The 2023 Insider Threat Report by Cybersecurity Insiders states that 74% of organizations are at least moderately vulnerable to insider threats. Insider risk is the possibility of an organization’s sensitive information being compromised by its employees, contractors, vendors, or other insiders who have access to the organization’s network, content, or systems. The risk can be intentional or unintentional and can result in loss or theft of data, intellectual property, or money.

Managing Insider Risk

Insider risk is a growing concern for businesses of all sizes. Organizations are creating, processing, and sharing increasing amounts of data. The proliferation of cloud computing and mobile devices, in turn, has made all this data more accessible to more insiders. With more insider access to more data, it’s inevitable that insider risk is increasing. It is essential for organizations therefore to protect their data and systems from these threats, as they can result in a data breach, compliance violation, penalties, litigation, financial loss, and reputational damage. This article provides an in-depth analysis of insider risk and explores the best practices and technologies that businesses can use to mitigate this risk.

Understanding Insider Risk

Insider risk can be categorized into three types: accidental, malicious, and negligent. Accidental insider risk is caused by an employee’s inadvertent action, such as sending an email to the wrong recipient. Malicious insider risk is caused by an employee who intends to cause harm to the organization, such as stealing customer records or product designs. Negligent insider risk is caused by an employee who disregards security policies and procedures, such as using weak passwords.

Examples of Insider Risk Incidents

Several high-profile incidents highlight the need for organizations to take this insider risk seriously. For example, in 2020, a former Twitter employee was charged with hacking into the company’s system and accessing sensitive information. Similarly, in 2019, a contractor for Capital One was arrested for stealing customer information and credit card details. In 2022, the Supreme Court of the U.S. investigated a leak involving its overturning of Roe v. Wade. The investigation found that the leak originated from a court employee, who shared the confidential decision prior to its official release. More recently, in April 2023, the FBI arrested a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard in connection with the leak of dozens of highly classified documents containing an array of national security secrets.

Cost of Insider Risk to Businesses

Insider risk can result in significant losses for businesses. According to the 2022 Cost of a Data Breach report by IBM and the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of a data breach caused by malicious insiders was $4.18 million. Insider risks can be costly to businesses for several reasons, including:

  1. Financial Losses: Data breaches and theft of sensitive information can result in loss of revenue, fines, lawsuits, and damage to the brand reputation.
  2. Business Disruption: Insider threats can cause disruption to businesses by halting operations, stealing proprietary information, and damaging IT infrastructure. This can result in loss of productivity, downtime, and damage to critical systems.
  3. Regulatory Noncompliance: Insider threats can also result in noncompliance with data protection and security regulations, leading to fines and legal penalties.
  4. Employee Morale: Insider threats can undermine employee morale and trust, leading to decreased productivity and increased turnover.
  5. Reputational Damage: Insider threats can damage a business’s reputation , leading to a loss of customer trust and loyalty.

Factors Contributing to Insider Risk

Insider risk is a growing concern for organizations of all sizes and industries. While external threats such as cyberattacks and data breaches may receive more attention, studies have shown that insider threats can be just as damaging, if not more so. Insider risk can stem from a variety of factors, ranging from inadequate training to weaknesses in access control measures. Some of the key factors contributing to insider risk include:

Internal Threat Actors: The Dangers of Employees, Contractors, and Privileged Users

Both well-intentioned and malicious insiders with access to sensitive data and knowledge of security policies and procedures pose a significant threat. While malicious actors may have motives such as being passed over for a promotion, moving to a competitor, or engaging in corporate espionage, even well-intentioned insiders, such as employees, contractors, and privileged users, can inadvertently cause harm by mishandling sensitive information or accidentally exposing vulnerabilities. Therefore, it is crucial to have effective insider threat programs and policies in place to mitigate these risks.

Weak Cybersecurity Policies: The Risks of Inadequate Security Measures and Controls

Weak cybersecurity policies make an organization more vulnerable to insider risk incidents. For example, if an organization does not have a strong password policy in place, employees may use weak passwords, making it easier for malicious actors to gain unauthorized access to systems, applications, and sensitive content.

Lack of Employee Awareness and Training: The Importance of Educating Employees on Cybersecurity Best Practices

Employees who are not aware of insider risks and threats or have not received adequate training on data security protocols may inadvertently cause an accidental insider leak. For example, an employee may inadvertently send a sensitive email to the wrong recipient.

Access Control Weaknesses: The Threats Posed by Unauthorized Access and Poor Access Management Measures

Access control weaknesses occur when an employee has access to data or systems they should not have. For example, an employee in a sales role may not need access to sensitive financial data.

