While much of IT security is focused outward, experts warn organizations should be looking inward—to suss out the insider threat.

The IT security ideal lets nothing past its cyber-defenses. It recognizes and counters all oncoming attacks with dexterity, resilience, and efficiency. But while much of IT security is focused outward, experts warn organizations should be looking inward—to suss out the insider threat. And survey results agree: today’s IT leaders agree the human element of their organization is what leaves them most vulnerable. 

What, exactly, is an insider threat? CISA has plenty to say about it, as well as how to mitigate it. Their guide for vulnerable entities in the private sector defines an insider threat as “the potential for an insider to use their authorized access or special understanding of an organization to harm that organization,” which can include “malicious, complacent, or unintentional acts that negatively affect the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of the organization, its data, personnel, facilities, and associated resources.”

What’s more, the nebulous “insider” isn’t necessarily a malicious agent undercover. CISA explicitly defines the insider as “a person with access to protected information, which, if compromised, could cause damage.”

This explains why the definition of an insider threat is so broad—an “insider” can be anyone, and the “threat” they pose to their organization can be anything from accidentally clicking a link in a phishing email to deliberately exposing private data. With such a mercurial problem set on hand, how can your organization adapt, modify, and improve upon its internal security to ensure that, intentional or not, insider threats have no chance of hitting you where it hurts?

Run The Risks

What makes the insider threat so nefarious is that, as opposed to hackers, insiders will already have authorized access to at-risk systems and sensitive data. However robust your systems are at detecting intruders, those precautions won’t matter when your attacker appears entirely legitimate.

It’s important to note that while some employees are acting on behalf of external threat actors that recruit them for malicious system infiltration (international espionage makes this a significant concern), most employees are acting on behalf of themselves. There’s the deliberate attacker, usually with an axe to grind with their employer, who knows their organization’s weak points from the inside out and isn’t afraid to exploit them. And then there’s the disaffected employee, who means no real harm, but cuts corners and ignores security protocols to get the job done.

Social engineering is a serious concern for the latter, but the former is much harder to catch. Experts advise it’s all about looking for patterns of risky behavior, then determining whether that behavior merits additional monitoring.

There are a number of potential high-risk expressions, but according to CISA, the most prominent involve serious physical, emotional, or mental health stressors; a background with “individuals or groups who oppose core beliefs or values of the organization;” addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, and so on; a series of short-term employments in the employee’s past; and/or a generally disgruntled or resentful attitude.

Connect The Dots

Spotting such risk red flags requires you to, first, be aware of the aforementioned behavioral expressions in your employees, but second, to diligently cross-reference them with how they might interact with sensitive data. There’s probably nothing to worry about when a data analyst with a history of strong performance accesses the company’s high-value assets, but the same can’t be said for someone with similar access is known for attitude issues and occasional personal recklessness. By keeping a record of how your employees utilize sensitive systems and data, it becomes easy to highlight risk areas when employee behavior deviates from expectations.

Because mitigating insider threats must account for both intentional and unintentional offenses, it poses a large landscape to attend to. An effective program should work to head off any individuals of concern, whether that be addressing employee grumbling, a perceived injustice, or a specific complaint, as well as doling out consequences for behavior that violates professional, ethical, or company culture norms. To ward off unintentional exposure, such as that created by phishing or other social engineering tactics, examine how your work environment teaches and models IT security best practices for those who are new, changing roles to greater data/systems access, or who struggle to spot risk when it comes knocking.

The fight against insider threats is a delicate balance of a security-centric culture, ongoing security awareness training, thoughtful employee behavior analysis, and early threat detection. A good strategy isn’t purely automated nor run with only human leadership, but rather incorporates all the tools at your organization’s disposal.

Scrutinize Your Security

When considering insider threats, part of a strong defense is knowing what weak points an attacker with insider info may target. In other words, you need to know your vulnerabilities 24/7, 365—and BAI Security’s Network Vulnerability Assessment has you covered.

As a supplement to our robust IT Security Assessment, a Network Vulnerability Assessment scans your systems and reports back a cohesive, exhaustive report of which facets of your systems are most at risk. Our accompanying Vulnerability Management service will assess and provide cost-effective, real-time solutions for those at-risk assets, including any-time-you-want scanning for your peace of mind.

We also recommend taking advantage of our Social Engineering Evaluation to help your employees shift from your biggest risk to your organization’s human firewall.

If you’re ready to effectively shore up your human security element and more, contact us today to discuss customizable and cost-effective options.