Insider Threat Detection Guide

Every business, small or large, is susceptible to a malicious attack. A malicious attack can compromise that company’s data, hardware, software, as well as client assets. 

One of the most common threats to sensitive data can come from the inside. Insider threats can be difficult to protect against because the individual responsible is keenly aware of the security protocols in place. With malicious intentions, an insider actor can easily manipulate these security protocols and provide security details to external actors. 

Additionally, insiders who unintentionally fail to abide by security protocol can also leave your company vulnerable to malicious attacks. Insiders can either be negligent and do not know that they are creating a security weakness or malicious and know how to get around your security system. 

Protecting against malicious attacks can be difficult; after all, these attacks are meant to deceive the company’s security and steal their assets. However, with the right insider threat detection program, your company can identify potential insider threat activity before an insider attack occurs.

To give you a better understanding of the risks associated with an insider threat, this article will:

  • Define an insider threat
  • Describe symptoms of an insider threat
  • Identify how to detect an insider threat
  • Describe ways that employee monitoring software can detect and defend against an insider threat

What is an Insider Threat?

An insider threat is the threat of a malicious data attack for a company. It usually suggests that the company’s security is compromised and sensitive company information could be stolen and used for personal, malicious, or financial gain. 

Unlike an external data breach, an insider threat comes from someone who is inside the company and is either malicious or a vulnerable employee. 

Because insiders are familiar with the inner workings of a company, an insider threat can permanently damage a person or company financially or personally. 

One recent example of how devastating an insider threat can be is the Twitter attack which took place on July 15th, 2020. This attack was described by Twitter as a “coordinated social engineering attack” targeting Twitter employees who had privileged access to internal systems and tools. The attack targeted high-profile accounts, such as Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, Elon Musk, among others, and tweeted out a bitcoin scam from the compromised accounts. 

The attack, which has reverberated across social media and cybersecurity networks, prompted an FBI investigation and will be one of the most scrutinized cyber attacks in history. Officials believe that the hackers allegedly paid a Twitter employee to gain access to the account. It seems that something as simple as paying off an employee to gain access credentials could compromise not only public but also private profiles of high level personnel. 

Whether an employee is paid for privileged access or a hacker takes advantage of a weak firewall on an employees’ personal computer, there are numerous ways that an insider threat can present a company’s weakness. 

Here are the two types of insider threats to look out for:

Malicious insider

A malicious insider is a person inside your company who exploits the company’s vulnerabilities for personal gain. A malicious insider threat may seek an economic reward for the data breach and usually aims to deface the company. 

A malicious insider can be a person who came into a company (as a contractor, part-time, or full-time employee) for the specific purpose of a data breach. A malicious insider might also be a third-party contractor, such as a business or partnership. 

Negligent insider

A negligent insider is someone who is tied to a company and because of some vulnerability, a malicious attacker was able to infiltrate privileged accounts within that company. A recent report found that 63% of insider threats were caused by negligent employees. 

The negligent insider might be someone who does not lock their computer when they walk away from their desk, or it can also be someone who fails to patch a fatal security error in the computer system. 

Symptoms of an Insider Threat Attack

An insider attack poses a security threat that is equal to, if not greater than, external attack. An insider incident is likely to occur because insiders are granted access to sensitive assets as privileged users. Privileged users are able to commit more serious malicious acts by allowing a small amount of malicious code. 

Therefore, it is necessary to learn user behaviors and symptoms associated with an insider threat attack so that you can detect one and prevent it:

Possible symptoms of a malicious insider attack:

  • An employee is exhibiting suspicious behavior, such as requesting access to privileged accounts, asking questions about sensitive data, or displaying unusual user behavior. Behaviors might be exhibited on-site (depending on where the data is held) or through computer behavior. 
  • An employee is exhibiting risky behavior, such as moving files around that aren’t usually moved or aren’t supposed to be moved. They might also be sharing sketchy looking files or links, downloading or uploading an excessive amount of data, or making a lot of administrative moves that would otherwise not be made.

