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Join us at 2024 API And Application Security Summit in Columbus!
Join us at 2024 API And Application Security Summit in Columbus!
Join us at 2024 API And Application Security Summit in Columbus!
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Attacks, Vulnerabilities

What is an Insider Threat?

An insider threat is a vulnerability danger that originates from inside the affected organization, according to a clear description. The root of the problem would be someone with enough internal knowledge of the business to cause damage. This is not to say that the threat is being made by a current employee or officer of the company. The problem may be caused by a consultant, business partner, retired employee, or board member. Internal actors are complicit in 34% of data breaches, according to the 2019 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report. According to the poll, all workers had access to 17% of a company's classified files.

What is an Insider Threat?

Insider threats have the intelligence, incentive, and authority to steal sensitive business records, according to these statistics. It is the CISO's job to keep the company safe from certain dangers. Someone with specialized knowledge of and/or access to a company's classified data, information technology, or network resources is considered an insider danger. Learning about them and the risks they pose will save you a lot of heartache.

Greed, financial challenges, economic desperation, a need for revenge for corruption, and loyalty to another society are some of the other reasons for unethical insiders. They could pretend to be employees and work for you for a short time to win your confidence before launching an assault. From forgiving a minor debt to selling private sector information to physical violence and property sabotage, insider operations can be everything. In the majority of cases, though, unwitting insiders pose the most risky threats.

Any people unconsciously welcome outside obstacles into the company as a result of human flaws and mistakes. Maybe they gave out personal details on a phishing platform. Errors by data officers or accountant officers can be very costly. Just a handful of these mistakes are the result of stupidity; the rest are the result of a lack of planning and professional integrity. Using a personal password for a work account or opening a malicious link or file without realizing it compromises email security.


Why Insider Threats Are A Big Problem?

It's tempting to ask why Insider Danger is such a big deal, but the implications are surprising. Insiders have access to data and IT systems that are used in a company's day-to-day activities, allowing them to do significant damage.

The threat is true.

Insider attacks accounted for 43 percent of all company assaults, according to a 2015 Intel Security Report, with an equal number of malicious and accidental perpetrators. Insider threats to cybersecurity have been a larger concern, according to the IBM X-Force 2016 CyberSecurity Intelligence Index.

The figures are staggering, indicating that there will be even more in the future.

Can you recall that the bulk of insider attacks involve at least one external party?

All in the affected organization should not have updated their applications, used a default root admin password, clicked on a mysterious connection, sent sensitive data over an unreliable network, or done something else that made the company vulnerable to foreign attackers.


Introducing Insider Threat Programs

An Insider Danger plan is software designed to protect an organization from insider attacks. The primary goal of an insider vulnerability initiative is to prevent data leakage of some sort. The most significant benefit of introducing an insider threat program is the prevention of data leaks and destruction. The ability to track and react to insider attacks is another benefit of introducing the Insider Threat Program. Using this app, the company will be able to defend itself from insiders. In the face of such an attack, you will no longer be vulnerable and powerless.

Installing insider threat software has a slew of advantages for a company. The most significant benefit is that it protects the business against identity manipulation and the effects of a data breach. The cost of any potential breach-related remediation is therefore reduced for an insider effort. Another benefit of using this program is that it can be used to track current employees, contractors, suppliers, or colleagues in order to recognize the company's most significant threats.

Recognize the insider threat software may be unable to detect or anticipate any mistake or threat. For example, internal security and system compliance can be beyond the reach of your insider threat program. An attacker might try something different, like launching a Business Email Compromise (BEC) attack that your company has never seen before.

On the other hand, insider hazard technology would not need to be perfect. It has the capability of alerting staff to possible security risks, potentially increasing security and diligence.

Government Insider Threat Programs and Initiatives

The National Insider Threat Program was created by the US government to identify and implement minimum insider threat program standards for all federal agencies and contractors.

The affected organizations were given 180 days to "develop a policy for deterring, avoiding, and mitigating insider attacks," according to the regulation."

Businesses had to take the following precautions to protect themselves from insider attacks:

  • On encrypted government networks, they keep an eye on their users.
  • Perform a consumer history search
  • Employees should be taught how to recognize and react to insider attacks.
  • Create a framework for analyzing and sharing possible insider threat information.
  • Other measures taken by the government to encourage insider threat initiatives include investigations into existing programs and the creation of an insider threat guide for other organizations to pursue.  

Characteristics of An Insider Threat

It takes more than attention to spot the occurrence of insider threats. Early detection demands knowing the key traits and detecting them in the infancy stage. Below mentioned are defining factors of an insider threat. Gauge on them and succeed in quick identification of this danger.

