Malicious Insider Threats: How To Detect & Prevent Attacks
Insider Threat Detection & Employee Monitoring

Malicious Insider Threats: How To Detect & Prevent Attacks

Data breaches and external threats are concerns for any security professional, but the most catastrophic security vulnerabilities often originate from malicious insider threats. This is not just an issue, it’s a pressing and immediate concern that demands our utmost attention.

Here, we identify how to spot a malicious insider and provide proven strategies for preventing insider threats with technology-based solutions to protect your organization.

What is a Malicious Insider Threat?

A malicious insider threat is a person within an organization who intentionally causes harm or poses a security risk. This individual may have authorized access to sensitive information or systems, allowing them to exploit their position and breach organizational security.

How to Detect a Malicious Insider

Deploying robust insider threat detection is a valuable step you need to take. Your security team should be equipped with the knowledge of the types of insider threats, including behavioral and digital indicators of compromise. This way, security analysts can be alerted to malicious behaviors and anomalous activity that indicate a compromised insider engaging in a data breach.

Behavioral Indicators

  • Disgruntled employee: Someone highly vocal about how much they dislike the company or have been passed over for promotion is a telltale sign of a potential insider threat.
  • Works off-hours: Another warning sign is an employee who might typically work 9-5 but suddenly starts accessing the corporate network outside the usual hours without authorization or a genuine need to work outside of regular hours.
  • Violates organizational policies: An employee knowingly breaking company security policies for network access can be suspicious behavior and an example of an insider threat incident.
  • Openly discussing new opportunities: When an employee freely talks about looking for jobs, especially with competitors, this presents an insider risk and potential malicious threat.
  • Attempts to bypass security: Access privileges to internal systems exist to protect the company and business partners. Attempts to go around security could indicate a malicious actor.

Digital Indicators

  • Accesses devices at unusual times: A potential insider threat may include suspicious activity, such as an employee logging in from unusual locations or at odd hours.
  • Network traffic spikes: A spike in unexplained occurrences of “test” or “admin” username attempts that aren’t for legitimate access points to a security incident to be investigated and internal threat.
  • Accessing data irrelevant to their role: If an employee requests too much access to sensitive information that is not required to perform their job, it may indicate a malicious threat.
  • Unusual use of USB devices: Bypassing security controls for storage devices like USB drives can indicate an insider threat for stealing company data.
  • Emailing files or data to personal emails: If a user starts emailing files or data to their device or non-company email, this could indicate a malicious insider moving company information for future personal gain.

How to Prevent Malicious Insider Threats

While seeking to prevent malicious insider threats, ensure your company addresses the privacy and data protection requirements for your workplace monitoring and security.

Consider implementing a comprehensive risk management policy, data management controls like privileged accounts and software that can effectively mitigate threats. A combination of these tools cannot only help predict malicious employee behavior but also offer digital warnings in real-time, which are highly effective strategies for protecting your business from internal threats and fraud, providing a sense of security and reassurance.

Have Clear Organizational Data Policies in Place

Clear and actively enforced company-wide data policies are a proactive measure to protect against unauthorized use and maintain a competitive advantage.

This could include who has legitimate credentials to access specific data, how the company’s computer and email systems are monitored to protect proprietary information, and staff training on being aware of insider threats, for example.

Set up an Insider Threat Program

One crucial step in mitigating insider threats is involving HR early in the process. With their unique expertise and understanding of employee behavior, HR personnel can play a pivotal role in identifying potential security vulnerabilities that exploit privileged information or insider access. This empowers them to contribute significantly to the organization’s security, underscoring the importance of their role.

Programs with sound security procedures can help you uncover and remove permissions or access to digital assets that angry or malicious employees can exploit, limit insider threat risks, and identify abnormal activity from a threat actor.

When implemented successfully, these programs can help significantly reduce the chance of system compromise or data breach. You can save substantial money, avoid losing brand reputation and customer trust, and protect the company’s critical systems.

Use Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Software

DLP solutions act as a digital security net, preventing sensitive data from leaving your organization through unauthorized channels. These solutions can identify and block attempts to transfer confidential data via email, USB drives, or cloud storage services. 

Here’s how DLP software can help:

  • Content Inspection: Scans data streams for sensitive information like credit card numbers, intellectual property, and personally identifiable information (PII).
  • Policy Enforcement: Enforces rules that dictate how sensitive data can be accessed, used, and shared. These rules can prevent unauthorized data exfiltration.
  • Data Encryption: Encrypts sensitive data at rest and in transit, adding an extra layer of protection even if a malicious insider bypasses other security controls.
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Implement User & Entity Behavior Analytics

Imagine having a system that can detect unusual activity within your network, potentially revealing a malicious insider. User & Entity Behavior Analytics (UBA) solutions analyze user activity logs and identify deviations from established behavioral baselines. 

Here’s how UEBA can help:

  • Baseline Creation: Establishes baselines for typical user behavior, including access times, data accessed, and applications used.
  • Anomaly Detection: Continuously monitors user activity and flags deviations from baselines, potentially indicating malicious intent.
  • Investigation Tools: Provides investigators with tools to delve deeper into suspicious activity, helping to identify and stop insider threats before they escalate.

Have Strong Identity and Access Management (IAM) in Place

The principle of least privilege dictates that users should only have the access level necessary to perform their job duties. Effective access management ensures malicious insiders cannot exploit excessive permissions to access unauthorized data or systems. 