Mitigating Insider Risk: Best Practices

Insiders often pose a significant risk to an organization’s security and data privacy by compromising sensitive data, systems, or intellectual property. It is, therefore, essential that organizations consider and ideally implement the following best practices:

Utilize Granular Access Controls for Enhanced Security

Granular access control is a type of access control that enables fine-grained permission settings for individual users or groups, providing them with specific levels of access to resources, data, and applications within a system or network. It allows administrators to enforce security policies that are tailored to the specific needs of an organization or user, restricting access to sensitive information, functions, or assets based on individual roles, responsibilities, and other criteria. Granular access control is an essential component of a comprehensive security strategy, as it helps to minimize the risk of unauthorized access, data breaches, and other security incidents.

Implement File and Folder Expiry Dates for Improved Risk Management

Files and folders can be set to expire after a certain period, ensuring that employees cannot access them after the content is no longer needed for their work. For example, an employee or external partner like an investment banker or lawyer probably won’t need access to a folder containing documents about a merger one month after the merger has been completed.

Ensure Data Governance With Visibility and Monitoring Tools

Data governance with visibility refers to the process of managing and protecting data assets within an organization while providing transparency and visibility to relevant stakeholders. It involves establishing policies, processes, and standards for data management, ensuring the quality and accuracy of data, and complying with relevant laws and regulations.

Visibility is a critical component of data governance because it allows stakeholders to understand how data is being collected, used, and protected within an organization. This visibility enables better decision-making, increased trust, and improved collaboration between relevant stakeholders. It also helps in identifying potential risks and mitigating them before they can impact the organization.

Data governance with visibility is achieved through various techniques such as data lineage, data cataloging, and data mapping. These techniques provide insight into the origin of data, its purpose, and how it is being used within the organization.

Prevent Misdelivery and Recall Messages to Minimize Insider Risk

Organizations can prevent accidental insider risk incidents by implementing message recall and misdelivery prevention tools. These tools can help retrieve sent emails or prevent them from being sent to the wrong recipient.

Conduct Regular Employee Training and Awareness Programs for Mitigating Insider Threats

Employee training and awareness programs help prevent unintentional insider risk incidents by educating employees on the risks and best practices for data security.

Implement Continuous Monitoring and Auditing Measures for Proactive Risk Management

Organizations can monitor and audit employee activity to detect and prevent insider risk incidents. Tools such as a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) dashboard, for example, help organizations monitor and manage insider risk by providing real-time information about employee access to data and systems, including who accessed what file from what system, with whom did they share it, and when.

Conduct Background Checks and Vetting to Ensure Trusted Employees

Background checks and vetting prospective employees help prevent malicious insider risk incidents by identifying potential employees with a history of malicious or questionable behavior.

Regularly Back Up Data to Minimize Potential Insider Attacks and Data Loss

Regular data backups help mitigate the impact of insider risk incidents by ensuring that data can be restored in the event of sabotage, a malware or ransomware attack, or other form of business disruption.

Mitigating Insider Risk: Technologies

Insider threats have become increasingly concerning for organizations in recent years due to the potential for significant financial and reputational damages. Companies therefore need effective measures to mitigate the risk of insider attacks. There are several technologies organizations leverage to combat insider risk. These technologies are designed to prevent, detect, and respond to insider threats. Several key technologies that can help organizations protect against insider threats and safeguard their sensitive data include:

Data Loss Prevention (DLP)—Protect Your Sensitive Data From Insider Threats

Data loss prevention (DLP) solutions play a critical role in preventing unauthorized access and exfiltration of sensitive information. DLP tools can monitor and control the flow of data in your environment, helping to prevent accidental or intentional leakage of critical information. Key DLP solution features include:

  • Data monitoring and protection for data at rest, in motion, and in use
  • Content inspection to identify sensitive information based on predefined policies
  • Automated enforcement of data protection policies, such as blocking or encrypting data
  • Compliance reporting and auditing capabilities to meet regulatory requirements

Endpoint Security—Secure Your Devices and Prevent Unauthorized Access

Endpoint security refers to the process of securing the various endpoints or devices, including laptops, desktops, mobile devices, servers, and other network-connected devices. The objective of endpoint security is to protect these devices from cyber threats such as unauthorized access.

Endpoint security solutions use a combination of technologies like antivirus, firewalls, intrusion prevention systems (IPS), behavioral analysis, and endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools to ensure that endpoints are secure. These security measures help identify any suspicious activities, prevent cyberattacks, and provide real-time monitoring and response to security breaches.

Advanced Threat Protection—Detect and Respond to Malware Attacks Before They Cause Damage

Before an employee clicks on a random link or opens a suspicious file, advanced threat protection (ATP) tools analyze incoming emails and files, scan for malicious code in links and attachments, detect anomalies, and quarantine any suspicious items.

