Types of Insider Threats Risking Your Company’s Security

types of insider threats

Businesses face myriad cybersecurity risks, from phishing to unauthorized access of proprietary information. While restricting access rights and maintaining strict security measures can help, potential insider threats are always a risk.

Organizations must effectively monitor for signs of insider threats to prevent financial loss or the compromise of critical assets. Creating an insider threat program to raise awareness and mitigate insider threat risks is an excellent step toward going beyond standard security against external attacks.

Most insider threats don’t develop in an instant. They emerge over time. Security professionals use the term ‘dwell time’ to indicate how long an insider attack has been latent or developing in a network. While it’s building, insider threat indicators allow security teams and admins to spot potential insider threats and suspicious activity. Identifying behavioral indicators can help stop malicious activity before it worsens.

Join us as we delve into some key types of insider threat behavior.

Types of Insider Threats

Insider threats are typically categorized as unintentional or malicious.

Unintentional threats are just that: unintentional. An employee accidentally creates a potential risk in the range of regular activity. This could be negligence, complacency, or a misunderstanding of organizational policies and security controls. One of the most common examples of an unintentional insider threat is when someone falls victim to social engineering and gives up employee access privileges to valuable assets or data.

Another typical example of an unintentional insider threat is insecure file sharing. Of course, an employee likely does not intend to disrupt systems or compromise critical assets. Still, poor security practices like not password-protecting a file can lead to an insider threat. Negligent insiders can cause significant problems for an organization, and there are many ways to create insider risks accidentally. As such, it’s crucial to instill good security practices and policies in legitimate users, especially those with access to mission-critical systems.

On the other hand, malicious threats are when an employee or contractor intentionally causes harm to systems or data. Malicious insider threats take a lot of different forms. Some attacks come in IT sabotage, where someone with access to systems or other elevated access privileges deletes or restricts access to those systems.

Some malicious insiders conduct fraud or steal intellectual property for personal gain or to inflict financial losses on the organization. Other intentional insider threats may involve stealing data or granting unauthorized network access to external bad actors. In each case, the malicious actor has used their access rights to attack the organization from within.

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Insider Threat Indicators

Let’s look at examples of what constitutes insider threat indicators for both of these types of attacks.

Indicator 1: Financial Pressure

Employees who are under financial pressure may be more likely to attack a system for personal gain.

Security leaders can start building profiles of individuals to assess their insider threat rating. This begins with establishing a ‘baseline’ of behavior and conditions against which to measure their activities.

Personal background indicators like financial instability or high-cost habits like a gambling addiction reveal possible motives to become an insider threat.

If, for example, an employee begins elevating their access and simultaneously reveals they’re experiencing financial hardship, this may warrant a risk level elevation by security teams even if no incident has occurred. Knowing more about an employee and their situation often provides greater context for whether or not that person may become an insider risk.

Indicator 2: Conflicts at Work

Another threat indicator is a growing conflict with management or existing tensions between the company and an employee. Disgruntled employees still have vital access privileges. Their unhappiness can lead to lower productivity and work attrition and may result in a desire to seek revenge and attack a company’s system or data. 

Again, monitoring and noting changes to personal backgrounds and situations can help. This is similar to how governments use behavioral baselines to profile and monitor for espionage and create watchlists with “persons of concern” and “awareness of scrutiny.” Following the same strategy, companies can monitor potential insider threat indicators by gathering data and creating “threat profiles” to track when employee behaviors change.  

Indicator 3: Escalating Involvement or Increased Requests for Access

Escalating involvement in projects that provide elevated access privileges and repeated requests to increase access to sensitive data are tell-tale indicators of insider threat, especially if those requests are sudden and without context. 

If someone starts to request more sensitive data or documents beyond their everyday business needs, that can be a significant potential insider threat indicator.

Organizations should maintain a security practice of developing Identity and Access Management (IAM) protocols that dole out access on a ‘need to know’ basis. Employees should only have as much access as their job requires, and no more. Then, when somebody requests increased access, security professionals can identify if this is a risk worth monitoring.

Indicator 4: Transient or Spotty Record

Suppose an employee has an established record of moving between companies quickly or has significant gaps in their resume. In that case, it’s possible that they haven’t been fully honest with their work history. Many security leaders consider absenteeism or employees with spotty work records as risks of insider threats.

Indicator 5: Excessive Exporting of Documents and Files

This type of insider threat indicator is more technical. It has much less to do with an employee’s personal situation than some of the other indicator factors above.

A strong, properly functioning security system or employee monitoring program can identify incidents of exporting and other exfiltration methods. By tracking and measuring document and file exportation, security professionals can assess if there’s a potential insider threat. Excessive document exportation to personal devices is definitely a red flag.

Indicator 6: Use of Unsecured Devices

Many employees use personal devices for work purposes, and some organizations actually require them to do so. This creates a risk for unintentional insider threats, as most personal devices are not secured the same way that business ones are.

However, malicious insider attacks can use these devices, too.

Security leaders view the use of unsecured devices when secure ones are available as something worth monitoring. In a broad way, this relates to risks with past trends like ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) and the evolving Internet of Things, where more and more devices are connected with less and less of a universal standard in place. Unsecured devices, even when used for normal activity, can pose a risk to an organization.

Indicator 7: Activity at Unusual Hours

Even antiquated security systems can detect suspicious activity at unusual hours. Many insider threats occur outside of working hours, when actors feel less likely to get caught. New AI systems are even better at determining whether off-hours activity may indicate an emerging threat.

