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What is an Insider Threat? Definition & Types

In today’s interconnected world, cybersecurity threats are a paramount concern for businesses. While threats from external sources such as hackers and malevolent software are widely recognized, there is an equally formidable adversary that often goes unnoticed: the insider threat.

Insider threat definition

An “Insider Threat” is typically defined as a security threat that originates within an organization. This threat is often posed by individuals with access to sensitive information or critical systems within the organization. These individuals could be employees, contractors, business associates, or even former employees who still have access to company resources.

The causes of insider threats can vary greatly. It is often suggested that financial gain, revenge, or even coercion can drive such actions. However, it should also be understood that not all insider threats are intentional or malicious; some result from simple negligence or lack of proper training.

Instances of insider threats are not uncommon in today’s digital age. For example, the infamous Edward Snowden case, where a contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency leaked classified information, is a prime example of an insider threat. The 2017 Equifax data breach, which exposed the personal data of 147 million people, was reportedly due to negligence and a lack of security standards.

Two types of insider threats

There are two primary types of insider threats: the malicious insider and the negligent insider.

Malicious insider

A malicious insider is an individual who intentionally inflicts harm on an organization. They may steal, destroy, or misuse sensitive information with the intent of harming the company or for personal gain. An example of a malicious insider would be an employee who sells trade secrets to a competitor. The challenge posed by malicious insiders is their intimate knowledge of the organization’s systems and procedures, making their activities difficult to detect and prevent.

Negligent insider

On the other hand, a negligent insider is an individual who unintentionally causes harm through carelessness or lack of knowledge. This could include employees who fall for phishing scams, use weak passwords, or fail to follow established security protocols. The challenge with negligent insiders is their sheer number, as any employee can make a mistake and the fact that they may not realize they are posing a threat.

Insider threat detection – protecting your business from internal threats

Detecting an insider threat is a crucial step in protecting your business from potential harm. Businesses should implement a proactive approach to insider threat detection, which includes regular audits of system access and usage, continuous employee training and awareness programs, and the establishment of a robust incident response plan.

Spotting potential insiders before they become a threat is also important. This could include noticing changes in employee behavior, such as sudden interest in confidential matters, or irregular work hours. Additionally, businesses can use technology solutions to identify unusual patterns in user behavior that could indicate a potential insider threat.

Defend against insider threats

Insider threats, whether malicious or negligent, pose a significant risk to organizations. By understanding the types of insider threats and implementing effective detection strategies, businesses can better protect themselves from this often-overlooked security threat.

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