In the current digital economy, cybersecurity has become one of the most important components of any successful operating business. While the development of IT and cloud solutions provided numerous benefits and opportunities for businesses, they also opened up a vast array of security risks from which malicious entities can take advantage of the excessive reliance on tech solutions. The transition towards the digital environment has made the severity of cyber-attacks and data breaches more significant, where apart from investing in cybersecurity solutions, organizations must be aware of the risks and threats that they are exposed to.

Network infrastructures are an essential component of critical importance for organizations in the modern digital environment, where the daily operations of organizations, enterprises, and institutions are dependent on those infrastructures to access, share, and exchange data, information, and computer resources.  The conventional security approaches for organizations focused on enhancing security barriers around the in-house facilities and resources to protect them from the external risks and threats that surrounded their environment. However, as the alarming rate of reported cyber-attacks and data breaches has no intention of slowing down, the risks originating from insiders have become a critical issue that must be addressed.

The development of cybersecurity strategies and solutions typically addresses the risks and threats that lure around the network infrastructures of organizations. While the most frequent cybercrime strategies and methods utilize anonymity operating from remote locations as external threats, the risks coming from insiders are of critical concern for organizations. Insider threats refer to security risks of an organization originating from inside the organization. Specifically, insider threats criteria become actual when current or former employees of an organization, business partners, consultants, or other third-party cooperators, maliciously utilize their access privileges to the data, systems, or network of an organization and place the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the organization’s information and information systems at risk. 

The development of the network infrastructures has enabled business organizations to enhance their operating environment by providing access to shared resources and information for the staff to help them carry on their tasks and responsibilities. Having to rely on the benefits of these infrastructures, organizations must develop strategies and mechanisms that will enable them to detect insider threats and malicious insiders. Entrusting individuals with access to organizational resources, systems, and networks presents a serious security concern for which organizations must carefully assess and evaluate the potential risks and threats that may come from such inside sources.

The significant surge of cybercrime has increased the security threat landscape that organizations have to prepare for, with insider threats being one of the most prevalent security concerns affecting 34 percent of businesses worldwide on a yearly basis. The importance of insider threat mitigation and protection is due to the cost of identifying a breach which includes the stoppage of business processes for detecting and mitigating the source. The sophistication of attack strategies has at times outperformed the security solutions available for businesses, yet, the importance of ensuring protection against insider threats has incentivized the majority of organizations to utilize monitoring tools such as employee monitoring and surveillance, data leak prevention software, and user behavior analytics software for detecting insider threats.

The Types of Insider Threats

While the traditional security mechanisms were developed focusing on the possibilities of external threats occurring, the risks coming from inside the organization can be just as severe, if not more than the external risks and threats. Indicators of insider threats mainly include abnormal and suspicious activities such as logging into the system or network at unusual hours, transmitting unusually large volumes of data, or other types of activities that are not routine. The motivation for insider threats can be of various sorts, as well as different objectives that indicate the carrying out of such actions. In general, there are three types of insider threats, which include:

  • Malicious Insider: This type of insider refers to individuals that intentionally abuse legitimate credentials for stealing various types of information for various purposes such as financial or personal gain. These types of insider threats are also referred to as turn cloak
  • Careless Insider: This category includes individuals who carelessly make mistakes and are not attentive towards security practices that the organization established. Careless insiders have become quite risky due to them unknowingly exposing organizational information and resources to the external environment.
  • Compromised Insider: This type of insider threat includes individuals who have had their access credentials harvested by attackers by various means, most commonly by social engineering; they unintentionally become a tool for the attacker in their pursuit to access sensitive data, information, or resources.

Enhancing Protection from Insider Threats

Insider threats have become one of the most prevailing security issues for organizations across every operating industry. Due to organizations focusing on the digitalization and automation of business processes and operations through various technological means, the risks that arise as a result of providing privileged access to individuals can cause serious security issues. Insider threats can include employees of every level that can try to execute the attack and go through all the stages of the cyber kill chain. Therefore, organizations must focus on establishing defense mechanisms for all the stages of the cyber kill-chain. Some of the steps that organizations can undertake to minimize the risks of insider threats include:

  • Understanding the scope of the critical assets.
  • Developing an insider threat program.
  • Document and enforce security controls and policies.
  • Anticipate and manage any type of issues in the working environment.
  • Integrate insider threat issues into the security awareness training for employees.
  • Promote the utilization of strong passwords.
  • Monitor and keep track of remote access into organizational systems and networks.