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Updated: Oct 30, 2023   |   Fergal Glynn

What is insider risk, and what are some examples?

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Companies face numerous risks from external sources in today’s dangerous threat landscape, and it seems there is an endless stream of cybercriminals and malicious hackers trying to subvert your company’s cybersecurity defenses. While these threat actors may be intent on causing damage or stealing valuable data assets, a common characteristic they all share is that they are unknown entities.

Unfortunately, not all cybercrime and data breaches are caused by outsiders. Insider risk is a serious problem and is responsible for up to one third of all data breaches. These risks can be harder to address than external threats due to the access and trust garnered by insiders.

What Exactly is Insider Risk? 

Insider risk can be defined as a threat posed to an IT infrastructure or data resources by someone who is currently or formerly an employee of the organization. The types of insider risks can be broadly classified into accidental or deliberate actions that threaten the IT environment of data assets. The following types of insider risk all need to be considered when implementing a data loss prevention solution.

  • Malicious insiders - Employees may become malicious insiders due to personal or professional pressures. They may hold a grudge against the company for some reason and decide to steal or leak sensitive information. Malicious insiders may be working as part of a team that includes outside influences, and an otherwise trustworthy employee can become a malicious insider because of blackmail or bribery. They may also have been deceived into performing an action by social engineering attacks.
  • Accidents by careless employees - Careless or inattentive employees can unwittingly expose the IT environment to unnecessary risks. They may leave a computer unattended or inadvertently expose credentials that can be used to access valuable and sensitive data. Accidentally deleting data can be damaging and require extensive recovery procedures to return to normal business operations.
  • Third-party organizations - Outsourcing IT support services often requires providing third-party employees and contractors with the elevated privileges they need to perform their jobs. These quasi-insiders may have access to sensitive information that they may choose to compromise with malicious intent. Another potential issue with third parties is that they may not enforce the same level of cybersecurity as the organization that hired them, and can inadvertently expose sensitive data to risk.
  • Former employees - Employees who have left the organization or are preparing to leave pose a serious risk. They may choose to steal information on their way out the door for personal financial gain or to further their career with their new employers. The familiarity ex-employees have regarding internal procedures and policies puts them in a powerful position to use their knowledge for malicious purposes.
  • Employees purposely evading security policies - Along with careless employees, organizations are subjected to insider risk by individuals who choose to not follow cybersecurity policies. Rather than following accepted company protocols, they may opt for shortcuts that inadvertently expose data resources to risks. Cybersecurity awareness training is essential to keep employees informed of the risks and their role in protecting the company’s sensitive data

Examples of Insider Risk 

The following examples of insider risk demonstrate the variety of ways that an insider can harm an IT environment.

  • An employee accidentally includes an attachment containing customer information in an unsecured email. The email is forwarded to multiple entities inside and outside of the organization risking a data breach, the origins of which will be hard to pinpoint.
  • A malicious insider uses elevated privileges to access sensitive data that is valuable to competitors. They choose to download files and arrange to transfer them to a rival organization for personal financial gain.
  • A new employee working remotely uses their home equipment to print files they legitimately need for work. After they are finished using the documents, they dispose of them in a way that risks the information being found and used maliciously.
  • An employee who is leaving the organization downloads proprietary intellectual property and sensitive client data before their last day of work. They can use this information in their new role or threaten the company with disclosure in the hope of financial gain.

How Next Helps Minimize Insider Risk

Next provides a company with multiple benefits that can minimize insider risks. The Reveal Platform by Next is a cloud-based data loss prevention tool built using cutting-edge technology. The solution employs endpoint agents powered by machine learning to identify risks at the source based on behavioral analytics algorithms. It identifies anomalous behavior to deliver data protection at the endpoint without connecting to a separate analysis engine.

In addition to preventing data loss by enforcing a company’s data protection policies, Reveal provides user training at the point of risk. Employees are restricted from performing activities forbidden by the policies and are offered an explanation of where they went wrong so they don’t repeat their mistakes. Reveal helps raise the security IQ of everyone in the organization as they perform their jobs, thereby ensuring continued protection as the risk landscape changes and evolves. Find out how effective your existing DLP solution is with our DLP Policy Testing Tool

Contact the data loss prevention experts at Next and see how easy it is to implement Reveal and strengthen your defenses against insider risk, or book a demo to see Reveal in action today. 


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