It’s all too easy to assume that any security threat to your business will come from the outside. But even companies with the most rigorous recruitment processes, modern encrypted email systems, and IT security can be at risk of threats much closer to home. An insider threat is the risk of malicious activity against your organization from someone who already has legitimate access to the network, databases, or other applications.
While there is no specific reason for an insider threat, motivation for these attacks can range from corporate espionage to disgruntled employees, carelessness, or financial gain. Insider threats are particularly applicable to healthcare, financial institutions, and governmental departments.
They are also an increasing security concern for many organizations. A 2021 report by the Ponemon Institute found that the number of insider threats grew 47% between 2018 and 2020 and each threat incident took an average of 77 days to contain. So, it’s worth understanding the risks of an insider threat and spotting the telltale signs.
Who Can Be Considered an Insider Threat?
Insider threats don’t have to be current employees (although this risk should never be discounted) but could be former employees who have retained access to the network. It could also come from third parties such as business partners, contractors, or even temporary staff.
In general, an insider threat refers to someone who is causing intentional harm to the organization. But it is also worth considering the potential for unintentional harm, which can be someone with the relevant clearance causing accidental damage.
Spotting the Signs of an Insider Threat
Insider threats are notoriously difficult to spot because they often come from people with legitimate network and database access. Unfortunately, this is also difficult to protect against as employees generally need clearance for resources to do their job. Often this may be sensitive or financial information. In addition, those responsible may also be working to cover their tracks and disguise any wrongdoing. However, there are some telltale signs to watch out for.
These signs tend to fall into two distinct brackets. The first involves behavior exhibited by potential actors in an insider threat. This could be an employee or contractor expressing an interest in things outside their scope of interest, working unusual hours, or making negative comments about the organization. It could also be showing signs of personal difficulty, such as drug or alcohol abuse, financial difficulties, or a sudden change in attitude.
The second category of threat signals involves suspicious or unusual activity on the organization’s online platforms. This could be people logging on at unusual times or from new locations without permission. It could be employees accessing new systems or applications for the first time, unrelated to their work, or even copying large amounts of data when not required.
How to Prevent Insider Threats
Although difficult to detect and deter, preventing insider threats is not impossible. The main areas of focus for any organization should be offering better employee training (mainly to prevent accidental damage or incidents) and coordinating efforts between security and HR departments (or at least encouraging closer collaboration).
Discovering insider threats often involves taking a proactive approach, so try to build a team that actively hunts unusual or suspicious behavior. Using behavior analytics tools on your IT platforms can also help you identify threats early and may prove to be a very sound investment in the long run.