy stops the accidental misuse of data resources that can lead to unintentional data breaches. Advanced DLP tools also provide user training to help raise the security IQ of employees and reduce the number of accidental insider threats.

How can a malicious insider affect a company’s reputation?

A malicious insider can affect a company’s reputation and its ability to compete in the market in several ways, including:

  • Negatively impacting system performance to lower customer satisfaction during peak usage windows
  • Leaking sensitive information that may be embarrassing to the company

Causing a data breach of sensitive customer data that influences people to look for an alternative solution

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