17 Ways To Prevent Insider Threats: Steps, Tips & Tools
Insider Threat Prevention

17 Ways To Prevent Insider Threats: Steps, Tips & Tools

When you think of cybersecurity, your mind likely goes to external threat actors — malware, ransomware, spearphishing attacks, and other malicious activity. However, it’s crucial to note that 60% of data breaches are caused by insider threats, and a staggering 74% of organizations are at least moderately vulnerable to them. It’s not everybody else your organization needs to worry about; it’s your own people. The potential harm these threats can cause is significant, and it’s essential to take action.

Monitoring insider threats can be a security challenge because it requires closely monitoring employees, potentially violating privacy and trust. However, it’s important to note that such monitoring is often legal and necessary to protect the company’s interests. Creating an insider threat detection program is crucial to bolstering company security policies because so many potential threats are caused by negligent insider incidents or simple mistakes.

So, how do you prevent different types of insider threats? There are many possible solutions.

17 Ways to Prevent Insider Threats

Preventing insider threats requires organizational buy-in. All employees play a crucial role, from executives and security leaders to the rank-and-file. It’s important for everyone to understand that cybersecurity is not just the responsibility of a few but of each individual. The consequences of insider risks are harmful to everybody. When security is part of the culture, it’s easier to introduce advanced technology and other cybersecurity solutions to prevent insider threats.

1. Implement an Insider Threat Detection Solution

As the name suggests, an insider threat detection solution like Teramind works in real-time to detect potential threats. Insider threats may be intentional or unintentional, and an insider threat detection solution helps monitor both in a complete threat landscape. 

Whether a compromised employee is trying to share company assets with a competitor for financial gain or a negligent employee forgot to log out of a third-party tool on a public device, an insider threat detection program can identify threats as they emerge.

Implementing a technological solution is the first step. Your organization must also develop an effective insider threat mitigation and response plan for malicious insiders and other types of insider attacks to prevent them from happening again.

2. Implement User & Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA)

User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) is a tool that leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence to monitor user activity on the corporate network actively. It’s not just about detecting suspicious behavior; it’s about understanding what’s normal and not in your organization’s digital environment. 

By tracking behavior patterns and employee access to classified systems, UEBA develops user profiles informed by typical daily actions. This allows it to flag anomalous behavior or outright suspicious activity, such as unauthorized employee access to critical systems or somebody exfiltrating critical assets outside of work hours or from an unusual location. 

When learning what is and isn’t normal during a particular employee’s day, UEBA can flag anomalous behavior or outright suspicious activity, such as unauthorized employee access to critical systems or somebody exfiltrating critical assets outside of work hours or from an unusual location.

Most insider threat detection solutions, like Teramind, include UEBA as a core feature of the security suite. UEBA is invaluable in detecting suspicious behavior, but it’s also helpful in identifying employees’ most productive hours, recognizing top performers, and finding ways to improve efficiency.

3. Set Up Employee Monitoring

Employee monitoring is part of what makes UEBA possible. Beginning an employee monitoring program can be a dicey subject at some companies. Most employees don’t like knowing their employer is monitoring their activity. (Let’s be honest; everybody’s guilty of taking some personal social media time at work.) Luckily, ethical employee monitoring is a win-win for employers and employees.

You need a robust solution and clearly stated goals for an effective user activity monitoring plan. It’s important for employees to understand that this is not about micromanaging them or invading their privacy. Personal communication or activity on their devices will not be monitored. This security and performance measure is strictly related to their professional lives and aims to ensure your organization’s and its assets’ safety.

4. Use Data Loss Prevention Software

As we mentioned at the top, 60% of data breaches are due to insider threats. A data breach is when an external endpoint gains unauthorized access to company assets. A data leak is when someone shares data outside the organization without permission. Either way, data loss can be a significant security concern for organizations.

Solutions like Teramind include Data Loss Prevention (DLP) software that monitors all endpoints to track authorized access and unauthorized access to company data sources. DLP software can intervene when it detects potential data breaches or leaks. For instance, when someone without access permissions attempts to remove or change data or someone mistakenly sends valuable company assets to an external email address, DLP will automatically stop and document the act.

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5. Set Up Threat Modeling

Threat modeling is a proactive approach to cybersecurity. It’s when security teams use hypothetical scenarios, system diagrams, and testing to help secure critical systems and data. By modeling a range of threats, you can identify vulnerabilities and suggest corrective action to improve the organization’s security posture. It’s not just about identifying potential threats; it’s about preparing for them and training your human and cybersecurity responders to handle them effectively.

