Defining the different types of insider threats

As technology continues to evolve, cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated. Many organizations focus their cybersecurity efforts only on outsider threats, hence creating more loopholes for insider threats. These companies don’t see the possibility of losing sensitive data due to negligence or the malicious intent of their own people.   According to the Verizon 2020 Data Breach report, insiders account for 22% of all security incidents. Another survey by the Ponemon Institute found that the overall cost of insider threats rose from $8.76 million in 2018 to $11.45 million in 2020, representing a 47% increase in two years. So what exactly is an insider threat, and how does it happen? Who is responsible, and how can your organization detect these threats and take measures to keep the internal bad actors at bay? We’ve answered all these questions in the sections below.

Common types of insider threats

An insider threat is any cybersecurity concern that comes from within your current or former employees, business partners, contractors, or any other person within the company. Therefore, insider threat actors are people with legitimate access to some or all of your data or security network.   Before we look at the different types of insider threats, let’s first see the motivation behind these types of malicious activities.  Here are the main types of insider threats:

  • Fraud – an insider will steal, modify or destroy data for the purpose of deception.
  • Sabotage – an insider will use their legitimate access to the network to destroy or damage the company systems or data.
  • Espionage/Spying – an insider steals company data or information for another organization, such as a government entity or competitor.
  • IP Theft – an insider steals a brand or company’s patents, designs, inventions, etc., often taking them to a new company or for resale.

5 different types of insider threats

Now that you know the motivation for compromising internal company systems, here are the different types of insider threats who knowingly or unknowingly partake in the aforementioned activities:

1. Malicious insiders

This group of insider threats often have an unsolved grievance against the company they work for, and they choose to take things into their own hands. An example is an employee who is against the company’s recruitment or promotion policies and chooses to leak, modify, or delete sensitive company data. Malicious insiders can work solo or in organized groups. When malicious insiders get outside support, they could easily become inside agents. The latter is a more advanced insider threat actor working under the instructions of an external group or entity. Employees can also become insider agents by being coerced through blackmail and bribery, or be tricked via social engineering schemes.

2. Careless employees

Negligent employees are an insider threat found in almost every organization, and sometimes they are just not aware of the many security implications that their behaviors pose to the company. An example of a careless employee is one who leaves the computer open and goes on a lunch break. Others would grant sensitive account access to regular users just because they know them personally. All these events create security loopholes that allow insider threats to flourish.

3. third-party partners

Most organizations outsource some part of their services to third-party organizations or specialty firms. Sometimes these third parties do not have sophisticated security protocols and are easy targets for cyber attackers. If these companies are granted privileged access to part of your company network, you can bet that the bad actors will infiltrate your system after compromising the partner’s security network, resulting in a third-party data breach.

4. Ex-employees

Employees that have left or are leaving the company are a common type of insider threat to many organizations. At times, employees leave the company involuntarily and decide to steal valuable data. Some argue that part of the company’s intellectual property is their own creation, hence justifying the need to take this information with them. If employees steal valuable data such as patents and inventions and take them to their next position, the company would have a hard time competing in the market.

5. Policy evaders

Last but not least is the group of employees who like to take shortcuts when it comes to following security policies and protocols. More often, the company will have security rules designed to protect the company data and its employees. Some of these rules could be tedious and inconvenient, and some employees would opt for the easy way out. These workarounds could compromise the organization’s security and control over its data.

How to manage insider threats

When it comes to protecting your company from each of the different types of insider threats, a rule of thumb is to educate your employees and business partners on cybersecurity. You also want to thoroughly vet who you are going to partner with based on the maturity of their cybersecurity model.  Investing in the right cybersecurity tools and technologies will also help your company stay ahead with information security controls and countermeasures against internal data breaches. That said, keeping your business, data, and employees safe begins with awareness and taking proactive action against all the possible insider threats.