With most companies embracing remote or hybrid workforce models in the wake of the pandemic, cyber security threats have grown rapidly across the world. Insider risk has become a key problem for businesses - a risk that must be investigated, well understood and dealt with from the top down. An insider threat could be anything from negligent employees who lack cyber security training to rogue employees who facilitate a breach for personal gain.

The increased frequency of insider threats and the severity of data breaches resulting from them is a wake-up call to all organisations to take proactive steps to combat this serious security risk.

However, before taking any preventative security measures, it is necessary for you to understand where these risks come from and why. In this blog, we’ll discuss all aspects of insider threats including the motivations behind them, potential actors, primary targets, consequences and more.

Actors behind insider threats

Anyone with access to critical information can pose a potential insider threat risk if the information is unknowingly or maliciously misused, resulting in a data breach. Businesses need to identify these actors if they want to curb insider threats effectively.

Insider threat types can be classified as follows:

  • Negligent insiders – This may include careless executives or employees with access to privileged information. These insiders don’t have any motivation – money or otherwise. They are simply careless in their actions or may have fallen victim to a scam. In a recent incident, an IT employee deleted critical case files from a police department's cloud storage, not realising that millions of files were not completely transferred.
  • Malicious insiders – These are insiders who intentionally abuse their credentials for personal gain. These actors can be more effective than external attackers because they have access to privileged information and are aware of security loopholes. They may be motivated by monetary gain or may have a personal vendetta against the company. An ex-employee of a medical equipment packaging company gained administrator access to the company's computer network by hacking. He modified and wiped a huge volume of records to take revenge for his job loss.
  • Contractors or vendors – Third-party vendors and contractors who have temporary access to an organisation’s IT network can cause a data breach. The motivation, in this case, could also be negligence or malice. One of the Army Reserves payroll systems was once targeted by a contractor who lost his contract and activated a logic bomb to create a delay in delivering paychecks.

Motivations behind malicious insider threats

Malicious insiders are usually motivated by one or more of the following reasons:

  • Money or greed – Most cases of non-negligent insider threats are motivated by money and personal financial gain. A greedy insider with access to restricted information is most often the culprit in this case. For instance, two employees stole intellectual property on calibrating turbines from a global energy leader and used it to form a rival company.
  • Revenge – Another common reason for insider threats is vengeance. Disgruntled employees, who believe they have been wronged by the company they once worked for, are usually behind this type of threat. When a disgruntled former employee of a tech giant deleted hundreds of virtual machines, the company suffered huge losses before it could recover.
  • Espionage – Many large organisations across the world have been victims of economic espionage from competing firms. This is mainly done to gain a competitive advantage in the market. An extranational, state-owned enterprise infiltrated an American semi-conductor firm with corporate spies to steal valuable trade secrets.
  • Strategic advantage – Intellectual property theft against corporations is most often a result of trying to gain a strategic advantage in the market. A renowned smartphone company became a victim of an insider attack when its blueprint for bendable screen technology was stolen by its supplier.
  • Political or ideological – There have been many documented cases of insider threats motivated by political or ideological factors. These cases often concern national pride or revenge against another nation for the attack. There have been numerous incidents of international hacking of businesses, human rights organisations and intellectual property theft.

Why insider threats are dangerous

Insider threats can have a massive impact on your data and bottom line. They typically aim for an organisation's core assets, including confidential data, product information, business strategies, corporate funds and IT infrastructure. Huge expenses are incurred because of downtime losses, lost business opportunities and more. Above all, it is frequently difficult to identify and contain these dangers.

Don’t wait to protect your business

Although the consequences of insider threats may be severe, you don’t have to face this problem alone. If you are wondering how you can mitigate these threats and prevent losses, we’ve got you covered. Check out our eBook to learn key strategies for mitigating insider threats.

Download a free copy of our eBook

To learn and understand different ways of building a resilient cyber security posture against insider threats. Call us on (02) 9114 9920 or reach out online.