The unfortunate truth is that insiders pose the biggest threats to organizational security. Current or former employees, vendors, contractors, partners, and suppliers are constantly entrusted with access to an organization’s assets, internal systems, and sensitive data. This access creates multiple high-risk pathways that increase vulnerability.

Recent research paints a fairly grim picture of insider threats:

  • In 2020, the total average cost of insider threats was $11.45 million;
  • Between 2018 and 2020, insider incidents increased by 47 percent;
  • Employees are now 85 percent more likely to leak sensitive files than they were before COVID-19.

Security teams must stay current on different types of cybersecurity threats. Implementing a robust insider threat detection system to mitigate these threats makes it possible to remain protected in an ever-expanding insider threat landscape. Keep reading to learn more about:

  • Types of insider threats
  • Critical indicators of insider threats
  • Insider threat detection strategies and tools

The Dangers of Insider Threats

In 2021, insider threat incidents are expected to grow by 8 percent, and 33 percent of data breaches will be insider threat-related. Insider threats pose a massive danger to organizations and their sensitive information.

Insider threats are especially alarming because they involve trusted individuals and sometimes even privileged users. Moreover, today’s organizations function in a hyper-connected digital economy, which creates numerous insider threats that can lead to all kinds of destructive problems. As a result, insider threat detection is absolutely vital for organizations.

Types of Insider Threats

Careless Insiders

These insiders are usually unaware of the dangers they introduce into the system by inadvertently visiting malicious websites, clicking on compromised links, or sharing passwords.

Careless insiders generally don’t have poor intentions. Still, their negligence opens doors to malicious hackers and cybercriminals, who can then perpetrate cybercrimes, such as data breaches, against the enterprise.

Compromised Insiders or Pawns

Compromised insiders also have no malicious intent, but their risky actions or lack of cybersecurity hygiene compromises them. It allows cybercriminals to attack the organization via malware, phishing emails, malicious macros, or social engineering.

Malicious Insiders or Turncoats

A malicious insider threat could be an employee, ex-employee, or a vendor who can access the company’s data or intellectual property for nefarious purposes. They may be driven by anger, frustration, a thirst for revenge, or simply money; the important point is that unlike clueless insiders or pawns, malicious insiders want to do damage.

Although negligent and compromised insiders account for most insider threats, malicious insider attacks are also on the rise, accounting for 14 percent of incidents.

Key Indicators of Insider Threats: Behavioral and Digital

The number of potential insider threats and potential for damage can be overwhelming for any security team. Several common digital indicators and suspicious behaviors, however, can suggest the presence of an active insider threat and help security teams focus on the most urgent risks.

Behavioral Indicators

Some typical human behavioral warnings that may indicate potential issues include:

  • Deliberate or repeated violation of IT security policies;
  • Frequently working outside official hours;
  • Multiple attempts to bypass physical or digital security, such as not using an ID card to enter a secure area or using someone else’s password;
  • Displays of anger, frustration, or other disgruntled behaviors;
  • Criticizing the company in a public area; and
  • Publicly discussing new opportunities or a “side gig.”

Digital Indicators

It’s not always feasible to monitor or discover behavioral threat indicators. Digital indicators are more efficient ways to detect potentially harmful activity. These include:

  • Accessing sensitive data or IT resources unrelated to the user’s job profile;
  • Using unauthorized devices outside of official IT control;
  • Downloading files or data from shady websites;
  • Looking for “below the radar” access routes on the network;
  • Copying sensitive data to removable storage devices;
  • Emailing sensitive information or trade secrets to a non-company email address.

Insider Threat Detection Strategies and Tools

To protect the organization effectively, each threat must be recognized, addressed, and mitigated with a robust insider threat detection strategy and tools. For example:

Monitor Employees

Employee monitoring software provides visibility into employee actions and raises alerts when someone does something not aligned with his or her regular role. This software can also log a record of every action, making investigation of security events easier. The software provides an effective way to close any security gaps created by careless or malicious employees.

Security Analytics and Event Audits

Security analytics and event audits are another way to spot insider threats and prevent cybercrimes, frauds, or security breaches. The audit can be performed manually or automatically. It investigates a suspicious-looking activity and compares that event to its “normal” version, to determine whether a threat is actually present.

Security tools that can help with automated event audits include:

  • User behavior analytics (UBA);
  • Real-time employee monitoring and user activity monitoring;
  • Security information and event management (SIEM).

Specialized insider threat detection software is also available and useful.

Monitor the IT Ecosystem

Monitoring the IT ecosystem is another good way to detect potential threats by:

  • Monitoring all files and activity on core data sources;
  • Defining which users should have access to which files or data, and confirming that only those users can access those files or data; and
  • Supervising who accesses sensitive files and when.

Implement a Least-Privilege Model

With the least-privilege access model, every insider gets only the minimum access required to do his or her job. (Temporary access rights can be granted when necessary.) This model makes it possible to identify anyone trying to access a resource or data they should not be able to access otherwise.

Putting data owners in charge of managing all permissions for their data and implementing multiple stop points can also prevent resource misuse or data theft.

In addition to the above strategies, employee security awareness can help with insider threat prevention.

Prevent Cyber Threats with ZenGRC

Reciprocity’s ZenGRC platform provides a comprehensive solution for insider threat detection and mitigation.

ZenGRC can expose existing threats and evolving risks, so organizations can actively identify their vulnerabilities and take quick action to address them. They can also plan for potential threats scenarios to safeguard the business and maintain operational continuity.

Click here for an informative, no-obligation demo of ZenGRC.