  • It takes place in the hands of someone trusted and authorized. Even though employees are the culprit in most cases, 3rd party vendors, partners, associates, interns, outsourced workforce, trainers, and board members can also be responsible for it.
  • 100% prevention isn’t possible. Even if robust security measures like firewalls or VPNs are enforced, it’s not easy to stop the insider threat as someone authorized is the root cause of this issue. User authentication and authorizations are preferred means to combat this challenge as they both allow organizations to keep track of employee activity and control it.
  • Consider yourself under the attack of this danger when you find unauthorized or unverified software/tools downloaded on your system. This indicates that an insider is trying to put organizational data at risk by using outside means.
  • It’s mostly carried by a motive like displeasure from the present organization, not getting enough raise & praise, or starting something of your own. But, it’s not always intentional. At times, it could be accidental.

Types of Insider Threats

These are the top insider threats that we have:

5 types of insider threats
  • Routine Access

A company tries its hardest to please its workers. But the fact is that pleasing everybody is difficult. Any workers can become dissatisfied as a result of corporate decisions and practices such as wage reductions, retrenchment, and so on. Since they have regular access to sensitive details on a daily basis, a dissatisfied employee is the most serious insider danger to an organization. You may have your defenses in place, but it's difficult to deter an enraged employee from leveraging their access to tamper with your scheme.

These insiders will attempt to cause damage to their company by disturbing operations or removing records. This form of insider threat can take some time to identify before causing significant harm. The easiest way to safeguard your system against internal attacks is to ensure that the company's information accessed by staff is only essential for day-to-day activities. It's pointless to tell everyone all about your long-term ambitions and secret flaws. If an employee attempts to steal documents, they may only be able to take a small amount and do minor harm as a result of this.

The threat of routine access may also take another shape. Disgruntled employees who have access to company properties and knowledge will profit from them. They can, for a fee, leak sensitive information to the press, sell data to rivals, or sell data on the black market.

  • External Threats

People who have attempted to breach a company's security and are attempting to steal information are considered external threats. External threats may come from a variety of places, including hackers, rivals, and others. A popular form of external threat is the hacker. From the outside, he wants to get into the scheme. To break into your scheme, he may or may not need remote access. A hacker's goal is to steal information. While it is impossible to deter a hacker who has already obtained access to your device, there are several red flags that will assist you in detecting their operation. An external attacker, for example, might attempt to hide in the company's network by using a virtual private network (VPN) or some form of advanced access.

You should recommend upgrading the organization's security mechanisms to protect the data against other forms of potential threats. Many attacks can be thwarted by an upgraded or new monitoring scheme. However, you should have a dedicated team to watch for attempts by external attacks to gain access to your system.

An insider and an external threat will work together to obtain access to a computer or network. The bulk of their activities are motivated by a desire to harm the corporation.

  • Equipment thievery

Another kind of insider vulnerability is someone who has allowed access to a company's infrastructure but operates outside of it. An "outsider insider" is someone who falls into this category. Since they have little to no links to the organiszation, these individuals will easily pose a danger. They may be forced to share classified information or even try to steal confidential data-containing business devices. This kind of data does not end up in the wrong hands.

Because they have authorized access to the system and will arouse little suspicion with their actions, an outsider insider can pose a serious security threat to an organization. They may have their own login credentials for your system, as well as access to company equipment like a laptop or USB drive.

Social engineering is a type of attack that employs deception to persuade people to divulge sensitive information or take pre-determined actions. The company is usually targeted from the outside, and employees are duped into divulging sensitive information about their jobs. If this is done successfully, the consequences could be disastrous for the company. It's even worse if the stolen data is used to gain access to the company's secure network.

Other insider threats, such as equipment theft, can be used in conjunction with social engineering. An external threat, for example, could use social engineering to persuade an employee to hand over their identification or laptop. To avoid falling victim to social engineering tricks, employees must be trained on how to deal with external contacts. Employees of a company should know better than to click on strange links from authorized sources, discuss sensitive information over an unclassified network, or give outsiders information about the company.

Company associates and third-party organizations can be harmed by social engineering. Hackers can approach them with the intention of breaking into your system. They may have put protection at risk by misusing documents, being sloppy with business properties, or using them maliciously. These people are often duped into participating in a series of illegal acts as pawns. An employee installing ransomware to an employee sharing confidential details to an outsider are examples of insider threats. This is a wide category of risks that can cause problems for a company.

  • Unauthorized access

Another insider vulnerability is someone who has improper access to a company's network. These people have a lot of access to the company's computers and facilities. This kind of insider threat is referred to as a "insider-outsider." Although these individuals are unable to steal data or documents, they do pose a security risk because they have access to some of your property.

