How to Detect and Prevent Insider Threats in Your Organization

November 25, 20234 min read

Insider threats come from people within the organization, such as employees, former employees, contractors, or business associates, who have inside information concerning the organization’s security practices, data, and computer systems. The threat that an insider will use their access, wittingly or unwittingly, to do harm to the security of the organization is a challenging and persistent issue. Fortunately, there are various ways to detect and prevent these kinds of security breaches.

Understanding Insider Threats

Types of Insider Threats:

  • Malicious Insiders: These individuals intentionally abuse their access to harm the organization.
  • Negligent Insiders: Employees who unintentionally cause harm through negligence, such as by falling for phishing attacks.
  • Infiltrators: External actors who obtain insider credentials without authorization.

Potential Risks:

  • Intellectual property theft
  • Data breaches of sensitive information
  • Financial theft or fraud
  • Damage to organization’s reputation

Detecting Insider Threats

Behavioral Indicators:

  • Unusual access patterns or working hours
  • Excessive downloading or printing of sensitive documents
  • Attempts to bypass security controls
  • Expression of discontent or disagreement with organizational policies

Technical Indicators:

  • Unexplained increase in data usage
  • Multiple failed login attempts
  • Unusual outbound network traffic
  • Installation of unauthorized software

Monitoring and Surveillance:

  • Establish a system for monitoring user activity.
  • Use automated tools to flag anomalous behavior.

Whistleblower Programs:

  • Implement a mechanism for employees to report suspicious behavior confidentially.

Regular Audits:

  • Regularly review access logs and other security records.
  • Conduct random audits of sensitive systems and information.

Preventing Insider Threats

Culture and Training:

  • Foster a security-minded organizational culture.
  • Provide regular training on security best practices and threat awareness.

Access Control:

  • Implement the principle of least privilege.
  • Use role-based access controls to minimize each user’s exposure to sensitive information.
  • Regularly review and update access rights, especially after role changes or terminations.

Process and Policy Development:

  • Develop clear policies for data handling, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and remote work.
  • Include clear consequences for security violations.

Technology Solutions:

  • Employ Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools that track and prevent the inappropriate flow of sensitive information.
  • Use security software that includes real-time threat detection and incident response capabilities.

Insider Threat Programs:

  • Establish a dedicated insider threat program that focuses on prevention, detection, and response.
  • Staff the program with a mix of IT, cybersecurity, HR, and legal expertise.

Exit Strategies:

  • Have formal procedures in place for when employees leave the organization.
  • Immediately revoke access credentials and recover any company-owned devices.

Encouraging Transparency:

  • Create an environment in which employees feel comfortable discussing mistakes, such as falling for a phishing scam, without fear of retribution.

Behavioral Analysis:

  • Employ User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) to establish baseline behaviors and detect anomalies.

Continuous Improvement

After-Action Reviews:

  • After a security incident, perform a thorough review to understand what happened and why.
  • Adjust policies and procedures based on lessons learned.

Ongoing Evaluation:

  • Continuously evaluate the effectiveness of the detection systems and adjust thresholds and parameters as necessary.
  • Stay aware of evolving threats and update training and systems accordingly.

Collaborate with Stakeholders:

  • Collaborate with IT, HR, legal, and other relevant departments to ensure a cohesive approach to insider threat management.

Legal Considerations:

  • Ensure that all monitoring and detection activities comply with laws and regulations regarding employee privacy and surveillance.

By understanding the potential risks from insider threats and implementing a comprehensive strategy to detect and prevent them, organizations can mitigate the impact these threats can have. Regular training, technological solutions, thorough audits, and a culture of transparency are paramount in reducing insider risks and keeping the organization’s assets secure.