Outsider or Insider: Who Will Cause Today’s Data Breach?

In today’s cybercrime landscape, threats come not only from all sides, but also from within. In its annual Threat Intelligence Index, IBM X-Force called 2016 the “year of the mega breach.” As threat actors become more sophisticated, enterprises must deal with outsiders who target corporate networks to steal product, client and customer data. Then there are nefarious or careless insiders who handle data irresponsibly. Chief information security officers (CISOs) must pay appropriate attention to both insider and outsider threats to keep sensitive data safe.

The Insider-Inflicted Data Breach

Sometimes, the greatest threats to corporate data are users with the most privileged access. In early June 2017, a government contractor was arrested for sharing classified materials that she secreted out of her place of employment and mailed to an online publication. This data breach involved not millions of documents, but rather one highly classified national security assessment. As a trusted insider, the contractor leveraged her unfettered access to the information, printed it and simply walked out of the office. This incident illustrated the fragility of our data protection infrastructure.

Data breaches can also result from simple negligence. For example, a financial advisor inadvertently leaked millions of dollars worth of data when he stored client information on an insecure, web-accessible server. In this case, the advisor simply did not have the right tools to determine whether the data was secure.

Another area of concern is targeted phishing emails, which are designed to entice recipients to open malware-laden attachments or links. The X-Force report noted a marked increase in malicious email attachments in 2016, with ransomware accounting for 85 percent. According to Verizon’s “2017 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR),” 51 percent of all breaches involving malware and 66 percent of malware installs were caused by malicious email attachments.

These examples further support the need for security leaders to protect company information when employees depart. Their reasons for taking code, data or other information will vary from instance to instance. To combat this threat, the X-Force report advised financial and health care organizations to “focus on educating employees about phishing and how to avoid becoming a victim, use a variety of approaches — video, webinars, in-person instruction — and require training at intervals to make the risk clear.”

An Onslaught of Outsider Attacks

Outsiders come at us from a variety of vectors, including unscrupulous competitors, state-sponsored actors, criminal enterprises and more. The X-Force report highlighted a shift that occurred in 2016 within the world of organized crime and called out the increasing sophistication of external attackers. The extent of the toolkits available to fraudsters is staggering, with 431 million new malware variants emerging between 2013 and 2015.

Cybercriminals have eschewed the mass blast of emails for a more refined approach that allows them to stay under the radar. The need to secure the C-suite is not hyperbole, and all stakeholders within the enterprise must engage in an effective defense strategy. Driving home the importance of locking down company email and evolving processes to protect the email ecosystem is an area that is especially worthy of investment. Smart practices here will help protect the environment from both insider and outsider attacks.

Read the 2017 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index

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Christopher Burgess

CEO at Prevendra

Christopher Burgess is the CEO of Prevendra, a security, privacy and intelligence company. He is also an author, speaker and advocate for effective security strategies, be they for your company, home or family. Christopher co-authored "Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost: Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century" (Syngress, March 2008) and authored the e-book, "Senior Online Safety" (Prevendra, March 2014) and is the voice behind the website, "Senior Online Safety." Prior to the founding of Prevendra, Christopher held a variety of private and public sector positions, which included, chief operating office and chief security officer of a big data analytic company, Atigeo; Senior Security Advisor to the CSO of Cisco, a Fortune 100, and 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA awarded him the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal upon his retirement. Christopher resides in Woodinville, WA with his family, two dogs and two horses.