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tips on how to keep safe from insider threats

Tips on How to Keep Safe from Insider Threats

Insider threats are as harmful as other forms of cyber-attacks on businesses. The number of insider threats has been gradually rising in number, hence, increasing accidental data loss and exfiltration. The most common cause of an insider threat is negligent employees. In 2020, 62% of security incidents were due to employees’ negligence, and it cost organizations an average of 307 million US dollars.

This surprisingly growing threat has now become a major risk within an organization. Furthermore, an insider threat is far more harmful as the source of the threat has the right access to valuable data. Businesses can lose revenue and pay a lot to secure the breach and retrieve the data. Insider threats even become more dangerous as external threats target employees within organizations that will eventually lead to an insider attack.

Even though no company will ever be 100% immune from all forms of threats, you can still find ways to protect your business. Insider threats can be prevented in some ways, with the right knowledge and tools.

Since most attacks, even those external threats, eventually lead to an inside threat, focusing on your employees and educating them is the best way to prevent attacks.

What is an Insider Threat?  

An insider threat is a security issue that originates from within an organization. This threat generally includes current and former employees, contractors, business associates, and anyone who has access to valuable data of the company. The people mentioned can obtain critical data within the company and accidentally or purposely cause harm to the business.

Despite the increasing number of insider attacks, most security practices are focused on the prevention of external threats, and they forget that insider threats are attacks that do exist too.

Types of Insider Threats  

No matter if it’s a former employee, contractor, or business partner, any person who has the right access to a company’s data can harm the business.

Malicious Actors  

They are people whose main goal is to access vital information through espionage, fraud, intellectual property theft, and sabotage. Since they have access to company data, they can easily steal data for financial and malicious reasons.

There are two types of malicious insider threats – Collaborator and lone wolf.

  • Collaborator

Individuals who work with a third party to steal information from an organization are called collaborators. The collaborator can expose the information and cause the business operation to be disrupted. Collaborators can be a competitor, criminal network, or nation-state.

  • Lone Wolf

These are malicious actors who work alone. They do not require any outside or external influence. Most malicious insider threats are those with admin access, they have more power to gather critical business data.

Negligent Insider Threats  

Inadvertent insider security threats happen all the time. Human error, bad judgment, phishing, malware, and stolen passwords are all common causes. Unwittingly, the individual implicated exposes company systems to external attacks.

Two forms of negligent insider attacks are pawns and goofs.

  • Pawn

Pawns are individuals who were manipulated to accidentally give away company data. The attacker will use a social engineering technique to control the employee. The victim can cause harm to the company by accidentally installing malware or unconsciously giving away their login credentials.

  • Goof

Goof are those employees who take harmful action but have no malicious intent. They keep disregarding the policies and procedures implemented by the company. They even store company information on their devices or use unsecured networks when accessing company data.


They are not part of the company but they can act as a vendor, partner, and employee to gain authority on restricted data.

How do Hackers Use Insider Attacks?  

As mentioned earlier, insider threats can come from outside sources. Hackers can utilize vulnerability within the organization and deploy their attacks by manipulating an employee or anyone within the organization.

Here are ways they exploit company vulnerabilities.

Phishing and Ransomware Scam  

Phishing attacks are the most prevalent threat that works for cybercriminals. 90% of attacks this year were caused by phishing scams, and it is through email that phishing attacks were most commonly deployed.

When an employee has no idea about phishing attacks, they easily fall for emails that look too good to be true. They click on links or download attachments without thinking about who sent the email.

Links can direct the victim to a website that will ask for their company’s login credentials. These websites have the malicious intention of collecting login information to access data from the company. Meanwhile, an attachment on a phishing email will lead to the download of malware into the device. The malware can gain access to all the activities of the victim on their device.

Business Email Compromise  

Another way hackers utilize insider threats is by the Business Email Compromise attack. In 2020, business email compromise rose to 14 to 80%, depending on the industry.

BEC is a subset of attacks that often takes over legitimate business emails. Attackers often go for companies that often wire transfer payments for their international suppliers. BEC attackers rely heavily on social engineering techniques. They either trick employees or pretend to be a CEO or executive to authorize wire transfer.

However, some attackers do utilize brute force techniques to gain access.

BEC is an incredibly costly attack as it deals directly with the company’s finance by using a person with authority’s credentials. The attacker spends months researching everything about the company and the person they are to target or use for the attack.

