The Dangers Within: Understanding Insider Threats

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Many companies have adopted remote or hybrid workforce models, significantly increasing cybersecurity threats worldwide. Insider risk has emerged as a critical business issue, requiring comprehensive investigation, understanding, and top-down management. Insider threats can range from employees lacking cybersecurity training to those facilitating breaches for personal gain, making them a significant risk for companies to address.

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

However, before taking preventative security measures, you must understand where these risks come from and why. This blog will discuss all aspects of insider threats, including their motivations, 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 to curb insider threats effectively. 

Insider threat types are:

  • 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 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 realizing that he did not wholly transfer millions of files.
  • 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. The motivation behind such threats may stem from a desire for financial gain or a personal vendetta against the company. For instance, a former medical equipment packaging company employee gained administrator access to the company’s computer network through hacking. In revenge for being terminated from his job, he modified and deleted multiple records.
  • Contractors or vendors: third-party vendors and contractors with temporary access to an organization’s IT network can cause a data breach. The motivation, in this case, could also be negligence or malice. A contractor who lost his contract and activated a logic bomb to delay paychecks once targeted one of the Army Reserves payroll systems.  

Motivations behind malicious insider threats

One or more of the following reasons usually motivate malicious insiders:   

  • Money or greed: most 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. This threat is instigated by disgruntled employees who feel their former employer has mistreated them. When a disgruntled former employee of a tech giant deleted hundreds of virtual machines, the company suffered huge losses before recovering. A former employee deleted hundreds of virtual machines from a tech company’s database, causing significant losses. The company eventually recovered.
  • Espionage: many large organizations worldwide have been victims of economic espionage from competing firms. Espionage is to gain a competitive advantage in the market. As an illustration, a state-owned enterprise from a foreign country used corporate spies to infiltrate an American semiconductor firm 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: many documented insider threats have been motivated by political or ideological factors. These cases often concern national pride or revenge against another nation for the attack. Numerous incidents of international hacking of businesses, human rights organizations and intellectual property theft have occurred. 

Why insider threats are dangerous

The impact of insider threats on a company’s data and finances can be significant. These threats often target a company’s essential assets, such as confidential data, product information, business strategies, corporate funds, and IT infrastructure. The resulting expenses can include losses due to downtime, missed business opportunities, and other related costs. Additionally, identifying and containing these threats can be a significant challenge. 

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. We’ve got you covered if you wonder how to mitigate these threats and prevent losses. Reach out to us today to understand different ways of building a resilient cybersecurity posture against insider threats.

We’ll help you navigate this journey and get the best possible 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.