Insider Threats at your Small Business

Posted: January 3, 2024

Your business may rely on its technology, but it relies on your employees more. While external threats like hacking and malware receive a lot of attention, insider threats can be just as damaging, if not more so, due to the level of access individuals within an organization typically have. Insiders, whether intentionally or unintentionally, can pose serious risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive information and IT systems. Today, we are going to discuss the different types of insider threats to help you understand what you need to be looking for to keep your data and network secure.

Defining an Insider Threat

There are a lot of moving parts inside your business. This means that you are responsible for training people to use the technology you use the way you want it used. Most of the time an insider threat refers to actions taken by people who have access to your network and data that puts it at risk. This can be straight sabotage, but more often than not it is a result of lazy (and often negligent) behavior by your employees.

Malicious Versus Unintentional Insider Threats

A malicious insider threat occurs when an individual within the organization intentionally engages in activities to harm the organization's IT infrastructure, data, or operations. Motivations for malicious insider threats can include financial gain, revenge, ideology, or coercion. Examples of malicious insider activities include data theft, unauthorized access, sabotage, or the introduction of malware.

An unintentional Insider threat arises from employees or individuals who inadvertently compromise IT security without malicious intent. Common examples include falling victim to phishing attacks, unintentionally disclosing sensitive information, or making mistakes that lead to security vulnerabilities. While these individuals do not have harmful intentions, their actions can still have significant consequences for the organization's cybersecurity.

Here are a few reasons why insider threats are considered a real and persistent challenge:

  1. Authorized Access: Insiders typically have legitimate access to an organization's systems and data as part of their job responsibilities. This makes it easier for them to carry out malicious activities or accidentally compromise security.
  2. Knowledge of Systems: Insiders often have a deep understanding of an organization's IT infrastructure, making it easier for them to navigate and exploit vulnerabilities.
  3. Motivations: Insiders may have various motivations for engaging in malicious activities, such as financial gain, revenge, ideological reasons, or coercion. These motivations can drive individuals to intentionally harm the organization.
  4. Unintentional Errors: Even well-meaning employees can inadvertently pose a threat by falling victim to phishing attacks, mishandling sensitive information, or making mistakes that lead to security vulnerabilities.
  5. Privileged Accounts: Employees with privileged access, such as system administrators, can have significant control over IT systems. If these individuals misuse their privileges, it can have severe consequences.

Now let’s take a look at how your staff can threaten your business’ continuity.

Technical Shifts

We’ve seen a major one happen recently as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to forge ahead with a remote workforce. When situations occur that force your business to change the way they typically do things, it can be a problem for some of them.

It doesn’t take a worldwide pandemic to confound some members of your staff, but you should keep in mind that altering a person’s work routine could get them distracted and result in mistakes. If an employee makes a mistake at the wrong time, you could be facing a very difficult and expensive problem.

Emotional Distress

This goes double for your staff’s mental health. The more deviation that they are asked to handle, the more that they could become stressed out, as many people have found out trying to juggle working from home, educating their kids, and doing it with virtually no options for recreation. The more stress you put on a person, the more likely they are to act out and do things that are out of character.

Organizational Adjustments

Another variable where you might find a threat is when you decide that you need an innovative change and the people who work for you have been using the same system for years. No employee wants to re-train on a similar product. Some will understand it’s just business, but some will have a problem. One example we see time and again is when an employer wants to ensure that their network’s security is optimal, and makes it more difficult for employees to do their jobs. Finding the middle ground between access and security will mitigate a lot of the problems in this arena.

Some Behaviours Associated with Insider Threats

Insider threats are typically carried out by people who are fed up and plan to leave your company. In fact, 60 percent of insider threats involve data being stolen and taken with employees that are ready to take a job at a new company. You can pick up some behaviors in your monitoring. Things like people looking at job sites at work and accessing personal cloud accounts that don’t have anything tangible to do with their work responsibilities can tip you off that someone is looking to leave and may be a threat.

To keep insider threats from being a problem, be alert to trends. Most situations aren’t a deliberate attack on your business. In fact, most times people copying data are just looking to take their work home with them. You need to keep an eye on access points to ensure that any data that shouldn’t be leaving your network, isn’t.

How to Reduce the Risk of Insider Threats

Improve Communication: Communication is key to a strong workplace culture. By improving your communication with your team and providing more transparency, you can improve your culture and reduce the risk of insider threats.

Monitor your Network: You will want to keep a close eye on your network. This includes access points and databases. If you begin to see strange behavior on your network such as browsing to sites that have nothing to do with your business (or sites that particular user doesn’t typically frequent), you will need to confront the individual before it causes problems for your business.

Organizations need to employ various measures to mitigate insider threats, including implementing access controls, monitoring user activities and conducting security awareness training. It's essential for organizations to have a comprehensive security strategy that addresses both technical and human aspects to effectively manage and reduce the risks associated with insider threats. If your business is concerned about the risk of insider threats, reach out to us.

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