Insider Threats: A guide to understanding, detecting & preventing insider security incidents

Insider Threats: A guide to understanding, detecting & preventing insider security incidents


Insider threats are a growing concern for business owners and IT experts. According to Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report, 30% of data breaches directly involved internal actors. Security threats that originate from within an organization are often the hardest to detect and prevent. especially since an insider has the trust and knowledge of infrastructure systems and data assets as well as authorized access to both.

Despite a 47 percent increase in insider threat incidents over the last two years, most organizations don’t have proper security systems in place to detect or prevent insider incidents.

What Is an Insider Threat?

An insider threat is a security breach risk situation posed by people from within an organization. An insider can be a current or former employee, or a third party such as a business partner or contractor, who has authorized access to sensitive information and can divulge, modify or delete data records.

Who Are Potential Insiders?

Anyone who has authorized or privileged access or insider knowledge about a company’s infrastructure, operations, cybersecurity practices or data, is a potential insider threat.

They could be, current or former:

  • Business owners or employees
  • Contractors/sub-contractors
  • Partners
  • Vendors

Over 60% of insider incidents are caused by negligent employees or contractors, 23% percent by criminal/malicious insiders and 14% as a result of credential theft.

Types of Insider Threats:

Malicious Insider – The perpetrator could be a disgruntled employee or anyone with malicious intent who exploits their position and privilege to disclose sensitive information for personal or financial benefits, or to deliberately sabotage the company.

Negligent Insider – A regular employee or an unintentional participant whose carelessness leads to a security incident. Many organizations fail to recognize this threat until it’s too late.

Collusive Insider – This type of insider has links with external bad actors whose motive is to compromise sensitive data or steal trade secrets or intellectual property by gaining access into the organization.

Third-Party Insider:

This type of insider could be a business associate, contractor or vendor who has some level of access to an organization’s network and information. They may not be a direct threat but have access to unsecured systems or devices that cybercriminals could easily exploit.

Common Motivations Behind Insider

a. Money/Greed

Financial gain can be a huge motivator for malicious insiders. Whether it’s customer information or trade secrets, data is an asset. For a malicious insider with access to an organization’s network and information, this is an easy opportunity to make a quick buck

b. Espionage

Sometimes referred to as industrial espionage, economic espionage, or corporate spying. It is the act of obtaining sensitive information or trade secrets and sharing it with another party for commercial or financial purposes.

c. Strategic/Competitive Advantage

An organization could plant a mole in its competitor’s company to obtain proprietary or customer information to gain a competitive edge. It could also be an insider sharing classified information to another competitor for personal gain or a departing employee taking confidential documents or customer lists to impress a new employer.

d. Revenge

A disgruntled employee or a former employee who joins a competitor can deliberately or unwittingly disclose trade secrets.

e. Ideological/Political/Religious Agenda

These insiders can be influenced by emotions or extremist moral or religious beliefs. They could also be primarily driven by national pride or have unique political objectives.

Why Your Organization Needs to Take Insider Threats Seriously

Since insider threats originate from within an organization, they are hard to detect and defend against, making them very dangerous. Unlike external actors who need access to penetrate an organization, an insider has legitimate access to a company’s network and systems. An insider with bad intent can exploit these authorizations and easily bypass security measures to expose confidential information and compromise an organization.

Primary Asset Target for Insiders

An insider can divulge sensitive data either deliberately or accidentally, which can be damaging and costly for an organization if it falls into the wrong hands. Some of the primary asset targets for insiders include:

  • Critical operational or programming data for business
  • Private customer or employee data
  • IP or trade secrets
  • Financial data

Most Common Consequences and Costs of an Insider Attack

Loss of Critical Business and Customer Data:

An insider event can put critical business and customer data at risk, which can lead to loss of confidence, negative reviews, or confidential theft.

Disclosure of Trade Secrets

Losing intellectual property, such as trade secrets, blueprints, or designs, can lead to a competitive disadvantage. A business rival can leverage the stolen information to get ahead of the competition.

Financial Costs and Losses

Insider security incidents can result in significant revenue loss.

The total average cost of insider-related incidents is $11.45 million – a 31% increase over the previous two years.

Reputation and Brand Damage

Diminished reputation is a long-term consequence of an insider attack. One successful insider incident can damage even the best of brands and reputations.

Some of the common consequences and costs of insider attacks include:

Loss of Customer Trust and Business

This is perhaps the worst consequence of an insider attack. Although organizations can physically or operationally recover from an insider attack, regaining the trust of concerned customers and partners can be difficult.

Regulatory Compliance Violations and Fines

An insider threat


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