Many people are familiar with external actors who cause cybersecurity incidents. Hackers, cybercriminals, and other malicious individuals outside of your organization can pose a threat to your data security. However, cybersecurity attacks are not always perpetrated by outsiders. Sometimes the perpetrator is an insider who has access to sensitive data and can cause significant damage.
Insiders have the potential to be just as harmful, if not more so, than outsiders because they know how things work inside your company. Since your employees are the first line of defense against cyberattacks, it's crucial to have cybersecurity strategies in place.
This article will provide you with information about what an inside job looks like, how it occurs, and what you can do to protect your organization against it.
What is an Insider Threat?
An insider threat is a cybersecurity incident caused by an individual who has authorized access to sensitive data. This person may be an employee, contractor, or business partner. Unlike an outsider who may hack into your system remotely, an insider has legitimate access to your data and can cause a lot of damage by manipulating, stealing, or deleting information.
There are two types of insider threats: criminal and malicious. Criminal insiders are individuals who use their authorized access to steal or damage information for personal gain, which could be for financial reasons, to harm the company, or to help a competitor. They may be working alone or with an outside competitor or hacking group.
Malicious insiders are employees who have a grudge against the company or are disgruntled with their job. They may want to harm the company or cause chaos by deleting data or shutting down systems.
Accidental insider threats—known as negligent insiders—are also harmful to organizations. These incidents occur when employees fall victim to phishing attempts or unknowingly share sensitive information to the wrong set of eyes.
Insider Attacks in the News
In recent years, more and more organizations are falling victim to insider cybersecurity attacks. Here are a couple of examples:
In the summer of 2020, the FBI released more details about an intricate insider attack on General Electric. A current employee and former employee teamed up to steal valuable trade secrets and thousands of files in an attempt to start their own competitive company.
The current employee even convinced an IT professional at GE to give him access to files he had no business seeing. Court documents revealed he got his hands on around 8,000 sensitive files over eight years with the company.
In March 2020, a former medical device packing company employee wreaked havoc in an elaborate revenge plot. Bitter about being let go from his company, the employee conducted a computer intrusion into his former employer's system, deleting shipping information that resulted in the delayed shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE). Not only did the scheme financially harm the company, but it risked the lives of healthcare professionals needing PPE during a global pandemic.
How Can I Protect My Organization?
One of the scariest aspects of an insider cybersecurity attack is that most organizations aren't aware of the signs warning them danger is ahead. Several indicators can alert an organization that something might be wrong.
Here are some signs an insider attack might be in the works:
- An unusual amount of files are being opened
- Multiple attempts are made to use USB devices
- Online activity is being masked
- Files are moved or saved to unusual locations
- An employee is accessing data that is not necessary for their job role
In addition to monitoring for unusual activity, there are other ways your organization can mitigate its risk from an insider attack.
One way is through employee education. Employees need to be aware of the risks that exist both inside and outside their organization. They should be trained on identifying suspicious activity, reporting it, and preventing it from happening. Security training should be ongoing and regular, and it should be tailored to the specific needs of the organization.
In addition to training employees on how to protect the organization from cybersecurity threats, security training can also help employees understand their legal obligations regarding data privacy and protection. Employees need to know what is allowed and not allowed under the law, and they need to understand the consequences of violating these laws.
Organizations should also keep an updated log of which employees have access to certain information and perhaps think about limiting the amount of sensitive information an employee can access. They should also consider creating policies around the authorized use of social media networks to prohibit employees from disclosing confidential company information online without prior approval by management.
The next frontier in cybersecurity is protecting your organization from the inside. As you've seen, insider attacks can be just as damaging to an organization's bottom line and reputation as an external attack from hackers or malware.
If you want more information on ways to protect your organization from an inside cybersecurity attack or want details on how a cybersecurity professional can help mitigate the risk, please contact us.