External actors may contact this individual and offer them money to steal or sabotage critical equipment. The resultant disruption may be substantial, and the cost of restoration will be prohibitive. This group should include goofs that feel they are excluded from security protocols and therefore refuse to adhere to them. Employees trying to breach access protocols were to blame for 95 percent of companies and 90 percent of insider accidents. Every one who, ignoring the fact that it is against corporate protection policies, keeps encrypted personally-identifying information in a recording system for quick access is making a mistake.

  • Turncloak/malicious insider threat

It involves the misuse of authorized access that an employee or associate has and misuse it to carry out fraud, theft, sabotage, and espionage. The simplest example to understand this variety is a situation when a trusted employee, having access to the company’s server, accesses sensitive information and sells it to the competitor to avail benefits like monetary gains, pay hike, new job opportunities, and so on. The culprit can continue the fraud for years if the actions go unnoticed.

Now, there are further two categories of this variety, based on the persons involved in the attack.

A collaborator turncloak attack is when two or more employees come together to attack whereas we call it a lone wolf turncloak attack when only one individual is part of the attack.  

  • Irresponsible insider threat attacks

It refers to attacks that are not planned and take place because of the rookie mistake or carelessness of authorized personnel. For instance, a verified employee accessed the servers and forgot to log out from the system. The open account is later used by someone dangerous to access sensitive data or inability to spot an ill-intended software and download it on the server or network of an organization.

In both the situations, the employee didn’t have the intention to cause harm to the company’s database or digital assets. But, a poor decision or human error ends up in an insider threat attack. This is also further categorized.

The first category is the attack that takes place with the help of a pawn, who is the manipulated or tricked authorized employee. A seasoned cyber criminal can fool a trusted employee with social engineering means like phishing and force them to download the malware or virus on the targeted device.

Goof careless insider threats are situations when a ruthless employee or associate takes careless actions or handles the mission-critical resource carelessly. But, they don’t want to cause any damage. Simply, they want to use assets carelessly and take harm-causing actions.  

The last type of careless insider threat attack involves the help of a mole. Mole is the term used for an outsider that misuses proffered rights and privileges. It could be a vendor or a partner that knows some of the secrets of organizations and sells them for personal gains.

Examples of Insider Threats

A better understanding of this threat is only possible by having a look at its real-time examples. Knowing the examples allows you to figure out how the threat operates, the extent to which its damage can reach, and the security flaws that made this threat possible. This understanding plays a crucial role in threat prevention. This is why we present you with some of the most common and notorious insider threat examples.

  • Waymo - An insider stole over 14,000 files

A brainchild of Google, Waymo is a famous autonomous car development company.

Despite the sound data protection of Google, the company failed to remain safe from insider threats. The culprit, Anthony Levandowski, stole nearly 14,000 critical files while he moved out.

Using the same data, the then-lead engineer of Waymo started his own company that Uber overtook soon after it went live. The stolen data was related to driver information, secret PDFs, various source codes, usage of LIDAR technology, and so on. This data did help Uber but Waymo claimed data theft compensation and it received it as well. All of this trouble happened because an employee wasn’t happy with the current organization.

  • Capital One - A 3rd party vendor caused a serious data breach

This insider threat points out the fact that not being attentive to the 3rd party services that an organization is using might cause serious hassle. It seems like the bank holding organization was using AWS and one of the ex-employee of AWS took the help of a secret vulnerability. The cyberpunk used the vulnerability to access over 100 million user data. The stolen data was related to credit card details.

How to Identify and Prevent Insider Threats

Because they involve people who have gained some level of trust in an organization, insider threats are difficult to detect and prevent. To prevent or minimize the impact of an attack, you must constantly monitor the system for malicious activity.

These are a few examples of suspicious behavior that could indicate a threat from within. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Attempts to gain access to data or systems in ways that are unrelated to any role or individual responsibilities within a company. If you notice any of this, lockout the intruder or take security precautions right away.
  • Identify any attempts to bypass security
  • Identify any violations of corporate policies.
  • Watch out for any disgruntled behavior among coworkers
  • Data hoarding and copying files from sensitive folders 
examples of suspicious behavior

It's important to keep an eye out for unusual activity, but it's not enough. If you are attacked, there are still some steps you can take to reduce your vulnerability and improve your response time.

