In 2016, an article in the Harvard Business Review called out organizations that focused on external cybersecurity threats while ignoring the threats originating from within — and rightly so. Today, about 66 percent of organizations believe that malicious insider attacks are more likely than external attacks.
This points to a growing (and welcome) awareness of internal cybersecurity threats. At the same time, however, surveys also find that 66 percent of companies don’t devote sufficient resources to insider threats. So despite knowing the risks, too many businesses don’t take insider threats as seriously as they should.
What Are Internal Cybersecurity Threats?
Internal cybersecurity threats can arise from the inadvertent actions of careless actors, or from the malicious intent of insiders such as disgruntled employees (or former employees). The latter’s goal is usually to damage the organization or steal its data or intellectual property.
Insider threats are particularly troubling because they involve someone who is trusted or has privileged access rights. Moreover, all organizations are vulnerable to such threats, more so if they work with valuable or sensitive data related to healthcare, finances, and the like.
5 Common Types of Insider Threats
Fifty-seven percent of companies feel that insider incidents have become more frequent since 2020. The most common internal cybersecurity threats are:
Physical Theft by Employees
Employees have physical access to a range of devices and equipment. Occasionally, they claim that a device was lost when they stole it. At other times, a departing employee may not return a company device because “no one asked me to.”
In either case, device theft leaves the company vulnerable to data breaches, access by unauthorized users, and many types of cybercrimes.
Use of Unauthorized Devices
In the post-COVID world, millions of employees are working remotely on personal devices. This is known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). These devices can be inadequately secure, creating risks like malware attacks and virus infections.
If used over insecure WiFi networks, company data stored on the device can be intercepted by hackers, especially if the data is not adequately encrypted.
Deliberate or Inadvertent Data-Sharing
Employees or other insiders who share data, either deliberately or inadvertently, create a severe internal risk.
They may post something about the company on social media, send an unencrypted email to the wrong recipient, discuss company secrets in a public setting, or even not realize that a threat actor is capturing all their keystrokes through a keylogger.
Humans tend to trust other humans and also to experience emotions like fear and panic.
A cybercriminal may take advantage of these “failings” to manipulate an employee to reveal his or her login credentials, share sensitive information, download malware, or even send money.
Shadow IT and Poor Cybersecurity Hygiene
Shadow IT refers to the use of unauthorized software, applications, services, or devices that are not authorized or tracked by the IT department.
It creates serious security blind spots, so any threat actor can leverage these applications or devices to access the company’s network or data.
Poor cybersecurity practices such as using weak passwords and clicking on links inside emails from unknown senders also create serious cybersecurity risks.
Strategies to Avoid Insider Cybersecurity Threats
The strategies below can go a long way towards strengthening an organization’s ability to resist insider threats.
Fifty-nine percent of IT leaders expect insider risks to increase in the next two years. One way to lower these risks is by training employees on safe cybersecurity practices, such as:
- Beware of email phishing attacks; avoid clicking on unknown links or opening unknown attachments.
- Create solid and hard-to-guess passwords for each account.
- Never share passwords or security devices.
- Never connect to insecure or open WiFi networks.
- Protect personal devices with solid security features and encryption.
- Regularly back up all files.
- Never share company information in public settings.
Install Strong Security Protections
Antivirus and anti-malware software, firewalls, Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) tools, and Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools can protect the organization from insider threats.
Perform a Regular ‘Shadow IT’ Audit
The prevalence of shadow IT usually indicates that the company is not providing employees with the right tools for their work or that the IT department is lax about keeping an eye on shadow IT assets.
To deal with such issues, an audit is essential. By auditing the various tools and software employees are using without IT‘s blessing, the enterprise can understand the accurate scale of the problem and take proper action to address it.
Tighten Access Control
Access control is a key element of asset and data security, and it should be implemented as part of the insider threat management plan.
The access control security policy should determine who can access what kind of data and under what circumstances. It’s best to follow the “least privilege” principle, so insiders can only access the resources necessary to perform job functions.
Encrypt Data and Devices
It’s always a good idea to encrypt data and devices. So even if a former employee’s malice or a privileged insider’s carelessness leads to a cyberattack, the organization’s data and assets are still somewhat protected.
Even better: enable the remote wipe option, so that the information security team can remotely erase all sensitive information on stolen devices.
Mitigate External and Internal Threats With ZenGRC
Internal cybersecurity threats are here to stay. Organizations can, however, minimize their attack surface from this threat vector by deploying an integrated security and risk management platform like ZenGRC.
With ZenGRC, security teams can assess their potential insider threats and take fast action to address them. ZenGRC’s risk management templates empower your organization by providing the roadmap toward risk evaluation and mitigation.
With a centralized dashboard, ZenGRC shows you where your organization stands against risk at any given moment, with real-time alerts that show you where your risk management gaps are and how to fill them.
ZenGRC automates the time-consuming follow-up tasks associated with risk management so you can focus on mission-critical items such as planning for business continuity and disaster recovery to safeguard the business from these threats.