Detecting Insider Threats: How to Safeguard Your Company from Within

Posted on Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Insider threats have become increasingly common in recent years, and they pose a big concern for businesses of all types and sizes. That’s because these attacks usually go undetected until it’s too late, compromising the security of sensitive information.

Recent statistics indicate a significant uptick in the frequency of these attacks, as 74% of businesses believe they’re on the rise. Additionally, around 3 out of 4 organisations say they’re at least moderately vulnerable to insider threats.

Not only do these attacks cause damage to the organisational data and reputation, but they can also lead to substantial financial losses. Statistics show that the average cost of recovering from an insider threat is over $15.4 million, increased by 76% between 2018 and 2022.

That’s why it’s crucial for businesses to improve their security posture and implement robust measures for detecting insider threats in a timely manner. Let’s discuss how it can be achieved.

What is an Insider Threat?

It’s important to note that an insider threat can be accidental (when an individual unintentionally shares confidential data) or intentional (when an employee steals information purposefully for personal gain or any other reason).

Indicators of an Insider Threat

Here’s a list of the leading indicators that can help you detect the possibility of an insider threat in your organisation.

  • Changed Behavior: If any of your employees start acting strangely, like being more secretive, defensive, or just plain odd compared to their usual self, that could be a signal of an insider threat.
  • Unusual Access Patterns: Keep an eye out if someone is getting into data or systems outside of their regular work hours or starts checking out information that they don’t really need for their job.
  • Moving Data: If someone is copying or downloading data in large amounts, primarily through encrypted channels, that’s a red flag.
  • Unauthorized Access: If you detect an employee or any other individual entering your systems without granted permissions or using account takeover schemes for access, that’s a problem.
  • Financial Difficulty: Financial difficulties experienced by the insider could also serve as a motivating factor, driving them towards engaging in insider threats, such as data theft for financial gain.
  • Outgoing Emails: If you notice emails with attachments being sent through your organisation’s network to people outside the company who aren’t clients or partners, it could be a sign of an insider threat.

Best Practices to Detect and Prevent Insider Threats

Enhancing your organisation’s security posture against insider threats requires a comprehensive approach, and you can achieve that using the best practices listed below.

Implement Access Control

One of the best ways to improve your organisation’s security against insider threats is to implement access control. It refers to the process of strategic management of access to sensitive data and systems within an organisation.

There are three different types of access control approaches that you can use.

  • RBAC (Role-Based Access Control): In RBAC, access permissions are tied to specific roles within the organisation. Employees are assigned roles based on their responsibilities, and access rights are granted accordingly. This ensures that individuals only have access to the data and systems necessary for their designated roles.
  • ABAC (Attribute-Based Access Control): ABAC takes a more dynamic approach, considering various attributes such as user roles, time, and location to determine access permissions.
  • MAC (Mandatory Access Control): MAC involves setting access restrictions based on the classification of data and the security clearances of users. It can help you ensure that only individuals with the appropriate clearance level can access classified or sensitive information.

Remember, implementing access control is a good practice, but it’s not enough. To fortify your organisation’s security, it is crucial to complement access control measures with real-time monitoring of employee behavior.

It’ll help you ensure that potential insider threats, including unauthorized access and other malicious activities, are identified and addressed quickly.

Apply Network Monitoring

Implementing proactive network monitoring involves keeping a vigilant eye on every aspect of your business, whether on-premises or in the cloud. This continuous 24/7 surveillance is crucial for identifying events that demand immediate attention.

This can be achieved through the use of specialized network monitoring software and tools designed to track and analyze activities in real time.

The main activities that you should monitor include:

  • Access to sensitive data beyond business hours
  • Unexpected changes in user privileges
  • Unauthorized software installations
  • Unusual data transfers to cloud services, shared network storage, or external devices
  • Attempts to bypass security measures
  • Unusual login activity
  • Unauthorized access to sensitive data or critical systems

Monitor Third-Party Access

According to statistics, 98% of organisations across the globe are linked to at least one third-party vendor that has been breached. That’s why monitoring all third parties with access to your company network is essential. Failing to do so could leave your systems vulnerable to insider threats.

To establish secure collaborations, conduct a thorough security risk assessment before partnering with any third party. Assess their cybersecurity policies and data protection practices and investigate any past security incidents they may have encountered.

Additionally, make sure that their security standards align with yours and that they are open to activity monitoring.

Use a Threat Detection Program

One of the most effective ways to detect and deal with insider threats is to implement a threat detection program within your organisation. The primary purpose of this program is to identify signs of a breach as quickly as possible and minimize the potential risks.

A comprehensive threat detection program combines technical controls like intrusion detection systems with human intelligence, including employee reporting.

It helps you create an effective mechanism for identifying and addressing security risks to enhance your organisation’s overall threat-detection capabilities.

Follow a Strict Onboarding and Offboarding Process

Another vital way to protect your company from insider threats is to follow a strict procedure for onboarding and offboarding staff.

Make sure that your security specialists clearly define job responsibilities and grant permissions using the zero-trust approach during the onboarding process. It involves thorough verification of users and their devices (if you use the BYOD policy) before allowing access to the organisation’s network.

When an employee leaves your company, the security department must immediately disable their access to all company accounts and systems, including email, messaging, and cloud storage.

The revocation of access permissions is important because it reduces the risk of insider threats by preventing misuse of accounts. This is especially critical for privileged users who may have had extensive access during their tenure.

Apply MFA and Secure Devices

MFA refers to multifactor authentication and it adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide multiple forms of identification before accessing systems or data. It’s one of the best ways to prevent unauthorized access to organisational accounts.

So, make it mandatory for all your employees to activate MFA for their company accounts. Additionally, it’s also important to roll out a VPN (Virtual Private Network) across all the devices that your employees use to access your company network. Try choosing one that fits each operating system the best. For example, if your employees use Windows, choose VPN for that OS. 

A VPN encrypts internet activity and reduces the risks associated with negligence and compromised devices across an organisation. It’ll help you minimize the risk of credential theft, which can lead to an insider attack.

Offer Security Awareness Training to Your Employees

As mentioned already, insider threats can be both accidental and intentional. The best method to combat unintentional ones, which are caused by human error, is to educate your workforce.

Keep in mind that 74% of all security breaches involve a human element, and you can counter it by providing your employees with security awareness training. For example, when employees are actively engaged and invested in security awareness training, they become vigilant defenders against phishing attempts and social engineering attacks of other kinds. Through AI-powered phishing simulations, you equip your employees with the essential skills to identify and promptly report such sophisticated threats.

You can also consider implementing incentive programs (if your business affords) to reward individuals who adhere to security best practices. Not only will it help you prevent accidental insider threats, but it can also contribute to minimizing intentional ones by fostering a culture of awareness and accountability among employees.

Final Words

Whether your business is a small startup or a large corporation, the potential for insider threats is a constant concern. These threats can disrupt operations, tarnish reputations, and jeopardize financial stability.

Therefore, prioritizing security and taking proactive measures to protect your organisation from these threats is not just a good practice but a vital necessity.