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Examples of Insider Threats: What you need to know

April 12, 2023 No Comments

By Prasanna Peshkar

Insider threats are a major worry for businesses of all sizes. Those with access to an organization’s network, data, or assets often execute these attacks. While many companies highlight external threats, internal risks can be equally destructive and, in some cases, more difficult to identify and avoid. Insider threats can come in different shapes, and their objectives can vary. This blog will discuss some of the most common types of insider threats and what businesses may do to mitigate the danger.

What sorts of data are vulnerable to insider threats?

Insider attacks can damage almost any sensitive type of enterprise data. Any data that, if made public or accessed by a rival, would harm the business.

Regulated data: All data types subject to industry laws must be protected from insider threats. This contains data such as payment card data regulated by PCI-DSS and a wide variety of personally identifiable information (PII) or personal health information supplied by customers or staff (PHI).

Customer data: Customer data can vary in various ways and is often reviewed or handled by trusted insiders. Professional services companies, for instance, may be required to handle extremely sensitive financial or legal papers about their clients. Consumer data might be stored in SaaS vendor apps or user-shared files.

Intellectual property: It is a common target for state-based and corporate theft and personnel switching to a rival firm. This can contain company source code, file types, manufacturing techniques, and other data.

Corporate and trade secrets: Besides intellectual property, companies naturally hold confidential material that must be kept secret. Internal company financial information, commercial contracts between associates, suppliers, and clients, business strategy, acquisition and merger proposals, internal business conversations, and other elements might be included. These data types might cause substantial damage if they were mistakenly or intentionally made public.

Types of Insider Threats 

Malicious insiders

The malicious insider is a well-known example of an insider threat. This is an employee who deliberately harms the organization. These people may be driven by various reasons, including revenge, monetary gain, or the intention to disrupt business.

In 2017, for example, a disgruntled Tesla employee was suspected of hacking into the company’s networks and obtaining privileged data. This data was allegedly exchanged with various stakeholders, and the suspect tried to extort money from Tesla.

Businesses should implement effective access controls, such as preventing access to confidential data on a need-to-know basis, to mitigate the risk of malicious insiders. Moreover, businesses should perform thorough checks on their employees and check their activity for any shady behavior.

Careless employees

Not all insider threats are malicious. In some circumstances, employees may accidentally cause damage to the company due to negligence or recklessness. An employee, for instance, may mistakenly delete important data or disclose confidential material with unauthorized entities.

To reduce the danger of reckless employees, companies should give regular cybersecurity best practices training and enforce data handling and access control policies. Furthermore, companies should implement data backup and recovery procedures to assure that critical data can be retrieved in the event of accidental deletion or damage.

Compromised accounts

A hacked account is another prevalent type of insider threat. This arises when an attacker captures or breaches an employee’s login details. After the attacker has entered the employee’s account, they can indulge in illegal deeds such as data theft or malware distribution.

Organizations should establish multi-factor authentication and strong password policies to lower the risk of hacked accounts. Moreover, companies should monitor employee activities for unusual behavior, such as logins from exotic locations, sometimes after hours.

Third-party contractors

Third-party contractors or suppliers with access to an organization’s systems or data might pose an insider threat. These people may be driven by financial gain or have been compromised by external actors.

In 2020, for instance, a third-party Twitter operator was suspected of hacking into the profiles of celebrities such as President Obama and Elon Musk. The hack was carried out by employing the individual’s access to Twitter’s infrastructure, leading to the theft of cryptocurrencies and severe damage to Twitter’s functioning.

To handle this, organizations should adopt robust vendor management policies and conduct extensive background checks on all third-party contractors to minimize the potential danger of third-party contractors. Furthermore, businesses should constrain third-party access to confidential data and processes to those with need-to-know grounds.

Disgruntled employees

Lastly, insider threats might arise from workers who are unsatisfied with their job or the company. These people may be driven by a need for revenge or a goal to disrupt the company.

In 2015, a former Canadian Pacific Railway systems administrator was terminated for inappropriate behavior. He exploited his work laptop to access the company’s networks, erase information, and change passwords before returning it. Once he left, the network broke down, and an investigation showed that the system administrator was accountable.

Organizations should keep open communication channels with staff and handle any worries or problems as quickly as possible to minimize the threat of disgruntled employees. Companies should also track and manage activities for indications of dissatisfaction or dubious behavior.

What Do You Need to Know?

The examples above highlight insider threats have serious implications for businesses, such as monetary losses, damaged reputations, and legal consequences. As a result, it is critical to take proactive actions that avoid insider threats, such as:

Conducting Employee Training

Businesses should undertake employee training programs to educate staff about insider threats and how to prevent them. Such training can include password management, information security, and phishing scams. Employees might benefit from periodic training sessions to make them more aware and identify possible threats.

Implementing Security Policies

Companies should design and execute security policies and procedures to avoid insider threats. These policies should cover password security, data access controls, and incident reporting. Companies should also execute security audits continuously to detect and fix any flaws.

Monitoring Employee Activity

Businesses should implement monitoring systems to track employee activities and identify any insider threats. Network monitoring tools, intrusion detection systems, and employee behavior analytics are examples of such systems. These technologies can aid in the detection of suspicious behavior and the alerting of security professionals to possible dangers.

Limiting Access to Sensitive Information

Businesses should prevent personnel access to sensitive information and only grant access on a need-to-know premise. This might include implementing data access controls and encrypting important data. Companies can decrease their likelihood of insider threats by preventing access to critical information.

Insider threats occur “when an organization’s trusted users abuse or misuse their access to sensitive information and assets.” These threats might be triggered by malicious intent, user negligence, or simple mistakes. But, in all cases, these vulnerabilities can damage an organization’s most crucial data. To safeguard these critical assets, it is essential to understand what insider threats are, how they function, and how to prevent them.


Finally, insider threats are becoming a rising worry for enterprises in today’s digital world. To minimize insider threats, it is critical to adopt proactive measures such as staff training, security rules, monitoring employee activities, and limiting access to sensitive information. Companies may limit the danger of insider attacks and secure their important data by following these procedures.

About the Author

Prasanna Peshkar is a cybersecurity researcher, educator, and cybersecurity technical content writer. He is interested in performing audits by assessing web application threats, and vulnerabilities. He is interested in new attack methodologies, tools and frameworks. He also spends time looking for new vulnerabilities, and understanding emerging cybersecurity threats in blockchain technology. Prasanna is also a regular contributor for Bora.


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