Misconfigured Systems  

Insider threats are not only due to negligence or misjudgment of an employee but sometimes can be from vulnerabilities in the architecture and engineering side. The most prevalent cause of misconfigurations is company passwords stored in a single credential repository or misconfiguration in the cloud computing server.

The misconfigurations in the system do not comply with the security standards set by the company, hence, exposing them to threats.

Security Negligence  

With all the rules and security practices implemented by the company, employees get exhausted of them all. Instead of following the said rules, they find alternative ways to make things simple and easy. For Example, instead of creating multiple complex passwords for different accounts, employees use easy and a single password.

Employees’ negligence regarding the policy can be harmful to the company. That is why when businesses introduce new policies, they have to take convenience into consideration if they want to get better results.

Effective Ways to Prevent Insider Threat  

Implement Security Policies  

You need to create a comprehensive security policy that your employees must follow to prevent insider threats. The policy should include procedures and processes that can prevent threats and help in identifying malicious behavior within the system.

There should also be consequences for those employees that disregard the policies of the company.

However, it is important that the policies you create for the security of your company won’t compromise the duties of your employees and cause them inconvenience.

Be Careful Who You Hire  

Companies should consider performing background checks. It is an affordable process that can keep your company safe from future problems. Screening new employees are helpful in the process because you’ll never know what their intentions may be.

Provide Awareness Training  

Human error and negligence is the most common cause of insider threat. Organizations that focus on educating their employees can stop threats from getting into the system.

Giving cybersecurity training, like how to spot a phishing email, what to do in case of an attack, and other cybersecurity lessons can help.

Even though it doesn’t 100% prevent such attacks, awareness on the part of your employees can reduce the risk of security breaches.

Use a Multifactor Authentication  

Most employees prefer to use easy passwords to access their accounts faster. They can’t take time to remember complicated passwords, so it’s best to strengthen accounts by adding multiple layers of protection.

Multifactor authentication is a security measure one adds to their account to secure them. If you activate the multifactor authentication on all your company’s accounts, you can keep safe from unauthorized access.

Authentication can be a passcode sent via an email or SMS, or biometrics (retinal scan or fingerprint).

Monitor Behavior Proactively  

The best way to prevent threats and further damage to your company’s reputation is to monitor the behavior of your system proactively. Real-time detection can help predict and detect the presence of abnormal behavior that can lead to data theft and breaches.

You should provide 24/7 monitoring for both on-premise and the cloud. There are tools available for you to monitor your network. The use of a firewall system is beneficial for monitoring the traffic that goes in and out of your network. If it detects unusual behavior, it will immediately block the activity. Firewall systems can either be built on a computer or are available in hardware form.

Furthermore, by guarding your company profile against hackers, you can monitor the behavior of your employees. When you do so, you’ll know when and who logged in to company accounts and if files are transferred.

Perform Vulnerability Assessment  

One way hackers can get into an organization’s system is through the presence of vulnerabilities. To prevent hackers from discovering your business’s weakness, try to conduct an enterprise-wide risk assessment. You’ll discover areas that will require changes and help you implement better security practices and systems.

Use Security Software and Tools  

Using the best computer security software and applications can safeguard your company’s data. Using an antivirus, endpoint protection system, web filtration solution, and other software are all critical for better security.

Install a Password Manager  

Since you will require your employees to create different passwords for their accounts, you have to provide them convenience by giving them a password manager. Not everyone is capable of memorizing a complicated password, so the best way is to save them on a password manager where you can access them anytime you log into your account.

Another benefit of using a password manager is to prevent employees from using easy passwords. Most employees don’t want to use complicated passwords because of the difficulty of remembering them. Therefore, password managers will keep them from following company policies without having to complicate things.

Create Separate Accounts and Privilege  

Prevent employees from accessing data and accounts that they don’t need for their job. You have to create separate accounts to prevent anyone from gaining access to admin or restricted accounts. Even your admins must have different accounts when managing administrative and non-administrative tasks.

You can also add a layer of protection when deleting, copying, or moving company data. Using two system admin approval can prevent anyone in the company from moving data from another computer or folder.

Backup Data Regularly  

Perform daily or weekly backup practice to keep all information updated. When you perform a backup to your company data, it prevents the risk of delaying any business operation when attacks or physical disaster happens.

Make a Comprehensive Termination Procedure  

You can protect your company from former employees by creating a comprehensive plan when terminating an employee. The procedures created will help prevent past employees from gaining access to your data.


Being proactive in your approach to insider threats and other cyber-attacks is the best way to prevent data breaches. You can avoid attacks by using the best software, educating employees, implementing policies, and monitoring your system 24/7.

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