Insider Attacks May Be Closer Than They Appear

Reports surfaced in April 2016 indicating that the personal information of children vaccinated at hospitals in China was posted for sale. The data, including home address and parent contact information, was obtained in part through unauthorized access and in part by malicious insiders who collaborated with attackers.

This is just one of the many examples involving insider attacks globally. According to the recently published “IBM X-Force 2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index,” 60 percent of all attacks in 2015 were carried out by insiders. They either had malicious intent or served as inadvertent actors — insiders who either mistakenly allow an attacker access to data or fail to pay attention to cybersecurity policies.

What Do Malicious Insiders Want?

Why is your seemingly trustworthy employee, contractor, client or business partner targeting your organization? There are a number of motives behind cyberattacks as detailed in the IBM report “Know Your Cyber Enemy.”

We know that profit is the driver behind the most active areas of cybercrime. Malicious insiders, however, could also be encouraged by a nation-state to perform espionage.

Revenge is another possibility. For example, a disgruntled ex-employee with active credentials cloud access a target’s resources, or maybe he or she has retained corporate documents that could be sold or made public.

Read the complete IBM X-Force 2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index

Is There Good News?

There is good news! Interestingly, this year’s data revealed that while insider attacks accounted for 60 percent of all security incidents in 2015, up from 55 percent in 2014, roughly one-third of those attacks were carried out by inadvertent actors. In comparison, these unwilling cohorts contributed to nearly half of all attacks in 2014.

Who are the bad guys behind data breaches?

What does this mean? Well, it could mean there were fewer “Oops, I didn’t mean to misconfigure a public-facing server to allow search engines to crawl and index corporate data!” Or fewer “Oops, I didn’t mean to click on that malicious attachment that downloaded malware and provided attackers access to hundreds of customer records!” You get the picture.

How to Prevent Insider Attacks

A reduction in the number of attacks attributed to inadvertent actors could mean that more organizations are implementing security policies and employee education. They’re doing a better job of communicating what’s expected and why it’s important.

In addition to security policies and employee education, there are a number of solutions that can mitigate the insider threat. Products that monitor behavior and provide anomaly detection are key. Focusing on access management, specifically privileged identity management (PIM), is an important step toward preventing data breaches.

Organizations can go a long way toward an effective defense against malicious insiders by implementing complete data life cycle management. This should help them do a better job of informing employees what to expect and why certain data stores need to be protected.

Download the IBM research report: Battling security threats from within your organization

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Michelle Alvarez

Threat Researcher and Editor, IBM Managed Security Services

Michelle Alvarez is a Threat Researcher and Editor for IBM's Managed Security Services; she brings more than 10 years of industry experience to her role. In this role she focuses communications efforts around threat research and mitigation. Michelle joined IBM through the Internet Security Services (ISS) acquisition, where she served as an Analyst on the X-Force Vulnerability Database Team.