Guide to Insider Threats: Definition, Detection, Best Practices & Tools

5 Minute Read

Detecting and proactively preventing external cyberattacks is a focus for security operations (SecOps) teams, but insider attacks also pose a risk. In fact, nearly 62% 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.

But what is the insider threat meaning? How do you go about preventing insider threats? Let’s find out. 

What is an Insider? 

To understand insider threats and how to detect and prevent them, we must first understand what an insider is. An insider is someone who has authorized access to an organization’s systems, networks, or data. This individual could be an employee, contractor, or anyone else with legitimate access. Insiders have the potential to misuse their access either intentionally or unintentionally, which can result in security breaches, data theft, or other harmful activities.

What is an Insider Threat?

To define insider threat, it is a malicious or negligent act perpetrated by a trusted employee, contractor, vendor or partner. These types of threats have 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) defines an insider threat as “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

  • 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 be otherwise careless, leaving 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. 

The Challenges of the Insider Threat Detection Investigation Process

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, and with SecOps teams already spread too thin, handling copious amounts of alerts from disparate security tools is a tough task. While these disparate tools are necessary to verify potential threats, SOC 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 to Monitor

There are two main categories of insider threat 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. 

Below are some of the most common insider threat indicator examples to look out for:

Behavioral Indicators

  • 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

Digital Indicators

  • 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

Insider Threat Best Practices  

What is considered best practice when dealing with an insider threat? There are a few insider threat detection techniques your SOC can implement to detect any malicious activity, such as: 

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.

Increasing 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.

Fostering 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 insider threat tools and security 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:

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 SOC 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.

Implement Insider Threat Use Cases

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. 

Take Advantage of Low Code Security Automation 

Low-code security automation, such as Swimlane Turbine, is a solution that organizations can utilize to improve insider threat detection for better visibility and accountability. 

Low code solutions have multiple benefits, such as:

  • Improved Tool Integration: These solutions expand beyond Legacy SOAR platforms and allow SecOps teams to integrate multiple tools for rapid insider threat detection and response. 
  • Sped Up Insider Threat Investigations: Automate repetitive, manual tasks to free up SOC analysts‘ time for more strategic work. Include humans in the automation loop to speed manual information gathering and collaborate on active insider threat cases. 
  • Improved 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.
  • Improved 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.

Upgrade Your Security with Insider Threat Detection Tools from Swimlane

As the world becomes more connected and increasingly data-driven, insider threat detection has never been more important. If you’re wondering how to detect insider threats, it is insider threat detection tools like low-code security automation that significantly reduces mean time to resolution (MTTR), a key security metric to be aware of to minimize the damage of insider threats. Ultimately, it helps protect your organization by identifying and stopping insider threats before they cause major damage.

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