6. Use an Endpoint Monitoring Solution

With remote work, a corporate network may have personal devices worldwide, gaining legitimate access to digital systems. This creates a complex web of employees, devices, and access privileges that can be difficult to detangle. That’s where an endpoint monitoring solution comes in.

Each device with in-office and remote access to a network is an endpoint. An endpoint monitoring solution monitors all endpoints in real-time, recognizing those with legitimate access and flagging unrecognized devices as potential threats. This is particularly important in today’s digital landscape, where remote work and the use of personal devices are becoming more common. By monitoring all endpoints, you can ensure that only authorized devices access your network, reducing the risk of insider threats and improving endpoint data loss prevention.

7. Eliminate Idle Accounts

Employee turnover is a natural part of any organization’s lifecycle. When employees leave, however, their idle accounts can pose a significant cyber threat. Malicious actors can hack unused accounts that still have access to valuable assets. 

Even more likely, disgruntled former employees who retain access privileges can very quickly abuse access rights to cause harm to the company for personal reasons. The consequences of such insider threats can be severe, ranging from financial loss and reputational damage to legal implications and loss of customer trust.

8. Monitor Your Network

Most internet activity will occur over a corporate network unless you operate a fully remote business. That network may have specific rules and security protocols, like requiring users to use a VPN to access it or blocking dangerous websites. Active network security is smart, but it’s crucial to continually monitor network activity to recognize if employees bypass protocols, visit insecure sites, click on dangerous links, or communicate with potentially dangerous individuals.

9. Implement Remote Desktop Control

One of the best weapons against active insider threats is the remote monitoring and control of devices. This gives security leaders an extra measure of defense against both intentional and unintentional threats. With remote desktop control, you can quickly respond to potential threats, such as a disgruntled employee attempting to exfiltrate data or a negligent insider being fooled by a phishing attempt. This immediate response can help prevent or minimize the damage caused by such threats.

Importantly, remote desktop control only applies to employees using endpoints connected to the company network. So, whether a disgruntled employee is attempting to exfiltrate data or a negligent insider was fooled by a phishing attempt, remote desktop control allows teams to take control of the desktop to remediate security concerns immediately.

10. Conduct Employee Sentiment Analysis

An often undervalued component of cybersecurity programs is simply understanding your employees’ general well-being. By performing sentiment analysis, either covertly using employee monitoring to observe communication channels or inviting participation in a survey, you can gauge employees’ overall sentiment towards the company and their work. This can help you identify potential insider threats early on, as employees who are unhappy or dissatisfied are more likely to engage in malicious activities. If employees are miserable, there’s a chance they could become insider threats. 

While it’s unusual for employees to be so unhappy as to actively seek to ding their employer’s stock price or hurt its reputation, disgruntled employees could be recruited to assist in a cyberattack. More likely, unhappy employees probably want to leave the company, and competitors may be champing at the bit to lure them and whatever trade secrets they have access to.

11. Investigate Unusual Employee Behavior

Leveraging UEBA and employee monitoring will help identify suspicious and anomalous activity. Your security team must determine what is and is not worth investigating. You can set intelligent alerts and rules in your insider threat detection solution to flag what activity should be deemed suspicious. 

However, you’ll still need humans to investigate unusual activity. People are complex creatures; sometimes, something as simple as an employee’s curiosity about what another team is doing could be flagged as suspicious. Human investigation will delineate the difference between normal and abnormal behavior.

12. Train Employees on Security Best Practices

Creating an employee training curriculum to teach them security best practices will help avoid accidental insider threat incidents. Employees should understand their role in keeping the entire organization secure, from basic best practices like updating passwords regularly to organization-specific security policies. Training employees on security best practices will help them avoid falling victim to scams or phishing attacks and allow them to spot potential security risks ahead of time.

13. Set Up an Employee Reporting Program

Well-trained employees who understand security best practices and potential insider threat indicators make excellent watchdogs. You’re not running a surveillance camp, but setting up an employee reporting program where employees can confidentially report security concerns will help prevent insider threats. 

The goal isn’t to get employees tattling on one another but to make everyone feel comfortable reporting a person of concern they think might be up to something so that security teams can quietly investigate.

Most activities that employees report may not be worth worrying about. Still, to create a strong security posture within the organization, employees should feel like they can safely and anonymously report potential incidents — especially accidental ones — without retribution for themselves or anyone who makes an innocent mistake.

14. Build a Threat Hunting Team

Depending on the size of your organization, you may have a robust cybersecurity team with a range of responsibilities. You may only have one security expert. A threat-hunting squad doesn’t have to be comprised of cybersecurity experts (although it does help). 

