Insider threats are malicious activities that occur within an organization. Such events often harm its security, and reputation, and affect the way the business is operating and cooperating with clients. As their name suggests, insider threats come from people within an organization, including its employees, contractors, or business partners. Such individuals often have authorized access to sensitive data, systems, and servers on which the essential information has been stored.
Insider threats usually result in data breaches, intellectual property theft, financial fraud, and other forms of cybercrime or sabotage. In addition, they can open the door to many external threats and aggravate the company’s current situation. Since external threats can be quite serious, it’s quintessential to recognize and prevent insider threats in the first place.
In this article, we will dive into the consequences of insider threats and propose the measures that organizations can take in order to mitigate the symptoms.
Insider Threats: Most Common Consequences
Some of the most common consequences of insider threats include the following:
- Data Breaches
One of the most common consequences of insider threats includes data breaches. Data breaches can occur when an employee intentionally or accidentally exposes sensitive information to unauthorized parties. The information can include personally identifiable information (PII), financial records, trade secrets, or other confidential data that should not be disclosed outside the organization. In addition, data breaches can lead to a broad range of issues, involving legal liability, reputational damage, and financial losses.
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- Intellectual Property Theft
Insider threats often result in intellectual property theft, including stealing of patents, copyrights, or confidential documents.
Intellectual property theft often occurs once the employee leaves the company and decides to take advantage of the organization’s confidential information. In most cases, they sell the information to a competitor or a third party, intending to make a significant profit.
Since intellectual property theft can harm a company’s competitiveness, reduce its market value, and lead to costly legal battles, it’s highly recommended to safeguard the corporate network and limit the amount of information that’s shared with employees or business partners. By granting them access to sensitive business information, you are at risk of becoming a victim of intellectual property theft.
- Financial Fraud
In most cases, insider threats involve financial fraud. Financial fraud may result from poorly protected networks or insufficient cybersecurity, which allows employees to access the organization’s sensitive financial systems. That way, an employee can manipulate records, steal funds, or forge financial information that could cost the company a fortune.
Financial fraud may also result from cyber threats like phishing, which can be implemented either by employees or an external threat. Keep in mind that this is a severe issue that can harm an organization’s reputation, lead to regulatory sanctions, and result in significant financial losses.
- Organization’s Operations Sabotage
Insider threats often involve acts of sabotage. It means that employees or other individuals closely related to the company can disrupt the company’s operations by deleting crucial files, interrupting the system’s performance, or causing physical damage.
In most cases, such acts are motivated by revenge, personal gain, or ideological reasons. Attackers often rely on ransomware and similar cyber attacks to block the company’s computers and lock their files, ensuring they cannot access or use them for optimal business operations.
How to Mitigate the Risk of Insider Threats?
To mitigate the risks of insider threats, organizations can implement a broad range of safety measures, including:
- Employee Training and Awareness
One of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of insider threats is to provide regular training and awareness programs to employees. This can include educating them on security best practices, including password management, phishing awareness, and overall data protection.
Regular employee training and awareness are of vital importance because it helps them recognize potential insider threats and react accordingly to prevent the onset of more severe external threats.
- Access Control
Implementing access control is quintessential to limit the exposure of sensitive data and systems to authorized employees. In most cases, it includes the implementation of role-based access control (RBAC), which assigns permissions based on an employee’s job function.
Besides role-based access control, efficient measures involve the use of multi-factor authentication (MFA) that requires additional authentication beyond a password. Multi-factor authentication is vital for thorough identity verification and external threat prevention.
- Regular Monitoring and Detection
It is recommended that organizations implement monitoring and detection systems to identify and prevent insider threats. This can include using security information and event management (SIEM) systems, which monitor network activity and alert security teams in case they detect potential threats that could affect the organization’s security.
Additionally, monitoring and detection can also involve using user behavior analytics (UBA), capable of analyzing employee behavior, detecting anomalies, and spotting potential external threats.
- Auditing and Compliance
Another efficient way to reduce the risk of insider threats is to apply auditing and compliance measures to ensure that employees are following security policies and are compliant with procedures.
Auditing and compliance involve conducting regular audits of employee access and activity logs, as well as reviewing compliance with regulatory requirements such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Insider threats can have severe consequences for organizations and open the door to more severe external threats that could affect the company’s operations and reputation. Such activities may lead to data breaches, intellectual property theft, financial fraud, sabotage, and other long-term consequences that cannot be easily resolved.
In order to mitigate the risks associated with internal threats, organizations should implement a broad range of comprehensive measures that prevent the onset of external threats and other issues that might affect the company’s reputation.