Insider Threats: What You Need to Know

Securing your enterprise in the face of the myriad threats that pose a danger can be a daunting task. Defending your network, accounts, and devices against external attacks is often more than enough to worry about. Still, it is vital to dedicate some of your enterprise’s resources to protecting against internal threats. Preventing attacks and cybersecurity incidents within your company starts with understanding the danger, what it entails, and why it occurs. The risks posed by insiders are liable to be more difficult to overcome than external risks, but with the right resources and tools, it is possible to mitigate the threat.

What are Insider Threats?

To define and understand insider threats, we must understand what makes an insider. It’s easy to assume that this refers only to your company’s employees, but there are many other insiders who can pose a threat. These include custodians, contractors, repair people, and partners of the business, all of whom have some level of access to or knowledge of the infrastructure and assets and thus have the ability to endanger your organization from within.

The term “insider threat” encompasses a range of behaviors, actions, and consequences that can arise within a company. The United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) defines an insider threat as “the potential for an insider to use their authorized access or understanding of an organization to harm that organization.” It includes any danger an insider poses, whether deliberate, spur of the moment, opportunistic, or ignorant and accidental.

Because of the nature of the threat, it can be tricky to mitigate the risks posed by an insider without causing logistical problems with their job function. A certain level of access and knowledge is necessary for a job, whether a custodian possesses keys to clean rooms or an employee with authorized access to sensitive data. Individuals at all levels of an organization have the potential to damage it by either malice or negligence.

Types of Insider Threats

  • Malicious Insiders

When an insider causes damage to an institution intentionally, their actions are often due to unfavorable views toward the organization. Sometimes, they are acting purely on their behalf, due to a personal vendetta or in search of financial gain. Other times, they are hired by another company, a foreign government, or a third-party criminal who wishes to exploit their access to harm the organization. These insiders have been known to steal data and trade secrets from their organization to sell them to competitors.

  • Unintentional Threats

The most common type of insider threat (accounting for up to 62% of insider incidents) is the unintentional threat that negligent and ignorant insiders can pose. Employees, contractors, partners, and other internal actors can access sensitive data, accounts, devices, and network areas without being adequately trained in how to handle them. This is the least costly insider threat per incident, but the volume of threats makes it the most costly overall.

  • Compromised Accounts and Devices

This type of threat results from an outsider using nefarious means to gain insider access to an organization. This can happen through credential theft, device theft, phishing, and hacking. Infecting one device on the network with malware can also provide an in for a bad actor to infect other devices. Obtaining an insider’s authorized credentials allows criminals to access any assets and areas of the network that that insider would have access to. While this is not as common as negligent or malicious insiders, it does carry the highest cost per incident. Cybersecurity training and cyber hygiene policies can go a long way in preventing this kind of incident. 

  • Protecting Against Insider Threats

Due to the multitudinous nature of insider threats, a report by Cyberhaven recommends “protecting resources from insider threats requires a sustained and coordinated effort from the enterprise. Depending on the organization, this may require the participation of multiple groups, including the security team, HR team, and various business units.” The most important and obvious action to take is to ensure that each insider is granted access only to the areas of the network or organization that are necessary for their specific functions. This will lower the chances of an insider’s access accidentally leading to a breach and bar potential malicious actors from sensitive areas they don’t need to access.

It is also vital to ensure that employees and other insiders are informed and trained in cybersecurity best practices and handling sensitive data or other assets. Sufficient training, updated regularly to account for new and changing threat trends, is the best weapon against insider ignorance or negligence. It will protect against accidental breaches and provide insiders with an arsenal against phishing and hacking, making it more difficult for an outsider to compromise their accounts.


Preventing insider threats is an important concern that should be a priority for organizations worried about their security. There is no foolproof way to prevent all insider risks from becoming real security incidents. Still, there are measures that you can take to secure your data, network, and accounts against attacks from within and without. Removing an attack after the fact is more costly than preventing it from happening in the first place. With knowledge of insider threats, what causes them, and how to protect against them, you can fortify your organization’s security and training to protect what matters. 

About Author: 

PJ Bradley is a writer on a wide variety of topics, passionate about learning and helping people above all else. Holding a bachelor’s degree from Oakland University, PJ enjoys using a lifelong desire to understand how things work to write about subjects that inspire interest. Most of PJ’s free time is spent reading and writing. PJ is also a regular writer at Bora

Post a Comment