Implementing an insider threat detection solution allows your organization to recruit anyone to join a threat-hunting team. The software does most of the work to prevent insider threats. 

However, to develop more robust security protocols, incident response plans, and patch vulnerabilities, you should hire or create a threat-hunting team to help formalize how your organization responds to insider threats.

15. Develop a Data Handling Policy

If you’re doing business in the European Union, your company must comply with GDPR. Data regulations are a bit looser in the US and other parts of the world. Still, you should have a data handling policy that communicates to clients, customers, and partners how you will store, manage, and use their data. Then, you need to adhere to that policy religiously.

Data handling policies provide peace of mind, are legally required in most industries, and give employees clear guidance on handling data. Employees must understand your data handling policy to avoid compliance violations that can lead to data breaches, leaks, or other data mishandling that can result in regulatory action or legal liabilities.

16. Apply the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP)

This tenet of information security states that any user or entity should have access only to the specific data, resources, and applications needed to complete a required task or perform its core function. Giving everyone access to company assets is easy but not secure. All employees don’t need access to the most valuable assets, and giving universal access privileges raises the possibility of one compromised employee or hacked account leading to a complete security breach.

Applying PoLP ensures all employees can access the tools and assets needed to perform their roles. You can always give them more access if their job function evolves or changes.

17. Enforce Strong Passwords and 2FA

Among companies with more than 10,000 employees, 87% use multi-factor authentication. That number drops precipitously with smaller companies, and it shouldn’t.

Enforcing strong login credentials and two-factor or multi-factor authentication should be a standard security protocol for all companies today and can help avoid insider-related incidents. Someone buying a password on the dark web only to find that it works on all of an employee’s work accounts is a catastrophic and extremely avoidable scenario. 

Multi-factor authentication provides one or two more small steps that can make all the difference in preventing illegitimate access. Changing passwords regularly and enforcing strong ones makes it much harder for external bad actors to find or guess an active password.

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FAQs

How are insider threats prevented?

Insider threats can be prevented by implementing access control measures, such as the Principle of Least Privilege, enforcing strong passwords, and utilizing multi-factor authentication. Employee training and awareness programs can also help identify and prevent risky behavior that may lead to insider threats.

What are the 3 main ways to prevent security threats?

Implementing strong access control measures, enforcing multi-factor authentication, and conducting comprehensive employee training programs are the three main ways to prevent security threats. These measures can help organizations mitigate the risk of insider threats and maintain a secure environment.

How to counter an insider threat?

Organizations can implement proactive monitoring and detection systems to counter an insider threat, conduct regular security audits to identify potential vulnerabilities and establish stringent access controls and permissions to limit employee privileges. Also, fostering a culture of trust and transparency, promoting solid ethics, and promptly addressing suspicious behaviors or activities can help mitigate the risk of insider threats.

How to manage threats?

To manage insider threats effectively, organizations should implement proactive monitoring systems to detect and respond to suspicious activities, conduct regular security audits to identify vulnerabilities, and enforce stringent access controls and permissions to limit employee privileges. Additionally, promoting a culture of trust and transparency and promptly addressing any concerning behaviors or activities can help manage insider threats effectively.

What type of control is ineffective against an insider threat?

Controls that solely focus on external defenses and fail to address the potential risks posed by authorized individuals within the organization are ineffective against an insider threat. Implementing access control and multi-factor authentication measures is crucial in mitigating the risk of insider threats.

What is the most common form of insider threat?

The most common insider threat is an employee misusing their privileges or access rights to manipulate sensitive data or steal confidential information. This can be done intentionally or unintentionally, making employee training and strong access controls crucial in preventing such threats.

What principle can be used to help reduce insider threats to an organization?

One principle that can help reduce insider threats to an organization is implementing a culture of trust and transparency. By fostering an environment where employees feel valued and supported, organizations can encourage ethical behavior and discourage malicious intent, thereby mitigating the risk of insider threats.

Which type of insider threat carries the most risk?

The type of insider threat that carries the most risk is an employee with privileged access misusing their privileges to manipulate or steal sensitive data. Implementing strong access controls and regular monitoring can help mitigate this high-risk threat.

Conclusion

Insider threats are a common and growing cybersecurity concern for organizations of all sizes. Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent unintentional and malicious threats with a combination of technology and education.

From implementing an insider threat detection solution to simple employee training, preventing insider threats depends on creating a security culture, identifying risky activities, and implementing adaptive security features. Solutions like Teramind offer comprehensive employee monitoring and security tools that can provide the foundation for any insider threat program.