Here are the critical components of access management:

  • Least Privilege: Grant users the minimum access required for their role. Review and update access privileges regularly to ensure the least privilege policy is followed.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): MFA adds an extra layer of security to logins, requiring a secondary verification factor beyond a username and password.
  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): Define user roles with specific access permissions. Assign users to roles based on their job functions, ensuring they can only access the data and systems they need.

Get HR Involved Early When Signs of Insider Threats Start Appearing

When digital or behavioral indicators point to a malicious insider threat, immediately involve your Human Resources (HR) department. An HR department that communicates openly with your cyber security staff is invaluable in limiting or preventing damage from a disgruntled employee with a personal grievance, for instance.

Implement Insider Threat Software

Does your company have the security tools to identify and protect your organization from an insider threat?

If your security audit finds noticeable gaps, you should start evaluating tools to fill them. You’ll want to adopt more comprehensive employee monitoring tools with entity behavioral analytics features to protect your company thoroughly. Guarding against malicious insider threats differs from where you want to limit budgetary resources.

You should prioritize tools that track end-to-end user activity and provide real-time visibility. Look for tools to centralize your operations and incorporate monitoring, logging, investigation, and alerting capabilities. This lets you analyze system conditions more thoroughly and increases the chance of catching suspicious activity early on.

Features to Look for with Insider Threat Software

Insider threat tools often have a user activity monitoring toolkit to strengthen your defensive posture against cyber threats. You can detect insider threats to your organization faster and block malicious activity as it happens.

Teramind’s toolkit monitors and analyzes virtually any user action on an endpoint. It helps you keep your data secure by identifying risky users, actions, and activities before they result in data loss.

Real-time Employee Monitoring

Whether you’re an enterprise, government agency, or small to medium-sized business, managing today’s dynamic from-anywhere workforce requires versatile security solutions that provide practical and well-informed metrics and insights. Employee monitoring offers a way to enhance operations, track productivity, fortify your security stack, and reinforce compliance management with a solution tailored to your needs. 

File Activity Tracking

Want to know what’s happening with all of your files? Now you can with file activity monitoring.

You can track a file’s movement through a system, regardless of whether it was opened or altered through a third-party application. You can also block read or write access to specific folders on USB storage devices, local drives, or network shares. File activity monitoring prevents unauthorized access, the first defense against sensitive data leaks.

Screen Recording & Playback

Would you like real-time streaming of an employee’s computer activity?

Insider threat software visually records every action a user makes while on a machine, allowing for both instant administrative viewing and access to extensive content histories. User activity streaming is viewed through the Teramind dashboard via your browser. You can even monitor and record all activity, from keystrokes to actions taken within applications.

Remote Desktop Control

What about preventing insider threats from your remote workforce?

You can instantly block a user’s access to a desktop with remote desktop control and override all manual inputs by a user to prevent sensitive data from being altered and avoid devastating data breaches from occurring.

You can manually override to remove the user from the equation and ensure malicious activity and potential threats are eliminated and contained. In addition, you can use remote control to enhance productivity through management/user training sessions that can take place between dispersed offices and users.

Audit Logs & Reports

“Can I audit logs and reports?” you may ask.

With insider threat software, you can do more than merely audit reports. You’ll be able to identify inactivity by automatically detecting away time with no user input and see how long specific tasks take when actively being worked on. This feature helps eliminate unnecessary downtime and identify if employees have padded their hours. You can get how users work with active working time logs.


You can significantly reduce your company’s risk of malicious insider threats by implementing a multi-layered approach that combines DLP, UEBA, access management, and real-time monitoring features. Remember, security is an ongoing process to remain vigilant against external threats and risky insider actions.  

Review and update your security policies regularly, conduct security awareness training for employees, and stay informed about the latest insider threat trends. By taking these steps, you can build a robust defense against malicious insiders and safeguard your organization’s valuable assets.

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What is a malicious insider threat?

A malicious insider threat refers to an individual within an organization who intentionally poses a security risk by exploiting their authorized access to systems and sensitive information for personal gain or with malicious intent. It is a severe issue that can significantly damage an organization’s reputation, financial standing, and overall security posture.

What is a red flag that someone has become a malicious insider threat?

Some red flags that someone has become a malicious insider threat include sudden changes in behavior or attitude towards colleagues or work responsibilities, accessing sensitive data or files without a legitimate reason, and attempts to bypass security measures or exploit vulnerabilities in the system.

What is the motivation of a malicious insider?

The motivation of a malicious insider can vary, but common factors include financial gain, revenge, ideology, or personal satisfaction. These individuals exploit their authorized access to systems and sensitive information to carry out harmful actions that can jeopardize the organization’s security.

Who is considered a malicious insider?

A malicious insider refers to an individual within an organization who intentionally poses a security risk by exploiting their authorized access to systems and sensitive information for personal gain or with malicious intent. These individuals can be employees, contractors, or anyone with insider access to the organization’s resources.

Which of the following habits can indicate a malicious insider?

Some habits that can indicate a malicious insider include accessing sensitive data without a legitimate reason, attempting to bypass security measures, or exploiting system vulnerabilities. These behaviors raise red flags and should be closely monitored to mitigate the risk of insider threats.

What is the most common form of insider threat?

The most common insider threat is the unauthorized access and disclosure of sensitive data. This can occur when a malicious insider intentionally breaches security protocols to obtain confidential information for personal gain or to harm the organization.

What are four possible signs that a person could be an insider risk?

Four possible signs that a person could be an insider risk include sudden changes in behavior or attitude, accessing sensitive data without a legitimate reason, attempting to bypass security measures, and exploiting system vulnerabilities. These signs should be closely monitored to mitigate the risk of malicious insider threats.