Your most critical threat may already be onsite
Protecting your business from insider threats is a necessary part of sound information security practices. Internal employees account for close to half of the breaches leading to corporate data loss. Whether disgruntled or dishonest, whether destroying records or stealing intellectual property, it is often too simple for insiders to wreak havoc on your most valuable digital assets.
Stopping insider threats isn’t easy. There are a number of behavioral indicators that can help you determine where a potential threat is developing. Behavioral indicators allow you to detect employees that pose increased risks of being malicious insiders and better prepare your company for a potential attack by turning your attention to them. Reliable insider threat detection also requires tools that allow you to gather full data on employee activities.
What is an insider?
An insider can be defined as a person belonging to a particular group or organization. More often than not, this person haslegitimate access to secure data or company information, putting them in an ideal position to threaten the security of the company’s sensitive information.
The five most common types of insider threats include:
- Disgruntled employees— Many things can make employees dissatisfied: getting turned down for a promotion or raise, poor relations with colleagues and managers, etc. Disgruntled insiders may use their position to take revenge on and cause severe harm to your company.
- Malicious insiders— Employees who misuse or abuse their access to steal, leak, or delete valuable corporate data through malicious intentions. The main difference between malicious insiders and disgruntled employees lies in their motivation. Disgruntled employees abuse data as an emotional response.
- Inside agents— These are corporate or government spies inside your company. An inside agent can be either a newcomer or a trusted employee. Their aim is to steal your intellectual property in favor of your competitors in exchange for a reward.
- Regular employees– With limited access to sensitive data, employees rarely conduct full-fledged insider attacks. However, they can often leak data or compromise your corporate infrastructure inadvertently, either by mistake or by becoming a victim of phishing.
- Third-party providers and contractors– Usually, companies have little control over cybersecurity pracices of third-party providers. While you may audit their security controls as part of your selection process, this still does not guarantee the complete safety of your sensitive data. It is best to protect your remote connections from malicious subcontractors or compromised accounts.
Not every insider threat is a malicious one. There is also a significant threat of inadvertent mistakes, which are most often committed by employees and subcontractors. Every company can fall victim to these mistakes, and trying to eliminate human error is difficult.
Your best bet is to improve the awareness of your employees regarding cybersecurity best practices and put policies in place that will limit the possibility of devastating human errors and help mitigate damage in case of a mistake.
Goals of insider attacks
Insiders can target a variety of assets depending on their motivation. Usually, they focus on data that can be either easily sold on the black market (like personal information of clients or employees) or that can be crucial to company operations (such as marketing data, financial information, or intellectual property). Frequent targets of insider attacks include:
- File servers
- Specific applications
- Mobile devices
- Cloud storage
Common behavioral indicators of malicious insiders
Detecting a malicious insider attack can be extremely difficult, particularly when you’re dealing with a calculated attacker or a disgruntled former employee that knows all the ins and outs of your company. One way to detect such an attack is to pay attention to various indicators of suspicious behavior. All of these actions can be considered an attempt on the part of the employee to expand their access to sensitive data. While not necessarily malicious, such actions are an indication that you should keep an eye on the employee and make sure they aren’t copying or otherwise tampering with sensitive data inside your company. Behavioral tells that indicate a potential insider threat can vary depending on the personality and motivation of a malicious insider. However, there are certain common things companies need to watch out for:
- Disgruntlement - When employees are not satisfied with their jobs or perceive wrongdoing on the part of the company, they are much more likely to conduct an insider attack.There are many signs of disgruntled employees. The most obvious are:
- Frequent conflicts with workers and supervisors
- Declining performance and general tardiness
- Employees that have received notice of termination
- Unusual enthusiasm - Sometimes, an employee will express unusual enthusiasm over additional work. This may include:
- Staying late at work without any specific requests
- Repeatedly volunteering for extra work
- Working at odd hours
- Trying to perform work outside the scope of their normal duties
- Working from home without a good reason
- Recurring trips to other cities or even countries- This may be an indicator of industrial espionage. An employee may work for a competing company – or even government agency – and transfer them your sensitive data.
- Questionable affiliations- Another indication of a potential threat is when an employee expresses questionable national loyalty. This may not only mean that they’re working with government agents or companies in other nations but that they are more likely to take an opportunity to steal or compromise data when it presents itself.
- Unexplained changes in financial circumstances- If an employee unexpectedly pays off their debts or makes expensive purchases without having any obvious additional income sources, it can be an indicator that they may be profiting from your sensitive data. Any unexpected and quick changes in financial circumstances are a cause of concern and should be taken as a serious indicator for close monitoring. Possible scenarios for this include:
- An employee may be approached by a competitor and coerced into conducting industrial espionage
- An employee may copy and sell your data for profit
- An employee may start a competing business and use your data and reduce your market share
- Hoarding of corporation information, including:
- Unauthorized downloading or copying of sensitive data, particularly when conducted by employees that have received a notice of termination
- Taking and keeping sensitive information at home
- Operating unauthorized equipment (such as cameras, recording or USB devices, mass storage devices, internet access points, etc.)
- Asking other employees for their credentials
- Accessing data that has little to no relation to the employee’s present role at the company
Such behavior patterns should be considered red flags and should be taken seriously. In order to limit the damage from a potential insider attack, companies should exercise thorough access control and prohibit mass storage devices and other unauthorized devices.
Organizations struggle with how to proactively prevent data loss and address the potential for insider threats and negligence before it is too late. Bawn conducts insider threat investigations to identify patterns of employee behavior and determine where the breach came from, what damage has been done, what critical data has been exfiltrated, and who is responsible. Our team provides the right level of engagement and works with clients to conduct forensic analysis of computer logs, email traffic, and work processes and procedures. We interview personnel, narrow down suspects, examine motives, and figure out how the breach was carried out. Bawn helps businesses establish policies and procedures to train employees, and develop remediation plans ahead of time to address future insider threat incidents.