Insider threats: What they are, and why they’re a real menace to businesses

Insider threats: What they are, and why they’re a real menace to businesses

The term “insider threat” gets thrown around a lot in the business world, but what does it actually mean?

An insider threat is an employee or a contractor who uses their access to company resources to harm the business, either accidentally or on purpose. Insider threats can be costly to deal with, especially since detecting a threat coming from inside the organization can sometimes be more difficult than external ones. It pays to know what insider threats are, why they’re a real menace to businesses, and what steps you should take to protect your company from them.

What are the types of insider threats?

Malicious insider threats are those that try to damage a business, either by stealing confidential data or intellectual property or by sabotaging the company's operations on purpose. An internal threat to your organization can be motivated by the attacker's desire for revenge or financial gain, or by an ideological agenda. Attackers often use social engineering tactics like phishing emails to gain access to sensitive information, and may even use malware or ransomware to disrupt operations.

By contrast, unintentional insider threats are those that occur accidentally or due to carelessness. These are usually caused by employees who have no malicious intent toward the company but whose lack of proper cybersecurity awareness causes harm, regardless. Unintentional insider threats can include accidental data breaches due to weak passwords, unsecured accounts, poor security practices, improper handling of sensitive information, and mishandling of hardware such as laptops and USB drives containing confidential data.

In addition to these two types of insider threats, there is another type known as “insider threat actors” who are individuals outside of a company or third parties who gain access to sensitive information through hacking or other illegal means. Insider threat actors use advanced techniques like social engineering and spear phishing campaigns to steal data or intellectual property.

Examples of insider threats

A good example of an insider threat is a disgruntled employee who seeks to steal confidential data or company intellectual property to exact revenge or for financial gain. Such bad actors can be particularly dangerous, as they may have legitimate access to the company’s resources, which means their attempts to sabotage the business can often go undetected for long periods of time.

To spot malicious insider threats, organizations must be cognizant of employees behaving suspiciously. Some signs to watch out for include abnormal login times, sudden changes in performance or attitude, and missing hardware. It’s crucial to pay attention to employee turnover and exit interviews, as what employees say or how they behave can indicate an impending attack.

An example of an unintentional insider threat is an employee who inadvertently leaves their laptop containing confidential data unsecured in a public area, or sends sensitive information through unencrypted emails or while connected to an unsecured Wi-Fi network. Organizations can prevent security incidents resulting from this type of insider threat by ensuring that all employees are properly trained on security protocols and have access to the necessary tools to help them protect their data. Working with a cybersecurity services provider who can devise a comprehensive security plan can also go a long way in protecting a business's networks.

How to protect your business from insider threats

To safeguard your business from any internal threats, it is crucial to have robust security protocols and ensure that all personnel are adequately trained in them. You should also put a comprehensive incident response plan in place so you can quickly respond and contain any damage in case an attack does occur.

In addition to enforcing strong security policies and ensuring that all employees are properly trained on IT security best practices, organizations should also implement access controls and authentication protocols so that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive data. Organizations should also restrict employees’ access to only what is necessary for them to do their job. Doing so will reduce the risk of an attack or malicious insider threat.

Companies should also provide clear policies around the proper handling of customer data and invest in tools such as user activity monitoring software, which can help detect suspicious activity in real time. This way, any potential risks posed by insiders can be addressed quickly before they become a problem.

Learn more about how you can beef up your business's security systems by reading our free eBook, Data Breaches: A Definitive Guide For Business Owners.

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