Organizations are often so focused on establishing an IT infrastructure that will defend against external data breaches, such as ransomware and phishing scams, that they neglect those threats that are most pervasive: insider threats. Security threats that are a direct result of employees’ actions occur more regularly than most companies would like to admit.
What is an insider threat?
An insider threat is a threat to on an organization by people who work for, or used to work for, the company or by people who have access to the company’s data because they are contractors, vendors, or third-party stakeholders with access to a company’s network. It is an action, whether intentional or not, taken by an employee who has legitimate access to organizational systems, that results in a data breach. Insider threats can be the most detrimental to an organization, simply because many occurrences are the fault of employees who have no idea that they are putting the entire network at risk.
The most common sources of insider threats:
- Accidental – Phishing attempts are successful because many employees do not know how to recognize malicious attacks when they see them. As well, organizations make the mistake of allowing too many users access to privileged information. They also are not aware of the security practices of third-party vendors. Each of these loopholes poses a risk to your cybersecurity framework. Lack of education results in mistakes that could be easily prevented.
- Negligent – There are also breaches that occur because employees do not realize the extent of the damage that may result from ignoring basic security practices. The desire to complete a project could lead an employee to send critical data to an unsecured home network, or to use an unapproved mobile device. Convenience and the desire for increased productivity are the leading causes of negligence in terms of cybersecurity, and despite good intentions, such actions can have devastating results.
- Malicious – The most obvious form of insider attacks are malicious actions taken against the company. Terminated or disgruntled employees may seek to benefit from selling personal data on the black market, or they may simply expose sensitive information to the public as a political or social statement. Furthermore, it is not unheard of for current employees to be recruited by those wanting access to the network, with offers to pay generously for secure passwords.
How can you manage insider threats?
Managing insider threats does not involve viewing all employees as potential nemeses. However, precautionary steps must be taken to prevent leaked data and unauthorized access. Organizations can easily limit the number of privileged users, thereby reducing the number of employees who have access to private data. Those who do have access should use stringent controls, employing strong passwords and limiting access to shared accounts.. Educating your entire workforce, from the CEO to all lower-level staff, is a must for the successful implementation of smart cybersecurity practices. As well, it’s important to consistently monitor cyberactivity, using systems that can alert you to unusual patterns or access points. Taking these steps can prevent insider threats from taking advantage of your systems.
Security tends to be more relaxed within the walls of your own business, which is why organizations are more at risk from insider threats. Many breaches are accidental, but an honest mistake does not change the fact that millions of dollars could be lost. A strong cybersecurity strategy starts with those within the organization. Ensure that your employees are an asset, not a liability.
The ITeam understands the cybersecurity issues facing Canada. We are committed to helping Calgary- and Alberta-based businesses develop proactive, cost-effective IT strategies that minimize risk and maximize efficiency. Contact us to learn more.