  • Perform regular penetration tests and scans for vulnerabilities, including potential ways that insider threats could affect the company.
  • Threat-hunting activities such as Dark WebMonitoring, behavioral intelligence, and endpoint detection and response (EDR) are being refined and carried out.
  • Using a combination of data security and identity and access management features to increase data encryption and protect access to the business environment.
  • Putting in place security measures to keep personnel safe. These can include security awareness training for employees as well as human resource controls like employee exit procedures. To limit access to confidential information, you must also implement physical security measures.

Last-line security measures are used to help you combat, monitor, track, and analyze user activity.

While all of these measures are beneficial,it is critical that they be accompanied by ongoing communication between departments and individuals.

This improves the system's security by increasing the chances of detecting an insider threat earlier. The goal should be to build a system that can withstand threats from within.


How To Create Your Own Insider Threat Program

The most effective way to detect, forecast, and respond to insider threats is to use Insider Threat Programs. There is no such thing as a "one-size-fits-all" solution for everyone, however. Each company must develop its own software that is tailored to their specific risks, select security technologies, train, and supervise employees to reduce the risk of any system threats. Take a look at this step-by-step guide to creating an insider threat program for your business.

  1. Pre-planning Phase

The company will map out the entire project at this level, as well as identify all internal assets and stakeholders. This phase's goal is straightforward. Determine which information you want to keep private and who should have access to it. Reduce the size of your business and develop an insider threat program that focuses on the most serious threats to small businesses.

Concentrating on a part of the business that is subject to increased regulatory scrutiny is a good idea. It might be agood placed to start if you've had a major incident in any department or a series of incidents. After you've defined the scope of your insider threat program, the next step is to assess internal assets and stakeholders. What security and law-enforcement measures have been implemented? What methods do you use to spot insider threats? Are there any outside vendors or consultants who might be able to assist you? In most cases, an outsider's experience will benefit the scope of the insider threat program.

  1. Build a team

It's now or never to form a political party. Employees from the pilot department should be involved, as should security personnel. Insider threat management must be more than just a piece of management software that sifts through all employees and instills fear. Make no attempt to make your employees feel responsible for the company's problems. Management and employees should work together to develop an insider threat program. Employees should be able to express their thoughts and concerns, and they should be encouraged to seek help. Employee involvement improves productivity and leads to a stronger insider threat program so staff will assist in coping with the threat.

  1. Management Buy-In

You'll need management buy-in and participation throughout the process. Management is useful for more than just signing off resources and improvements, even if they have access to all of them. External threats and terrorists value management officials the most, and they're the ones who can cause the most damage if they maliciously leak data or make a mistake. Furthermore, if management believes they are a part of the plan, obtaining the tools needed to make it work will be easier.

 Companies will be assisted in developing an insider threat program by an outside vendor who will provide fair guidance throughout the process. An employee will act as a representative of the company to upper management. It would be preferable to present management with a solution for securing business data rather than relying on a third-party vendor. An outside provider should be in charge of overseeing and implementing insider threat systems. Seeking help will help you avoid making mistakes and develop an effective threat detection program.

  1. Identifying Risks

Now that you've persuaded management to implement an insider threat program, it's time to examine what you're trying to protect and what you're trying to combat. Begin by making a list of all the different types of sensitive data that your company has created and stored. You must answer the following questions for each type of data you find:

  • What is the value of the data to you?

What will happen if the data fell into the wrong hands and was hacked or vandalized? Including all fines, financial damages, company losses, legal actions, and lack of competition.

Who might want to steal the information in question, and why? How useful will it be to hackers, external attacks, and other nefarious characters?

How will data be destroyed or accessed by unauthorized parties? Is it something that an approving party might quickly read in an email or something that can be gleaned from internal mail? Is it possible that a company associate would reveal it?

  • What role could it play in causing further breaches?

Any data is worthless in and of itself, but it has a lot of value to a hacker attempting to get into your machine. Other types of data may be useful to any opponents or potential challenges, but they may be useless to anyone else. That is why you must pay careful attention to everything. A parts invoice, for example, could provide critical information about a vendor that a rival may use to learn about your manufacturing process, but it would be useless to someone else. Company data protection should be concerned with avoiding all possible threats or violations.

The truth is that stuff will get messy, and you'll need to keep an eye on a lot of things. Don't get too worked up if you miss a few details. You can't take care of anything in a single day. As a result, you must prepare for risk reduction measures first and address other threats later.

  1. Plan Risk Remediation

From the list where you have written all your potential risks, you will be able to identify the most urgent ones that should be addressed by your insider threat program. This is why you need good knowledge of a particular security program. Unsafe browsing, bad password practices and lack of phishing are major security risks. But your company may have already attended to them during staff training.