Possible symptoms of a negligent insider attack:

  • You notice that an employee is more susceptible to phishing email scams. That employee is more likely to believe what an email or outsider says or be fooled by emails that would otherwise be clear to a security team. 
  • An employee is lazy or careless about the company’s sensitive assets. This might be failing to lock the computer when they get up for a break or speaking openly about sensitive information with colleagues. They may be lax in other areas of work, including talking about sensitive information with those who are in lower access levels.
  • Files are being moved around hastily or into protected areas. This could mean that your network was compromised by a cyber attack.

Without the use of an employee monitoring software or monitoring system, it can be difficult for a company to detect anomalous behavior. Employee monitoring software uses behavioral analytics in order to detect, track, and alert administrators to suspicious activity. 

Malicious insider activity might also represent a cybersecurity breach. If you notice that an employee is exhibiting suspicious behavior, your threat detection protocol should tell you to investigate these claims through user behavior data, through an interview, and detection in the employees’ computer. 

So, if your investigation tells you that the insider threat risk is not associated with that employee, then that might mean that a cyber attacker has access to your company’s network. 

How to Detect an Insider Threat?

In order to prevent insider threat incidents, it is important to set up an insider threat detection program and a strong security team. The security team will be in charge of monitoring user activity, assessing your current security risk, and mitigating insider threat incidents if they occur. 

If you do not have a cybersecurity protocol, then it is important to set up an insider threat program. Since insider threats are difficult to spot, you should approach insider threat detection and prevention from a number of viewpoints. 

  • Organize a security team dedicated to developing, testing, and deploying the security protocols in place. Develop security protocols using a security information and event management (SIEM) platform around threat detection, prevention, and mitigation in the event that a cyber incident occurs. 
  • Track user behaviors using behavioral analytics; this will give each user a “baseline activity” so that you can detect when that user deviates from normal behaviors. Behaviors that are abnormal might include downloading more files than what is typical, accessing restricted areas, and accessing the company network at odd hours.
  • Make note of those employees, current or past, who may have malicious intent against the company. This might be employees who have left the company in bad taste or who have been fired from the company.

Updated Guidance from the Government Authorities to Thwart North Korean Freelance IT Espionage

US and South Korean authorities have updated guidance in October 2023 on preventing the hiring of North Korean agents posing as freelance IT professionals. To combat the thousands of North Korean tech operatives suspected to be infiltrating global freelance platforms for espionage and malware planting, authorities recommend employers to watch for signs such as multiple IP address logins, changing payment methods frequently, and evasion of in-person meetings. Employers are also advised to conduct diligent background checks, keep detailed interaction records, and adopt various technological measures such as preventing the use of remote desktop protocols and installing insider threat monitoring software on company devices.

Ways That Employee Monitoring and UBA Software Can Deter an Insider Threat

Reduce insider risk with employee monitoring software. Employing monitoring and UBA tools can protect against an insider threat by: 

  • Flagging risky behavior
  • Establishing a baseline insider behavior using behavior analytics
  • Building a threat intelligence portfolio of your company and its insiders
  • Security analytics around all user activity
  • Anomaly detection
  • Acting on a shut-down protocol when malicious behavior is detected

An employee monitoring software can detect a lot of user behaviors so that you can identify when a user is acting suspiciously. Some monitoring software can log each computer’s keystrokes, communication on apps and messengers, as well as information sent via email. 

This software can also monitor internet movement. This includes the number of gigabytes downloaded onto a computer or through a given IP address, file transfers, or remote access users. 

This software is installed either directly or remotely onto user computers so that you can monitor user behavior without their knowledge. This is a direct line of defense against malicious actors who seek to move around a network’s security. 

Insider Threat Detection

Insider threat detection can save your company thousands if not millions of dollars. With the right tools, such as employee monitoring software, your company can detect when employee behaviors seem suspicious or when someone gains unauthorized access to a restricted section. 

Monitor employee behaviors and prevent potential insider threats with SoftActivity


By SoftActivity Team