User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA)—Analyze User Behavior Patterns to Uncover Insider Threats

User and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) is a powerful technology that leverages machine learning and advanced analytics to detect anomalous user behavior indicative of insider threats. UEBA solutions analyze user activity patterns and establish a baseline of normal behavior. By comparing real-time activity against this baseline, UEBA can identify deviations that may signal a potential threat. Key UEBA benefits include:

  • Greater visibility into user activity across multiple data sources
  • Improved detection of insider threats through behavioral analysis
  • Reduced false positives through advanced analytics and machine learning
  • Streamlined investigations and incident response processes

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)—Monitor and Analyze Security Events to Detect Insider Threats

Security information and event management, or SIEM, is a type of security technology used to log, monitor, analyze, and respond to security events within an organization’s IT infrastructure. This technology generally consists of a combination of security information management and security event management software programs.

Taking Action to Mitigate Insider Risk

Mitigating insider risk requires a combination of preventive measures and response strategies to minimize the likelihood and impact of potential incidents. Here are some actions that organizations can take to mitigate insider risk:

Establish a Robust Insider Risk Management Program

A comprehensive insider risk management program is crucial for mitigating the potential impact of insider threats. This program should be aligned with your organization’s overall risk management strategy and encompass the following components:

  • Formal policies and procedures for handling insider threats
  • A cross-functional team responsible for managing insider risk
  • Regular risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities and potential threats
  • Incident response plans that address insider threat scenarios
  • Training and awareness initiatives to educate employees about insider risks and their responsibilities

Build a Risk Management Team

A risk management team can help organizations address insider risk by identifying and mitigating risks, responding to incidents, and continuously improving the organization’s insider risk program.

Develop an Insider Risk Plan

Developing an insider risk plan enables organizations to be proactive in mitigating insider risk incidents. The plan should include procedures for identifying and responding to incidents, as well as communication protocols.

Create an Incident Response and Remediation Plan

Organizations can respond to insider risk incidents by implementing an incident response and remediation plan. This should include procedures for containing the incident, assessing the damage, and restoring systems and data.

Conduct Regular Review of Policies and Procedures and Update Accordingly

Organizations must regularly review and update their policies and procedures to ensure that they remain effective in mitigating insider risk. This should be done in response to changes in the organization’s risks, such as the introduction of new technologies or changes in the threat landscape.

Measuring and Evaluating Your Insider Risk Program

In order to effectively manage insider risk, organizations must develop a comprehensive program that includes defining metrics, regular auditing and gap analysis, and reporting and communication. These best practices and technologies can help secure businesses and prevent data loss.

Developing Meaningful Metrics for Measuring and Evaluating Your Insider Risk Program

Defining metrics is the first step in evaluating the success of an organization’s insider risk program. Organizations should establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the effectiveness of their program. These KPIs should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. They can include factors such as the number of insider incidents detected, the percentage of incidents resolved, and the amount of time it takes to resolve incidents.

Conduct Regular Auditing and Gap Analysis

Regular auditing and gap analysis of an organization’s insider risk program can identify weaknesses and gaps that need to be addressed. Organizations must periodically test their insider risk controls to ensure they are effective and functioning correctly. A gap analysis can help identify areas where the program needs improvement, such as policies and procedures, training programs, and employee awareness.

Practice Frequent Reporting and Communication

Reporting and communication of insider risk incidents and their mitigation is important to build trust and transparency with stakeholders. Organizations should have a procedure in place that outlines how insider incidents are reported, investigated, and resolved. Regular communication of these incidents can help demonstrate the organization’s commitment to managing insider risk effectively.

Kiteworks Helps Organizations Mitigate Insider Risk

Kiteworks provides organizations a Private Content Network that helps mitigate insider risks, a crucial concern for organizations. First and foremost, Kiteworks gives organizations complete control over who can access files and what they can do with them; some project members should be able to view sensitive content while others should be confined to “view only.” These role-based permissions ensure content governance, availability, and authenticity. User activity can also be monitored, tracked, and recorded. Having an audit log allows organizations to analyze aberrant employee behavior but also facilitates reporting for regulatory compliance.

Additionally, Kiteworks ensures that sensitive content does not fall into the wrong hands by supporting advanced authentication, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and end-to-end encryption, to ensure that only authorized personnel can access content.

With Kiteworks, organizations can control access to sensitive content, protect sensitive content when it’s stored or shared, and track all activity related to a sensitive file, including whether it’s shared using secure email, secure file sharing, or managed file transfer (MFT).

Kiteworks also helps organizations transfer sensitive files in compliance with numerous data privacy regulations and standards, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Information Security Registered Assessors Program (IRAP), UK Cyber Essentials Plus, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and many more.

To learn more about how Kiteworks mitigates insider risk, schedule a custom demo.


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