One thing which your company is most likely leaving unattended is the issue of risk of unencrypted email. If staff emails sensitive information to one another and because the recipient doesn’t use a secure client port, it can be intercepted by a hacker. It’s a good idea to use an email encryption program for internal communication. This program will make secure communication easier and eliminate the risk of getting vital data into the hands of external entities.

You may also want to tag sensitive data and implement rule on how they are to be handled within the organization. Restrict access to any sensitive information and allow only those who need it to access it. An organization can create rules on how sensitive information is shared and handled. For instance, users should never email billing information because it is a PCI violation. Adopt a Data Loss Prevention solution to help you in the event of data loss.

Poor access control is a major cause of accidental breaches. When staff have more access to sensitive data than their job requires, it creates numerous risks and can increase the scale of breaches. Organizations need to adopt physical, technical, and procedural controls that will determine how much access each employee has. Data should be restricted on a role-by-role basis. For instance, clerical staff may need access to patient names but if they don’t need detailed medical records, they shouldn’t be given access to them.

Organizations should look to create a unified compliance framework that incorporates HIPAA practices such as business associate agreements with tough CJIS compliance standards. CJIS security policies require controls such as weekly audits and account moderation that make it easier to detect insider threats. Multi-factor authentication is not a substitute for good authentication and data protection practices such as strong passwords and changing passwords frequently.

  1. Risk Mitigation for Malicious Threats

An insider threat program plan for malicious threats should be based on spotting and reviewing red flags. Workers should be supervised and taught how to identify suspicious behavior that may sabotage their system. They should also be taught how to avoid careless risks such as leaving your computer unattended to.

Effective threat detection systems can help spot malicious insiders. This is a great idea to make an insider threat program more effective or deal with a history of insider threats.

  1. Risk Mitigation for Third-Party Threats

The scope of third-party access is going to grow continuously considering the increasing reliance on cloud storage, automated systems, and other devices. As organizations try to adapt to different risk strategies to cope with digital transition, only few strategies have proven trustworthy. The most effective strategies focus on securing application and network access. However, as data continues to flow in unexpected levels through external storage and various service providers, access privileges should be on hand to stop unauthorized access to company data.

Object-level data protection with clear and custom access privileges is critical to deter insider threats including third-party risks. The company should focus on data access, data revocation and expirations that will ward off any unauthorized access. This is a good strategy to deal with insider threats that arise in the organization after a long time of separating from the company or moving to another division. Because data privileges remain wherever the data goes, data owner would retain a good deal of control over the data even when stored across a wide range of third party devices.

  1. Iterations

Security is an ongoing process, not a one-time activity. Set modest goals at the early stages of the program and employ workers and program staff that regularly review their progress. You may need to tinker with what’s in place to eliminate any false positives or change priorities, and there’s a good chance that your system needs some upgrades. Stick with what works for you and keep your workers involved as you grow from one stage to another.

At some point, you’ll want to introduce your insider threat program to other parts of the organization.  Look to workers that started out the entire process to serve as leaders and teachers for the rest of their colleagues. The more your company can learn from these people, the better for everyone.

  1. Employee Education

As mentioned earlier, good security and administration practices is the best defense against internal threats. That’s why Employee education is vital. Employees need to be trained and retrained on how to eliminate security risks and deal with compliance issues.

Poor access processes are a main source of insider breaches. Using unsecured public connection/ Wi-Fi, storing your access credentials on a computer, and leaving the computer unattended to in public can result in vital data breaches. The employee’s login credentials can be stolen. For this reason, employees should not save passwords and should configure browsers to clear their cache on exit.

Your security rules should clearly highlight how issues should be handled, reported and who they should be reported to. Each department should have specific procedures in dealing with insider threats including contact info for reporting any potential breaches. Anything that could be a threat to government cybersecurity should be promptly attended to. For instance, if an employee has used a public computed to log into their worm profile or suspects that someone may have spied their details, prompt notification will reduce the risk of any external action. This is why employees should feel free to approach management to air their views.


Insider threats are hard to detect but implementing an insider threat program can help to mitigate the risk. An insider threat program consists of a set of processes, policies, and technologies that protect an organization from any potential threats. The insider threat program can include things like access controls, orientation on security practices, technical tools training, and data loss prevention. Asidesimplementing policies and technologies, insider threat awareness training is vital. Security awareness training is a set of programs and activities that help employees recognize, handle and report any suspicious activities that may lead to security threats.

There are 5 main types of insider threats including social engineering, theft of equipment, routine access, and so on. All of these instructions should be properly treated with implementation of security measure. The more you learn about insider threats and other IT-security issues, the more you can effectively mitigate their risk in your organization.



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February 26, 2024
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