Among various cyber threats that organizations face, insider threats are the ones that are hard to detect. However, not all insider threats are malicious as many insider threats are unintentional or accidental. Still, organizations need to understand the scope of insider threats and how to prevent them to ensure the overall security of their corporate networks and data. Let’s understand what an insider threat is and how to protect organizations from insider threats.

 

What Is an Insider Threat?

The most common insider threats are usually trusted employees or contractors that are granted a better level of trust than an outsider would be. Trust is established through some primary means of authentication followed by authorization to non-public assets. we can review the difference between an insider threat and an insider attack. An insider attack is an attack that is performed on a system by an insider (employee/vendor) having authorized system access with malicious intent. Insider attacks can be dangerous but insider threats are not harmful. Most organizations pay more attention to tackle external attacks and do not have enough protection against insider attacks.

 

Types Of Insider Threats

Though various types of insider threats exist, important types of insider threat include

  • Malicious insider: Malicious insiders include disgruntled employees or contractors that attempt to steal information with malicious intent to damage the reputation of an organization. This type of threat actors usually has legitimate access to the corporate systems. They make use of this access permissions to steal data or intellectual property. Their primary objective for stealing information can be to sell the information or disrupt business operations of the organization. As malicious insiders are more knowledgeable than other insider threat actors, they can cover up their attacks, making attack detection hard.
  • Careless/negligent insider: Careless or negligent insiders include employees who unwillingly expose the system/network to external threats by not following proper IT procedures. Employees who carelessly leave their laptops without any security come under this category. In this insider threat, employees have no intent to cause harm to the organization but may cause harm unintentionally.
  • Compromised insider: Compromised insiders are the most important type of insider threat that include compromised vendors or employees. This type of threat includes employees whose accounts or systems are compromised and exploited by attackers. Compromised insiders provide system access to attackers by clicking on malicious links that come inside phishing emails. It is the most common type of insider threat that organizations face.

 

Indicators of Malicious Insider Threats

Organizations can identify whether an insider threat is malicious or not by looking out for some suspicious signs. Some signs that indicate malicious insider threats include

  • Activity at odd hours: Signing into the corporate network at odd hours can clearly indicate a malicious activity.
  • High volume of unexpected network traffic: If you notice a high volume of data transfer unexpectedly, it is an indication of malicious insider threat.
  • The type of activity: If someone access unusual resources, it may indicate a malicious insider threat.

How to Detect Insider Threats?

Insider threats are often difficult to detect when compared to external threats. However, organizations can use some solutions and security measures to identify insider threats:

  • User activity monitoring: Effective insider threat detection is possible only when there is full visibility across your corporate networks. Implement user activity monitoring to gain full visibility across all networks and to identify insider threats.
  • Logging and auditing: Logging and auditing user actions and behaviour will help security teams to identify malicious activities that occur in your work environment. The data from monitored users and instances can also be used for further analysis.
  • Use UEBA solutions: Security teams can user and event behaviour analytics (UEBA) solutions for detecting, analyzing, and getting alerts for any possible insider threats.

 

Cybersecurity Best Practices to Prevent Insider Threats

To prevent insider threat in your organization, follow the below-mentioned security best practices:

  • Enforce security policies and guidelines: Enforce strong and effective cybersecurity policies that can secure your corporate network and systems. Revise and update them regularly to keep up (align) with your evolving business needs. Document all the security policies and guidelines and make them available to all so that employees can also know what they must do in certain situations and how to follow these policies to ensure the overall security of the organization.
  • Access management: Ensure that employees are granted the least privilege access to corporate data and network to ensure that they cannot perform actions that are not related to their job duties. Implementing the Just-in-time approach to sensitive systems and role-based access controls can help organizations to enforce proper access controls. Some other measures to ensure proper access management are enforcing multi-factor authentication (MFA) for securing valuable data and assets and implementing a zero-trust security model (where user access to critical assets is denied until additional approvals).
  • Use technical controls properly: Use technical controls such as data loss prevention (DLP) solutions and USB management tools to secure your corporate data and assets from insider threats. Critical data can be secured by taking regular backups and deploying DLP solutions. USB management tools will help prevent employees from using unauthorized USB devices that may be used for installing malware or stealing corporate data.
  • Protect critical assets: Protect all your critical assets, including systems, data, facilities, technology, people, and processes by using appropriate security measures. Also, secure the intellectual property such as proprietary software, customer data, schematics, etc.
  • Increase visibility: Keep track of your employee actions by using security solutions to increase the visibility into actions that are being performed inside your corporate environment.
  • Enforce physical security: Secure areas with critical IT objects in your organization by appointing a dedicated security team that looks after the security of your organization’s IT infrastructure. Ensure the team follows all the security instructions and measures required (e.g., security checking at the entrance) and do not allow any unauthorized access to the areas where these assets are located.
  • Conduct enterprise-wide risk assessment: For effective protection of your corporate assets against insider threats, perform an enterprise-wide risk assessment to know critical assets, their weaknesses, and security threats that may impact the organization. Using the results of the risk assessment, optimize your IT infrastructure by fixing the vulnerabilities and implementing the necessary security measures.
  • Use security software and appliances: Leverage security software and appliances that can protect against insider threats. These appliances include spam filters, Active Directory, intrusion detection/prevention systems, traffic monitoring systems, endpoint protection systems, encryption software, privileged access management system, DLP solutions, etc.
  • Recycle your old documentation and hardware properly: Delete all information present on hard disks such that it cannot be restored before discarding them to ensure that the information cannot be abused by threat actors. Physically destroy old IT devices and disks that contain sensitive data and corporate policies.

 

Organizations need to adopt a proactive approach towards tackling insider threats instead of a reactive one. In addition to the above-mentioned security measures, they need to implement all the security precautions that can prevent the risk of insider threats, for example, revoking the credentials of employees soon after their termination or resignation and using privileged access management to manage their employee access to corporate devices and networks.

 

Reference

https://www.zeguro.com/blog/cybersecurity-compliance-101

https://www.ekransystem.com/en/blog/insider-threat-definition

https://phoenixnap.com/blog/insider-threats

https://www.exabeam.com/ueba/insider-threats/

https://www.imperva.com/learn/application-security/insider-threats/

https://www.netwrix.com/Insider_Threat_Prevention_Best_Practices.html

 

Author,

Priti Giri

Audit and Compliance Team

Varutra Consulting Pvt. Ltd.