In 2016, an article in the Harvard Business Review called out organizations that focused on external cybersecurity threats while ignoring the dangers from within – and rightly so. Today, about 66 percent of organizations believe 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 threat detection. So despite knowing the risks, too many businesses still don’t take insider threats as seriously as they should.

What Are Internal Cybersecurity Threats?

Internal cybersecurity threats can arise from the careless actions or malicious intent of insiders, such as disgruntled employees (or former employees). In particular, the latter aims to damage or steal the organization’s data or intellectual property.

Insider threats are especially troubling because they involve someone who is trusted or has privileged access rights to your organization’s data. Moreover, all organizations are vulnerable to such threats, moreso if they work with valuable or sensitive data related to healthcare, finances, and the like.

5 Common Types of Insider Threats

57 percent of companies say insider incidents have become more frequent since 2020. The most common insider 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. Sometimes 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 Device (BYOD). These devices can be inadequately secure, creating risks such as 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 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.

Social Engineering

Humans tend to trust other humans, and also experience emotions like fear and panic. Cybercriminals may use these “failings” to manipulate employees to reveal their login credentials, share sensitive information, download malware, or even send money.

Shadow IT and Poor Cybersecurity Hygiene

Shadow IT refers to using 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.

How Do Internal and External Threats Differ?

Internal and external dangers can both be fatal for any firm. But they happen in different ways and need different precautions to prevent them.

Internal threats, for example, can be addressed through better cybersecurity training (to prevent accidental data leaks or phishing attacks) or more rigid data segregation (to prevent insiders from accessing data they shouldn’t see). Insiders are already “inside the perimeter,” so to speak; they behave differently than outsiders, so security teams need a different set of tools.

In contrast, external threats first need to gain entry to your network. That means you need tools such as penetration testing, packet inspection, and multi-factor authentication, to keep unwanted visitors out. You also need to watch closely for improper data flows outside of your organization, since that might be a sign of the outsider absconding with valuable data.

Simply put, insider and outsider threats behave differently. The risks each group poses might be similar, but they aren’t identical, and therefore security teams will need tools appropriate for each type of threat.

What are the Effects of an Internal Threat Attack?

The foremost effect of an insider threat is a data breach. People mistakenly leaving their computers in trains and buses while traveling, erasing data from folders by mistake, or even pouring drinks on electronics are some frequent examples. Human error accounts for more than 95 percent of security breaches.

Cybersecurity risks are also linked to dangerous behaviors and shoddy cybersecurity safeguards. For example, if a company’s servers are left unsecured in a room, someone may enter and take sensitive data.

By visiting a rogue website, even regular company employees might unintentionally download a virus, harming the whole network.

What Is a Cyber Attack?

Any effort to obtain unauthorized access to a computer, computing system, or computer network to cause harm is a cyber attack. The goal of the attack is to disable, disrupt, destroy, or take control of a computer system; and to change, block, delete, modify, or steal the data stored on it.

Using one or more different attack tactics, any person or organization may conduct a cyberattack from anywhere.

Most of the time, those who commit cyberattacks are considered criminals. They include persons who act alone and use their computer abilities to plan and carry out destructive assaults. They are also frequently referred to as bad actors, threat actors, and hackers. They may be a part of a criminal organization that collaborates with other threat actors to identify weaknesses or issues in computer systems (also known as vulnerabilities), which they can use to their advantage.

Cyber attacks are also carried out by organizations of computer professionals funded by governments. They are called “nation-state attackers” and have been accused of assaulting the technology infrastructure of other governments, corporations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and utilities.

How to Avoid Insider Cybersecurity Threats

The strategies below can go a long way toward strengthening an organization’s ability to resist insider threats.

Employee Training

59 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 audit practices, such as:

  • Beware of email phishing or spear phishing attacks; avoid clicking on unknown links or opening unknown attachments.
  • Create solid and hard-to-guess passwords for each account with multi-factor authentication (MFA) Tools.
  • Never share passwords or security devices.
  • Never connect to insecure or open WiFi networks.
  • Protect personal devices with reliable security features and encryption.
  • Regularly back up all files.
  • Never share company information in public settings.

Training is the best way to educate employees about social engineering and ransomware attacks. That’s why it should be part of every organization’s cyber risk assessment and mitigation plan.

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 ‘Shadow IT’ Audits

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 monitoring 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 scale of the problem and take proper action to address it.

Tighten Access Control

Access control is a critical data security element and 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. Follow the principle of least privilege, so that 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 current 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 the information security team can remotely erase all sensitive information on stolen devices.

Streamline Cyber Risk Management with Reciprocity ZenRisk

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 Reciprocity ZenRisk.

With ZenRisk, security teams can assess their potential insider threats and take fast action to address them. In addition, ZenRisk’s risk management templates empower your organization by providing the roadmap toward digital risk protection, evaluation, and mitigation.

With a centralized dashboard, ZenRisk 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.

ZenRisk 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. Get a free demo today!