How to Protect Your Organization From Insider Threats

Technology becomes outdated in the blink of an eye. Similarly, a new security system deployed today to secure infrastructure or data is almost inherently going to be less secure tomorrow. In an era of fast communication, there are lots of people eager to break new technology — to find vulnerabilities and weaknesses in systems, ethically or unethically.

However, it’s not always malicious actors outside the organization who are at fault. Insider threats are a real danger as well and should not be overlooked.

Implement Prevention Training for Insider Threats

While deploying the latest secure system to fight against cyberthreats is a good strategy in itself, your organization must also implement an effective management system to educate employees and proactively detect warning signs to minimize insider threats.

Implementing an annual cybersecurity or data privacy training curriculum that is well-designed and engaging is an essential step in this effort. This curriculum should not simply consist of reading lots of text, listening to some audio clips and clicking through a presentation. Instead, it should be interactive and include relevant examples. If employees don’t dread security training, they’ll be more likely to absorb the information and put it into practice.

Training about how to identify the difference between malicious emails and legitimate ones is a vital part of this employee education. When you get an unwanted email, it’s tempting to fire off a quick “unsubscribe me” response. But spammers love it when recipients do this because it confirms that the email address is valid. Employees must be competent in their ability to identify spam — and know that it’s always best to flag it for the organization.

Listen to the podcast: Social Engineering 101 — How to Hack a Human

Prioritize Effective Risk Communication

Often, when a new vulnerability emerges, an organization will communicate that to its employees. But these communications may be too technical for all employees to understand. When these messages are overly complicated or more detailed than they need to be, employees may lose interest in reading them — and may fail to comprehend the vulnerability’s impact. Well-written messaging is essential when it comes to communicating to employees about vulnerabilities. The clearer the communication is, the more likely it will be that employees can avoid missteps that might lead to a breach.

Data-privacy risks related to potential vulnerabilities are not just for employees taking care of infrastructure, systems or servers. Breaches that exploit these vulnerabilities can impact any level of an organization. Any employee can be affected, and a mere click on a suspicious link from anyone in the organization can lead to disaster. Because of this, clear communication needs to be a priority — not an afterthought.

Minimize Risk by Categorization

Categorization of employees is another way to minimize risk. You can do this by sorting your workforce into two categories: privileged and standard.

Privileged employees are those who have access to sensitive information and client data. These users pose the biggest insider threat and should be provided with more secure systems. The rest of your employees, who should be classified as “standard,” require less restriction.

Develop Social Media Guidelines

Implementing social media guidelines should be another priority. Though many organizations block popular social media platforms, they might not perform risk assessments for company-sanctioned social platforms or internal collaboration tools. On social media, people are likely to click on links they would avoid in an email.

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Consider, for example, the malicious and fraudulent news articles spread on social media platforms. An employee might not be aware of such a post’s real purpose, but just because a friend or colleague shared it, he or she might click on the link. Even worse, the user might simply click “share,” spreading the fraudulent link to others. That lack of skepticism contributes to the rapid spread of unverified news and malware.

Watch Out for Red Flags

Most breaches caused by insiders are unintentional, but that doesn’t mean that intentional internal breaches are outside the realm of possibility. There might be a situation where an employee goes rogue and steals secrets, but warning signs are often evident before such an internal breach.

An employee suddenly starting to work extra time on-premises or logging in at odd hours or on weekends can indicate something sinister. Inside the office, an employee frequently roaming around areas that have nothing to do with his or her work or copying sensitive business information can also raise red flags.

Security teams need to address these indicators proactively to avoid insider threats, especially given the rising cost of an insider breach. By being vigilant in minimizing internal risks — both of the intentional and unintentional varieties — organizations can potentially save millions in remediation costs.

Prafulla Mannewar

Compliance & Controls Consultant, IBM

Prafulla is Info Security Consultant in IBM GTS Security, Regulatory and Risk Management . He brings over 11 years of...