When it comes to cybersecurity, the challenge of internal cyber risk looms large, often originating from within the very ranks of a company’s own employees, contractors, and vendors.
Recent studies have shed light on a concerning truth: internal security threat is the driving force behind a startling 50% of documented security breaches, while breaches caused by insider threats or simple lapses in judgment exact an alarming annual toll of $7.5 million on average for organizations. Although companies are aware of this danger, they sometimes struggle to muster the necessary resources and executive attention required for its effective mitigation. Existing prevention efforts can fall short, either by fixating solely on monitoring behaviors or by failing to appreciate the nuances of cultural and privacy norms.
With that in mind, let’s look closer into the phenomenon of internal cyber risk, how it creates pathways for data breaches, and explore strategies for detecting and mitigating insider risks wherever they arise.
WHAT IS INTERNAL CYBER RISK?
Internal cyber risk refers to the possibility that insiders, whether they are employees, contractors, or third parties, might exploit their authorized access or familiarity with an organization to inflict harm. This harm can take on many forms, including malicious, complacent, or unintentional actions, all of which can have detrimental consequences for the organization’s integrity, confidentiality, availability, data, workforce, and facilities.
The widespread adoption of cloud services and mobile technology within corporate environments has raised many user accounts and credentials to the status of potential attack vectors. Currently, over 300 million individuals operate in remote areas, creating, accessing, sharing, and safeguarding data from diverse locations. This means that any user identity could potentially compromise sensitive details about an organization’s security practices, customer and employee data, login credentials, and financial records. The most unsettling aspect of insider threats is that these intrusions and activities originate from trusted sources, slipping under the radar of many security technologies. Then, malicious actors gain the capability to erase any trace of their actions and presence, further complicating investigative efforts.
TYPES OF INTERNAL CYBER RISKS
Before you can address the mounting issue of insider threats, you will want to investigate the different types of insider risk that may be relevant to your business:
The fact of the matter is that humans are inherently prone to making mistakes, often at the most inopportune moments. That’s why human error is a significant contributing factor to security breaches, and trusted, unassuming insiders sadly bear the brunt of responsibility. Whether it’s sharing data, losing devices, or accidentally sending sensitive credentials to insecure home networks, the consequences of such blunders can be exceedingly costly. Among these, perhaps the most precarious group consists of well-intentioned IT administrators, whose unfettered access to a company’s infrastructure can transform a minor misstep into a catastrophic event. In an era where modern anti-malware and threat detection software have evolved into highly sophisticated tools, cybercriminals know all too well that the success of our tools ultimately relies on how well we, as individuals, put them into action.
PHISHING & SOCIAL ENGINEERING
Cybercriminals are masters at adopting new identities.
Phishing and social engineering attacks stand as two of the most favored tactics for hackers seeking to infiltrate networks and distribute malware and ransomware. Despite their external nature, these threats hinge on the vulnerability of unsuspecting employees, who, as we discussed, are inclined to make mistakes. Malicious actors employ tactics to deceive insiders into revealing their credentials or clicking on tainted links and attachments, often by posing as trusted friends, reputable sources, or tempting offers from coveted brands. Once they gain entry, they can readily compromise network security.
Though most individuals are beginning to recognize the perils of phishing, trust and urgency remain predominant weapons wielded by attackers. These threat actors meticulously research their targets, exploring public profiles, tracking vendor relationships, and even scrutinizing an organization’s HR department’s choice of communication portals. The foundation for these potential phishing attacks lies in the implicit trust employees place in their existing relationships, as well as social dynamics like reciprocity and consistency. Even the more cautious employees want to help their co-workers and maintain solid vendor relationships, and so they can be coerced into falling for phishing links.
Occasionally, you do come across employees with malicious intentions.
These insiders wield technical tools to disrupt the daily operations of your business, identifying weaknesses in IT systems, gaining access to sensitive data, or furthering their attack strategies through IT system access. This could involve tampering with data, introducing malware, or deploying malicious software to disrupt networks and systems. Such incidents can occur in a wide variety of scenarios: for instance, a departing employee might seek to take proprietary company data with them upon leaving, or a discontented employee might contemplate deleting vital or confidential information from a company server or cloud account. Some individuals might consider selling valuable information or intel, while others could be motivated by personal grievances against the organization.
USE OF UNAUTHORIZED DEVICES
Unauthorized access occurs when individuals gain entry to an organization’s data, networks, applications, or devices without proper permission. It’s closely tied to the authentication process, which verifies a user’s identity when they access a system. Common causes of unauthorized access include:
- Weak passwords chosen by users or shared passwords across multiple services.
- Social engineering attacks, where attackers impersonate legitimate entities to steal user credentials.
- Compromised accounts – attackers target vulnerable systems to gain entry to more secure ones.
- Malware that uses botnets to steal credentials and financial data.
- Illegitimate penetration testing tools used for spear-phishing and unauthorized access.
While numerous data protection policies emphasize internet-based data transfers, they frequently neglect an equally prevalent avenue: portable devices. USB drives have persistently posed challenges to data protection strategies, as they are not only easy to lose or steal but also convenient to use. Moreover, the physical theft of company devices can introduce substantial cybersecurity risks, including unauthorized access and external tampering.
TACKLING INTERNAL CYBER RISK
Internal cyber threats are evolving and becoming more systemic, with both short-term and long-term consequences for businesses. Beyond the immediate impacts, such as financial losses, there are significant long-term implications like a loss of competitive edge, credit rating reduction, and rising cyber insurance costs.
These are a few of the tactics businesses are adopting to mitigate internal cyber risk:
- Behavioral Analytics: Traditional security measures based on static rules and alerts often generate a lot of noise, making it challenging to distinguish between legitimate and malicious activities. Moving towards dynamic models that factor in user identities, roles, and working conditions can help reduce false positives and pinpoint truly malicious behavior.
- Tighter Access Control: Access control is a critical data security element and should be implemented as part of the insider threat management plan. Your access control policy defines who gets to access specific data and the conditions under which they can do so. It’s important to embrace the principle of least privilege, ensuring that insiders can only access the resources required for their job responsibilities.
- Trust and Privacy Balance: Striking a balance between employee privacy and company security is critical, as many security Tools tools available in the marketplace arbitrarily monitor employee activities and can be counterproductive. Pursuing transparent and narrowly scoped monitoring is the only way you can build trust and safety.
- Cross-Functional Collaboration: Insider risk involves the entire organization, not just IT and security, so consider engaging legal, operations, HR, and senior leadership teams to ensure broad buy-in and shared goals with measurable success metrics.
- Employee Training: It’s never too late to educate employees on data protection and compliance, while outlining personal relevance to possible data breaches. It’s crucial you’re able to foster a “see something, say something” culture, ensuring that you’re empowering employees as the first and last line of defense.
- Machine Learning Tools: The use of machine learning to enhance insider threat detection is on the rise. These tools analyze behavior patterns, detect anomalies, and reduce false positives, while separating signal from noise and improving accuracy.
Yardstick Technologies is your trusted ally in addressing insider cyber risk
Our tailored cybersecurity services are designed to tackle these complex challenges effectively, all while striking a balance between privacy, security, and process.
Contact us today for a consultation – we can show you how you can create a robust cybersecurity culture in your organization that not only prevents unintended security incidents but also facilitates productivity, collaboration, and trust.