Defence Strategies to Combat Insider Threats 

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Insider threats are among the most dangerous cyber threats. Yet, organizations of all sizes seem reluctant or negligent regarding fighting them. Even though some companies have an insider risk management program, they have a limited cybersecurity budget for mitigating insider risk.

An insider risk management program cannot protect your corporate data from today’s sophisticated attacks. This blog will shed some light on the types of insider threats you must detect and mitigate, the damage they could cause, the user attributes that increase these risks and the security controls you should implement to prevent and defend against them.

Understanding insider threats

Simply put, an insider threat is an employee or contractor who, either wittingly or unwittingly, uses their authorized access to cause harm to your business. Companies might fall prey to three types of insider threats:

  • Negligent Insider: A negligent employee or contractor who unwittingly lets a hacker access your business network. 
  • Criminal Insider: A criminal or malicious insider who abuses their privileged access to your business’ network to steal or exfiltrate sensitive data for financial gain or plain old revenge. 
  • Credential theft: A credential thief poses as an employee or a contractor to gain access to sensitive data and then illegally uses the data for financial gain. 

The severe damage insider threats can cause

Even a single security breach caused by an insider threat can seriously damage your business in the following ways:

  • Theft of sensitive data: valuable data, such as customer information or trade secrets, could be exposed following a breach. A leading hospitality service provider recently experienced a data breach that compromised sensitive data, including credit cards and other confidential information about guests and employees.
  • Induced downtime: the downtime following a breach impacts your business in more ways than one. It can take a long time to ascertain the details of a violation and then control the damage. This period can drain your business resources as it did to a company that ultimately was forced to shut down permanently after a disgruntled employee deleted thousands of documents from its Dropbox account.
  • Destruction of property: A malicious insider could cause damage to physical or digital equipment, systems, applications, or even information assets. A former employee of a leading tech company gained unauthorized access to its cloud infrastructure and deleted hundreds of virtual machines, jeopardizing access to thousands of users. The tech major had to shell out a hefty sum to fix the damage and pay restitution to the affected users.
  •  Damage to reputation: this is a guaranteed consequence of a security breach. Investors, partners and clients may immediately lose confidence in your business’s ability to protect personal information, trade secrets or other sensitive data.

User attributes that aggravate insider threats

The likelihood of a security breach caused by an insider could significantly increase due to the following:

  • Unnecessary access is provided to users who don’t even need it to perform their responsibilities 
  • Haphazard allocation of rights to install or delete hardware, software and users
  • Usage of weak login credentials and inadequate password hygiene practices 
  • Users act as a single point of failure because of a lack of access control (a phenomenon common with CEO fraud).

Build a resilient defence against insider threats

As a business, you can undertake a list of security measures to build a resilient defence against insider threats as part of a proactive rather than a reactive strategy. Some immediate actions you can immediately implement include:

  • Assess and audit all systems: direct your IT team to assess and audit every system, data asset and user to identify insider threats and document them thoroughly for further action.
  • Restrict access and permission controls: not every employee needs access to every data piece. You must review and limit unnecessary user access privileges, permissions and rights.
  • Mandatory security awareness training for all users: this measure is non-negotiable. Every user on your network must be trained on cyber threats, especially insider threats, and on-spot early warning signs exhibited by potential insider threats, such as downloading or accessing substantial amounts of data. Accessing sensitive data not associated with the employee’s job function or unique behavioural profile
  • Enforce strict password policies and procedures: repeatedly encourage all users to follow strict password guidelines and ensure optimal password hygiene.
  • Enhance user authentication: deploy enhanced user authentication methods, such as two-factor authentication (2FA) and multifactor authentication (MFA), to ensure only the right users access the correct data securely.
  • Determine “baseline” user behaviour: devise and implement a policy to determine “baseline” user behaviour related to access and activity based on the job function or the user.
  • Deploy ongoing monitoring to detect anomalies: implement a strategy and measures to identify and detect abnormal/anomalous behaviours or actions based on “baseline” behaviours and parameters.

Detecting insider threats and building a robust defence strategy against them can take time for most businesses, regardless of size. The right cybersecurity service provider can help you assess your current security posture, determine potential insider threats to your business, fortify your cybersecurity infrastructure and secure your business-critical data.

We understand the importance of defending against insider threats and can tailor our services to meet the specific needs of your business. We’re here to help you navigate this journey and ensure you get the best defence. Contact us today to discuss how co-managed IT can benefit your business and learn more about how we can support your organization’s IT needs. 

If you’re interested, please reach out to us for a no-obligation consultation at

Terry Cutler

I’m Terry Cutler, the creator of Internet Safety University, an educational system helping to defend corporations and individuals against growing cyber threats. I’m a federal government-cleared cybersecurity expert (a Certified Ethical Hacker), and the founder of Cyology Labs, a first-line security defence firm headquartered in Montréal, Canada. In 2020, I wrote a bestselling book about the secrets of internet safety from the viewpoint of an ethical hacker. I’m a frequent contributor to National & Global media coverage about cyber-crime, spying, security failures, internet scams, and social network dangers families and individuals face daily.