Beware of Cybersecurity Insider Threats

According to SANS, one-third of all organizations have faced an insider threat incident at one point or another. Organizations that are lucky enough to have not encountered one as of yet, are likely oblivious to the fact that an insider threat has indeed made moves and lurks amongst you. Human actions pose a dangerous threat to cybersecurity, and it goes beyond outside malicious actors exploiting vulnerabilities to gain sensitive data. Employees internal to an organization are a security risk and repetitive negative behavior can be the culprit behind cybersecurity incidents ultimately costing the business time, money, as well as their reputation.

What is an insider threat?

Cybersecurity Awareness Training There is often a specific image that gets painted when an insider threat is mentioned. The majority of the time, it’s a disgruntled employee that maliciously wants to do harm to the company or expose various sensitive information to the public for personal gain or fame. Although possible, it is not always this black and white. There are three main types of insider threats that businesses should be aware of and know how to properly identify. These types are accidental, negligent, and malicious. Accidental insider threats occur when an employee, contractor, or vendor unintentionally causes harm to the organization. Usually, this occurs due to the lack of training or the employee not following particular protocols that the organization has instilled. Actions such as clicking on a hyperlink in an email that has come from an unknown source, writing down passwords or not following password complexity standards, or mistyping an email address and sending sensitive information to the wrong individual. None of the actions that occur with the accidental insider threat are intentional or malicious in any way, but rather oftentimes just an honest employee that simply needs additional training or reminders on certain cybersecurity policies and procedures. Negligent insider threats specifically happen due to the carelessness of the user. Often security protocols are ignored due to complexity or annoyance factor and users decide to bypass the additional steps required by a cybersecurity process or policy. For instance, piggybacking through a secure entrance point or allowing someone to piggyback, or ignoring notifications to install or update software patches on company-issued electronic devices. There is no malicious intent or motive to cause harm to anyone or the business, however, there is a conscious decision made to act inappropriately going against policy or protocol. Malicious insider threats misuse their legitimate access with the intent to cause harm to the business and achieve some sort of personal gain. Examples of malicious insider threats can be a disgruntled employee that is upset over the lack of recognition or promotional status, an emotional former employee who believes they were wrongfully terminated, or someone with access to sensitive information they feel needs to be leaked for public knowledge. With a malicious insider threat, there is always a motive and an intent to cause harm. The individual willingly and knowingly goes against protocol and procedures to meet a specific end goal.

Behavior patterns of an insider threat

Sometimes it is possible to figure out patterns and identify insider threats before they become an issue. Advanced technology such as intrusion detection systems and monitoring applications happens to be a large part of understanding patterns across the network; however, insider threats focus so much on human behavior and personal actions. It is necessary to be watchful and identify social behaviors that can be identified as unusual or considered a red flag. Employees that have a tendency of breaking rules, policies, and procedures, or have been counseled on cybersecurity violations in the past are likely to repeat this behavior and put the company at risk. Although this could be a negligent type of insider threat, it has the potential to grow into something malicious if an emotional response or end goal gets determined. In addition, an employee that is constantly interested in others’ projects or information outside of the scope of his or her responsibility may be indicators that the employee is planning on doing something malicious. There is a distinct difference between trying to be helpful and ensure the organization’s projects are being completed and an employee that is going beyond assigned responsibility for the sole purpose of gathering sensitive data. It can also be a red flag if reversed, such as if an employee who usually has a high-performance level drastically dips or suddenly becomes uninterested in projects. Being aware of behavior patterns and truly understanding the employees beyond the scope of technical monitoring systems can be a real help when trying to identify insider threats.

How to combat against insider threats

A great first start for any organization that wants to tackle the insider threat battle is to implement a cybersecurity policy and potentially hire a third-party cybersecurity vendor to assist with planning, documentation, and network monitoring. Having a neutral third party that can help create a solid cybersecurity plan and implement training procedures can help eliminate the accidental insider threats and shed light on the importance of cybersecurity protocol for negligent insider threats. Organizations should also look at the risk factors that may be causing insider threats. Did the organization recently implement new technology that may be increasingly more complex than previous methods? Those that aren’t versed in IT may find it more difficult to use therefore more mistakes could be made. Organizations may grant users excess access privileges that are not necessary to complete day-to-day tasks. The excess privileges allow users to gain access to data that may be out of their need-to-know scope. The more information that one person holds, the more of a security risk the individual can become. The amount of sensitive information within an organization can be a risk factor on its own. Organizations that have classified-level information or organizations that do the majority of work on a classified network will have a more difficult time. Employees may accidentally share information or put sensitive information on an unclassified network. The leaking of information would be considered a security incident and could hurt the reputation of a business.


Insider threats are a security risk. Whether the insider threat is considered accidental, negligent, or malicious, the ramifications and risks they pose to an organization can be damaging. Employees need to know what red flags could be indicators of insider threats to make a positive identification prior to it becoming a big issue. Getting a third-party cybersecurity company involved to help with training, policy, planning, and monitoring is a positive step in the right direction. Mitigating risk factors within the organization and listening to employees’ concerns or noticing repeat behaviors may help catch insider threats before becoming a critical issue. Contact Makaye, to learn more about the services offered and what steps are necessary to thwart cybercrime and be more confident in the overall health posture of your organization’s network.