Today, businesses heavily rely on their network, systems, and data for day-to-day operations. While external threats often take center stage in cybersecurity discussions, insiders like employees and business partners can pose significant risks to your organization’s security.
Unlike external threats, insiders may not need to bypass firewalls or security measures; they already have legitimate access. Businesses must implement specialized controls to detect insider threat indicators and mitigate the associated risks effectively. In this article, let’s explore insider threats and common indicators and see how to prevent them.
What Is an Insider Threat?
An insider threat refers to hostile actions taken by individuals who have a direct connection with businesses, such as employees, suppliers, or business associates, and who direct their actions against the organization itself.
These individuals typically have authorized access to the organization’s network, including its sensitive information and applications. Detecting insider threats requires a keen eye for various insider threat indicators, including:
Unusual Login Activity and Access Requests
Users logging in outside of their regular working hours or from unfamiliar IP addresses are immediate red flags. Multiple failed login attempts and access to data systems uncommon for the user’s role can indicate suspicious activity. While some of these activities may have legitimate explanations, organizations often investigate them further or implement additional protection.
Unauthorized Software Usage
The use of unauthorized software or apps can be a cause for concern. For instance, an HR professional typically should not require access to customer resource management (CRM) software.
Elevated Admin Access
Escalation of administrative privileges for unauthorized users, including administrators themselves, may signal an attempt to access sensitive information. Expanding admin access can occur through exploiting security vulnerabilities, bypassing lax security measures, or abusing lenient regulations.
Excessive Data Retrieval
While certain functions necessitate the download of large datasets, any unusual or unrelated data retrieval should be scrutinized. For example, compliance or finance teams routinely generate reports, and the payroll department creates annual tax forms. However, deviations from such routine actions may be indicative of insider threats.
Unusual or Suspicious Workplace Behavior
Suspicious behaviors can extend beyond the digital realm and manifest in the workplace. Signs include escalating disputes with colleagues and superiors, decreased work performance, financial stress, and frequently engaging in work-related activities outside of regular hours or job requirements. While technology alone may not detect these behaviors, employee training and awareness can help recognize them.
Preventing Insider Threats
Early detection of insider threats is crucial to mitigate potential data breaches, which can result in substantial fines and reputational damage. Here are five ways to implement effective prevention techniques:
- Zero-trust access controls: Adopt a zero-trust approach where employee permissions are strictly limited to what is essential for their roles. This approach makes any access upgrade requests more conspicuous and reduces potential harm caused by insiders.
- Security awareness training: Consistent and ongoing security awareness training is vital. Lengthy, one-off training sessions that employees may view as a mere “checklist item” are often ineffective. As a result, frequent reminders of cybersecurity best practices, especially after mistakes, contribute to safer work practices.
- Comprehensive data monitoring: Monitor all file movements, not just those deemed “important.” This proactive approach can detect insider threats before they result in data leaks.
- Establishing a baseline: Build a baseline of typical user activity. This baseline helps in distinguishing between normal and suspicious behavior. Advanced cybersecurity software can help identify trusted devices and locations while flagging unusual data transfers to unauthorized locations.
- Insider threat programs: Create a robust insider threat program, even if operating on a tight budget. Proactive risk reduction through such programs can provide significant time and cost savings in the long run.