Detecting and proactively preventing external cyberattacks is a focus for security operations (SecOps) teams, but insider attacks also pose a risk. In fact, nearly 75% of data breaches are caused by insider threats. Whether malicious or negligent, identifying and preventing insider threats is yet another security challenge facing organizations. Companies must proactively find ways to handle insider threat detection to truly protect themselves.
What is an Insider Threat?
An insider threat is a malicious or negligent act perpetrated by a trusted employee, contractor, vendor or partner. It has become a major concern in the cybersecurity world, as more companies struggle to protect themselves against malicious insiders.
The Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) insider threat definition is: “the threat that an insider will use his or her authorized access, wittingly or unwittingly, to do harm to the [organization’s] mission, resources, personnel, facilities, information, equipment, networks, or systems.
Types of Insider Threats
The main types of insider threats include:
Malicious insiders: Individuals within the company who intentionally use or give their credentials to someone to cause harm to the organization.
Negligent insiders: Employees who neglect to protect their login information or fail to follow proper security and IT procedures, They may also fall for a phishing attack or are otherwise careless, which leaves the organization vulnerable.
Compromised insiders: Individuals who have – despite their best efforts – have been compromised by an outside threat. Credentials are often stolen (or if phished, given) to malicious cybercriminals outside of the organization who then wreak havoc on systems by bypassing automatic perimeter defenses.
How to Detect an Insider Threat
Organizations often have trouble detecting these threats because established insider threat detection methods are inefficient and faulty. Researching and validating potential insider threats requires extensive effort. SecOps teams are already spread too thin handling copious amounts of alerts from disparate security tools. While these disparate tools are necessary to verify potential threats, analysts must dive into each tool individually to fully understand the incident.
Additionally, organizations find that detecting insider threats can be incredibly challenging because the threat activity frequently emulates normal behavior. Real credentials are used, and the normal signs that would indicate an “attack” don’t occur so systems don’t alert SecOps. What’s more, attacks are normally spread out across multiple systems. These elements make it particularly difficult to detect and understand the scope of an insider attack.
Insider Threat Indicators
There are two main categories of indicators: behavioral and digital. Both types of activity can allude to potentially malicious activity that needs to be investigated. However, without proper visibility across your tech stack, these behaviors can be hard to identify.
Which scenario might indicate a reportable insider threat? Below are some of the most common examples to look for:
Disgruntled or dissatisfied employees, contractors or vendors
Working at unusual times for their timezone
Repeated attempts to bypass security
Resentment or grudges towards co-workers and supervisors
Repetitively violating organization policies
Verbally discussing resignation
Online activity at random, unprompted times
Emailing confidential or sensitive information to external accounts
Deliberately searching for sensitive information
Accessing resources not related to their job duties, or that they are not permitted to
Downloading large amounts of data, as seen in unusual network traffic spikes
Best Practices: How to Defend Against Insider Threats
Protect Critical Assets: Build a solid defense so it’s harder for insider threats to succeed. Identify critical assets such as intellectual property, sensitive customer data, systems, technology and your people. Then ensure your security team understands all aspects of your critical assets and how to protect them.
Establish and Enforce Company Security Policies: Keep updated documentation of security policies and procedures – and enforce them. Ensure that the entire organization is actively following security protocol and understand how to protect sensitive data. Include insider attacks in your incident response plans – something only 18% of SANS Institute survey respondents do.
Increase Security Visibility: Utilize security solutions and tools to track employee activity and telemetry across multiple sources. Take steps to improve communication between siloed technology and ingest data faster. Also, seek out a solid case management solution to improve visibility within your security operations team.
Foster Culture Standards: The saying ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ holds true, especially for cybersecurity. Educate employees with regular security training. Work with other departments in your organization to improve employee morale and satisfaction.
How can Organizations Improve Insider Threat Detection?
The frequency and severity of threats continue to grow, with enterprise security teams receiving upwards of 10,000 alerts every day. Thankfully, there are security tools and solutions available to speed response times and allow analysts to triage insider threats faster. To improve the incident response process, look for a solution that can help to:
Automate Security Processes: Look for solutions that allow workflows to trigger automatically, which pushes threat incidences through the entire investigation and response process. With security automation solutions, teams are only alerted when human intervention is required. This helps to thwart the never-ending stream of security alerts that make it challenging for organizations to stay ahead of threats.
Centralize Security Alerts with Case Management: When a security solution centralizes insider threat alerts and all other types of security alerts, SecOps teams have the information they need to understand security within their organization. This helps them prepare for, defend against and better understand potential new threats before they occur.
Improve Technology Integrations: Integrating your security toolset gives SecOps teams exactly what they need to have a complete understanding of all insider threat alerts. Plus, automating portions of the threat response process makes the entire security infrastructure more effective without adding overhead.
Security Automation: Increase Visibility & Actionability
Low-code security automation is a solution that organizations can utilize to improve insider threat detection. These solutions expand beyond Legacy SOAR platforms and allow SecOps teams to integrate multiple tools for rapid insider threat detection and response. Other benefits for security teams include:
Speed Insider Threat Investigations: Automate the repetitive, manual tasks to give time back to SOC analysts for more strategic work. Bring humans in the loop of automation to speed manual information gathering, and collaborate on active insider threat cases.
Improve Insider Risk Posture: Security teams who leverage low-code automation for insider threat use cases gain the scale and efficiencies to reduce insider risk holistically.
Protect Future Profits: Establish a system or record for insider risk to validate that your security controls are effective at protecting valuable and regulated data.
Improve Cross-Functional Collaboration: User-centric dashboards, reporting, and case management help to bring non-security stakeholders like legal and HR into insider threat response processes.
As the world becomes more connected and increasingly data-driven, insider threat detection has never been more important. Low-code security automation significantly reduces mean time to resolution (MTTR), which is key to minimizing the damage of insider threats. Ultimately, it helps protect your organization by identifying and stopping insider threats before they cause major damage.
Gartner: Create a SOC Target Operating Model to Drive Success
‘Security and risk management leaders often struggle to convey the business value of their security operations centers to nonsecurity leaders, resulting in reduced investment, poor collaboration and eroding support…’ — Access this Gartner SOC Operating Model report – courtesy of Swimlane.