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How to Identify Insider Threat

by Emily Rich

What are insider threats?

An insider threat is a potential risk to an organization that comes from malicious insiders. These are often people within the organization, such as employees, former employees, contractors, or business associates, who have inside details about the organization and often involve sensitive data.

Insider threats can involve current or former employees using their access privileges to gain access to the organization's network and gain confidential or sensitive information. Insider threats can also involve employees using their privileged access to sabotage and steal trade secrets or customer information for the commercial gain of another organization.

Insider threat incidents in the US have more than doubled in the last two years, with businesses across the country experiencing 2,500 internal security breaches every day. Insider attacks can cost a company millions of dollars; therefore company's security team should use security tools to limit external threats and detect potential insider threat.

Who are the malicious insiders?

In most cases, malicious insiders are employees who have been granted system access rights to sensitive data, privileged accounts and systems. They may be authorized to perform specific tasks or access sensitive documents, but they use that access to steal or damage sensitive information, intellectual property and prevent the organization's financial gain.

Malicious insider threats can occur in any industry and at any size of company. The most common types of malicious insider attacks include:

Data breaches

This is one of the most common types of cyberattacks. Malicious insiders gain access to sensitive information and then use it with malicious intent for their own personal gain or share it with others.

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For example, an employee might need access to your company’s credit card processing systems so he can process his own credit card payments for his online business on behalf of your organization. Or, a developer might have access to data about customer accounts in order to create new features for your software product. If he decides to sell that information on the dark web, you could end up having no way of knowing who has obtained your customer records. This is particularly relevant to a disgruntled employee who might want to intentionally sabotage a company.

Such attacks must be dealt with by the IT administrator in a company in a timely manner. Therefore, it is important that a company has a security team with security controls who can detect insider threats. This is called threat detection or threat intelligence.

Cyber sabotage

This type of attack involves a malicious insider using his privileged access privileges and granted access on personal devices to take down critical systems or destroy valuable data without getting caught.

It can also refer to someone who intentionally creates security vulnerabilities in software products or security tools that hinder threat detection and insider threat indicators from identifying insider threats. These malicious insider threats can lead to data theft and data breaches as well as leaking trade secrets.

Cybersecurity tools can be used to prevent insider threats and insider attacks. They should be implemented by the security team as part of the security strategy to detect threats and prevent data theft.

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Insider threat detection

In order to prevent insider attacks, organizations need to understand what makes them happen and how to spot a potential malicious insider threat before it happens. Here are three insider threat detection techniques that companies can use to protect their most sensitive data:

1. Monitor users' behavior.

Insiders often exhibit abnormal behavior that makes them stand out from the crowd. For example, if a user suddenly starts accessing sensitive data more often than usual or moves it to an unusual location on the network, it's possible that he or she is planning an attack. By monitoring user activity with event logs and other security tools, organizations can spot abnormal behavior before it becomes a problem.

2. Monitor privileged access privileges.

Organizations should grant only necessary access privileges to users so that they don't have more power than necessary over critical systems and data stores. It's also important for companies to regularly audit access privileges.

For all employees, in order to detect any unauthorized changes that might indicate an insider threat is active in the organization's IT environment and to implement privileged access management schemes where access rights are continually reassessed to ensure sensitive information is not shared with a malicious insider.

How ELEFense can help?

ELEFense can analyse company culture in a real-time, efficient manner to identify potentially malicious activity using behavioral indicators and technical indicators. This is particularly relevant since Covid-19, where employees have greater remote access privileges. Therefore, security teams have to install greater resources to protect against external threats and potential insider threats. Using this software that analyses entity behavior analytics can identify normal user behavior and if there are changes to this which could indicate a potential insider threat.

The transcript and the recording of the full podcast can be viewed via this link:

Insider threat detection

Companies and organizations can detect insider threats and avoid sensitive data theft. Unusual behavioural indicators can be used to detect insider threats. These can include current employees working odd hours, and increased emotions of resentment towards the company. Additionally, when detecting insider threats, unusual activity can include current or former employees using their privileged access to get hold of sensitive documents or using their network access privileges at a higher frequency and volume.

The unexplained financial gain of another organization can also be used for insider threat detection. Security teams can use IT systems to carry out threat hunting by observing the activity and behavioural indicators of other companies.

Peers, HR personnel, supervisors, and technology can all see behavioral indicators in action. Behaviours create a baseline of activities over time, from which changes may be considered threat detection. Hence insider threat programs will help detect threats and identify those who may become a potential risk. Using cybersecurity tools to observe these indicators and changes in user behavior will reduce the chance of an insider attack.

Impact of culture on insider threat report

The organization's culture is its lifeblood, and it includes the shared values, norms, beliefs, and assumptions that ultimately drive employees' actions. The differences and changes in culture can also be used to understand insider threats.

Lisa Forte, an Insider threat expert who runs cyber crisis simulations for large companies to help them prepare for attacks, explains the importance of good company culture when looking to reduce insider threats. In her podcast, she explains that when employees are unhappy or sense a lack of trust within the company, they are more likely to become insider threats. This is because when employees are happy and content with their workplace, they will be less likely to go and sabotage their employers or the business. Therefore using the culture of a company as insider threat indicators can be useful.

When creating an insider threat program, the focus should be on ensuring companies aren’t just developing or increasing the likelihood of an insider threat. An emphasis on insider threat detection should be given to investing in helping employees and understanding their struggles, and ultimately modifying the culture of the company. Improving the culture of the company will eventually avoid the vulnerability of being exploited and reduce insider threats.

How ELEFense can help insider threats?

This is why ELEFense will be the best solution for insider threat protection. ELEFense systems use Artificial intelligence to provide an understanding of the workplace, well-being values, and, ultimately, the company’s culture. ELEFense software will allow companies to understand how to change their company culture and where the problems lie to ensure the positive well-being of their employees and have a positive impact on preventing insider threats.

Prioritising improving the company's culture through the information ELEFense provides will enhance insider threat protection and reduce the likelihood of an insider threat. Without the knowledge of how to improve the culture of a company, employees are more likely to be unhappy, and the vulnerability of insider threats will rise.

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