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The Risk of Insider Threats in Cybersecurity

The way we work has changed forever, with a large part of the workforce operating from remote endpoints and accessing an organization’s IT infrastructure from different geographical locations. Vendors and contractors external to an organization, often access its systems remotely as well. This raises the risk of bad actors with internal access that is hard to detect since motivations can vary from a disgruntled attitude to personal monetary gain. Insider threats can also be wholly unmotivated and a product of negligence from an employee. These types of threats represent more than two-thirds of breaches, even with prevention solutions in place. Corporate data and IT assets face a high level of vulnerability when it comes to insider threats, and most security strategies aren’t doing much to cover this area of risk. These invisible threats can lead to data loss, identity theft, and cause an organization to have massive monetary damages.

Common vulnerabilities

Breaches stemming from insider threats are linked to either bad faith or ignorance throughout several moments during the access, use, or transfer of data. Here are a few examples of common vulnerabilities that can lead to breaches:

  • Misuse of passwords: weak or generic passwords, sharing of passwords, or absence of password protection all increase the risk of insider threat
  • Phishing: unsavvy employees can easily and unintentionally transfer data to malicious actors through fake websites and malware-ridden ads. Employee education on how to recognize phishing must be part of an organization’s overall security strategy.
  • Decentralized storage of sensitive data: having your sensitive data stored across many devices without proper asset visibility can lead to numerous users with unrestricted access on unsecured devices. Centralizing data storage with managed security services helps you keep control of these vulnerabilities and mitigate risk.
  • Ignored security practices: security needs to become part of your organization’s corporate culture. Educating your workforce and enforcing robust security policies and procedures are the best way to avoid insider threats.
  • Inadequate event monitoring: monitoring, analyzing, and responding to security events provides visibility and understanding of vulnerabilities, helping the organization detect and neutralize threats before they can cause any damage.

The Root-Cause

Bad actors and employee negligence are certainly the main avenues for insider threats, but the root of the problem goes deeper. Inadequate security practices, policies, and standards are often the biggest reason why insider threats turn into breaches, loss of data, and the disastrous consequences of these events. Organizations must incorporate a robust security strategy across their entire organization that addresses governance, risk, and compliance, with a significant focus on endpoint security. These approaches need to address vulnerabilities, limit access to sensitive data, and prevent insider threats, while also respecting the employee’s right to privacy.   

Controlling Risk

Taking measures to control and mitigate risk follows the proper assessment and acknowledgement of vulnerabilities. Here are some measures that need to feature in your security and risk management strategy:

  • Limiting access: access to sensitive data and corporate resources should be heavily controlled and handled on a need-to-know basis. Regular privilege assessments and modifications should be performed to ensure no one has access who shouldn’t have it. The less privileged users, the lesser chance of malicious exploitation of access.
  • Gaining visibility: having a centralized security solution in place that gives an organization analytical data on employee behavior, security events, access controls, and impending threats will help detect malicious behavior before it can develop into an attack. A solution like this must go hand-in-hand with robust security policies, procedures, and practices.
  • Employee education: ignorance, negligence, and lack of knowledge on cyber risk is the leading cause of insider threats causing damage. Educating employees, vendors, and partners on an organization’s security policies, procedures, and practices will improve risk awareness and promote appropriate behavior and handling of data.
  • Multi-factor authentication: having two or more authentication factors for access as well as enforcing unique and strong passwords makes it more difficult for phishers, hackers, and other bad actors to take advantage of unsuspecting employees.

Above all, security needs to be ingrained in organizational culture. It needs to become a part of daily work life, and every member of the organization must participate. Enforcing security and protecting data is a combined effort of strategy, people, and technology.

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Computer theft with hands on laptop keyboard

The Risk of Insider Threats in Cybersecurity

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Claudia Smith

Claudia Smith

Marketing and communications experience in technology and finance. Graduated in 2010 with a master’s degree in public relations from Michigan State University.

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