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Malicious Insider Threats: Examples and Techniques

Philip Robinson | 6 min read| Published On - April 11, 2024

insider threat

A malicious insider is a person within an organization who abuses their access to data and systems for malicious purposes. This can include stealing sensitive information, sabotaging systems, or causing harm to the organization in some way. Malicious insiders are a significant threat as they typically have knowledge of the organization’s systems and processes, making it easier for them to carry out their malicious activities without being detected. For example, an insider with access to financial systems may manipulate records to embezzle funds, create fake invoices, or commit other forms of fraud. According to a 2023 report by Cybersecurity Insiders, a widespread vulnerability to insider threats has been measured, with 74% of companies facing moderate to high risk. Additionally, the average cost of an insider threat incident in 2023 was $15.38 million, emphasizing the need for robust measures against insider threats.

Real-Life Examples of Malicious Insider Threats

Insider threats come in various forms. For example, disgruntled or recently dismissed employees may seek revenge or financial gain by selling confidential information or trade secrets to competitors. Compromised employees might unintentionally disclose sensitive data or access systems and networks without authorization. Employees who disregard compliance regulations may delete crucial information, potentially leading to lawsuits and fines. Below are real-life examples of how insider threats manifest in reality:

  • A Bupa employee in 2017 accessed and deleted customer data, attempting to sell it on the Dark Web, affecting 547,000 customers.
  • A former medical device packaging employee, Christopher Dobbins, hacked the company’s network, edited and deleted records, causing delays in equipment deliveries.
  • In 2020, a General Electric employee, Jean Patrice Delia, stole sensitive files over eight years, intending to start a rival company.
  • Former Cisco employee Sudhish Kasaba Ramesh was imprisoned for accessing and damaging Cisco’s systems, emphasizing the need for proper access controls.
  • A man in Ukraine tried to sell 100GB of customer data to his ex-employer’s competitors, demonstrating the challenge of preventing insider threats even after revoking access privileges.
  • Ex-security officer Yovan Garcia hacked his former employer’s systems, causing damage and copying proprietary software to set up a rival company.

How To Recognize a Malicious Insider Threat?

The heightened risk of insider threats stems from the inherent access that insiders possess to an organization’s network and services. This access grants them the ability to inflict damage that is often difficult to foresee and mitigate promptly. Perpetrators of insider threats can range from current and former employees to suppliers, contractors, and even business partners. Below are some of the key indicators to watch out for:

  • Suspicious employee behavior: Pay attention to changes in behavior, especially in high performers or those with positive relationships. Poor performance or conflicts without explanation, financial distress or gains, or unexpected resignations can be red flags for potential financial misconduct.
  • Unusual logins: Unusual user login patterns, remote access from peculiar locations, out-of-hours logins, and failed “test” or “admin” attempts should be investigated as potential security risks.
  • Excessive downloading of data: Unexpected data downloads, especially at odd times or locations, may indicate a security breach.
  • Unauthorized access attempts to systems: Unauthorized access to mission-critical systems due to improper access privileges can lead to disastrous breaches.
  • Privilege escalation: Individuals with elevated system access pose a significant threat due to their potential access to sensitive information and ability to grant privileges.

How To Protect Against Malicious Insider Threats

To effectively combat insider threats, a multi-faceted approach is essential, integrating technological solutions and human resources. Below are some of the key steps you should take to reduce the risk of insider threats:

Discover & Classify Critical Assets

To reduce the risk of insider threats, organizations should identify, classify and prioritize their critical assets. Understanding the importance and sensitivity of each asset helps organizations focus their resources and efforts on protecting the most valuable data and systems. Once critical assets are identified, organizations should conduct thorough assessments to determine their current state of security. This includes identifying vulnerabilities and gaps that could be exploited by malicious insiders.

Develop & Enforce Security Policies

Clearly documented organizational policies are crucial for preventing insider threats. These policies should outline the rules and procedures that employees must follow to protect sensitive data and assets. Organizations should ensure that all employees are familiar with these policies and that they receive regular training on security best practices. Additionally, educating employees about their rights and responsibilities regarding intellectual property can help prevent them from engaging in unauthorized activities.

Gain Real-Time Visibility Into User Activity

Organizations can improve their ability to detect and respond to insider threats by deploying solutions that track employee actions and correlate information from multiple data sources. These solutions can provide real-time visibility into user activity, helping organizations identify suspicious behavior that may indicate malicious intent. Deception technology can also be used to lure malicious insiders or imposters into revealing their true intentions. By creating honeypots or fake data that appears valuable, organizations can catch attackers in the act and prevent them from causing harm.

Create a Culture of Security

Security is not just about technology and processes; it’s also about attitudes and beliefs. To create a culture of security, organizations should educate employees about security risks and best practices. They should also work to improve employee satisfaction and morale, as disgruntled employees are more likely to engage in malicious activities. By fostering a culture where security is taken seriously, organizations can reduce the risk of insider threats and protect their sensitive data and assets.

How Lepide Helps to Detect & Prevent Malicious Insider Threats

The Lepide Data Security Platform uses advanced machine learning algorithms to detect potential insider threats in real-time. The platform keeps track of privileged users within an organization, closely monitoring their engagements with sensitive information and promptly flagging abnormal activities. Lepide collects and correlates data from various sources (both on-premise and cloud-based), allowing for swift identification of potential threats and facilitation of forensic analysis. Finally, Lepide provides centralized oversight of logon/logoff activities and simplifies password resets through an intuitive dashboard, further enhancing security and mitigating the risk of insider threats.

If you’d like to see how the Lepide Data Security Platform can help to detect and prevent malicious insider threats, start your free trial today.

Philip Robinson
Philip Robinson

Phil joined Lepide in 2016 after spending most of his career in B2B marketing roles for global organizations. Over the years, Phil has strived to create a brand that is consistent, fun and in keeping with what it’s like to do business with Lepide. Phil leads a large team of marketing professionals that share a common goal; to make Lepide a dominant force in the industry.

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