Indicator 8: Activity While Alone in the Building

Like the previous point, individuals are generally more free to pursue suspicious or malicious behavior when fewer people are around. When tracked by sophisticated online monitoring tools, engineers can catch them in the act and stop them in their tracks.

Indicator 9: Excessive Traffic and Searches

Any behavior outside normal can be a potential insider threat indicator, including if an employee puts excessive traffic on the network. It could be an attempt to flood or slow network access or security systems, or they may seek guidance to carry out a potential threat.

An AI or automated system can enhance security staff’s efforts to protect a network by establishing a baseline with peak demand hours and other evaluations.

Indicator 10: Excess Viewing of Files and Documents

Echoing the previous point, frequent viewing of intellectual property or critical assets, even with legitimate access, may be a red flag that an insider threat is developing. As the number of documents accessed increases, the individual’s behavior will likely be flagged as a concern.

How To Detect Threat Indicators

One of the best solutions to stop insider threats is training staff. There is a laundry list of items that should be in any good staff training for insider threat prevention, including:

  • Awareness of spearfishing and social engineering efforts
  • Understanding of credential controls
  • Understanding of identity and access management tools
  • Knowledge of common attack vectors
  • Training on individual responsibilities as an employee or contractor

Where these are done universally, an organization is generally a lot safer.

Companies should also vet or screen staff accordingly. They should seek to hire people with a more refined understanding of cybersecurity strategies, as they already have the basic security knowledge to help prevent unintentional insider threats. This sort of screening can significantly enhance the security of teams and departments.

Finally, one of the best ways to detect insider threat indicators is to implement an employee monitoring software or other advanced security system. Often referred to as user entity behavior analysis (UEBA), advanced security tools can help pinpoint what activities are likely to contribute to insider attacks.

Employee monitoring software like Teramind can track all employee activities, allowing admins to record screens and take over employee desktops when there is an insider threat, whether unintentional or intentional. This helps with data loss prevention to ensure employees aren’t leaking valuable data.

Moreover, you can set up automated intelligent alerts to surface potential insider threat indicators as soon as they happen, allowing you to prevent issues before they occur. With advanced tools like keystroke logging and monitoring more than 15 communication channels, an organization can have comprehensive strategies to monitor and prevent threats.

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How to Respond to Insider Threats

Along with all of these steps, companies can be sure to practice good remediation policies, including:

Prevention and Preparation

The best way to defeat an insider threat is to ensure it never happens. By implementing robust security protocols and providing thorough security training to employees, you can help prevent unintentional insider threats. Likewise, you can inform employees about new potential threats to keep them prepared.

Intentional insider threats can be more complex to prevent entirely. You have no control over what happens outside of work. But you can work to keep employees happy, motivated, and loyal to the organization.

Use Insider Threat Software

Beyond the more personal prevention methods of security training and employee engagement, insider threat software provides technical protection against insider threats. As we’ve touched on throughout this piece, modern employee monitoring and security software gives organizations tools to proactively monitor employee behavior, network access, and access privileges to prevent intentional insider threats.

Insider threat software is suitable for organizations of all sizes, whether in-person, hybrid, or remote.

Promoting Zero-trust Architectures

Zero-trust is a cybersecurity strategy that eliminates the implicit trust of any actor or device within the organization. It continuously validates every stage of a digital interaction to ensure security. While it may be a little frustrating for employees always to have to log in and authenticate their access privileges, zero-trust makes it much more difficult for external threats to infiltrate the organization and creates a more robust activity log of employee activity to expose any potential insider threat indicators.

Zero-trust is an additional layer of security rather than a substitute for more complex security systems. This strategy works well with employee monitoring software or additional security infrastructure.


What are the 4 threat indicators?

The four common indicators of insider threat are unusual behavior, access abuse, excessive data downloads, and unauthorized access attempts. These indicators can help organizations identify potential insider threats and take appropriate action to mitigate risks.

What is insider threat Indicator?

An insider threat indicator refers to any suspicious behavior, activity, or pattern that may indicate the presence of an insider threat within an organization. Common indicators include unusual behavior, access abuse, excessive data downloads, and unauthorized access attempts. These indicators can help organizations identify and mitigate potential risks posed by insiders.

What are insider threat measures?

Insider threat measures are proactive steps organizations take to prevent, detect, and respond to potential insider threats. These measures include implementing employee monitoring software, promoting a zero-trust architecture, and monitoring for indicators such as unusual behavior and unauthorized access attempts to ensure the security of sensitive data and mitigate risks.

Which areas are monitored for insider threat indicators?

Insider threat indicators can be monitored in various areas, including employee behavior, access logs, data downloads, and access attempts. By monitoring these areas, organizations can identify potential insider threats and take appropriate measures to mitigate risks and protect sensitive data.

What are the different types of threat indicators?

Common types of insider threat indicators include unusual behavior, access abuse, excessive data downloads, and unauthorized access attempts. Monitoring these indicators can help organizations identify potential insider threats and take necessary steps to mitigate risks and protect sensitive information.

What are threat indicators?

Insider threat indicators are suspicious behaviors or activities that may indicate the presence of an insider threat within an organization. Common indicators include unusual behavior, access abuse, excessive data downloads, and unauthorized access attempts. Monitoring these indicators helps organizations identify and mitigate potential risks posed by insiders.

What is an early indicator of a potential insider threat?

An early indicator of a potential insider threat is unusual behavior, such as sudden changes in work patterns, unexplained absences, or a sudden increase in disgruntled behavior. Monitoring and recognizing these signs early on can help organizations take proactive measures to prevent insider threats.

What is the most common insider threat?

The most common insider threat is typically attributed to employees misusing their access privileges within an organization. This can include unauthorized access attempts, data theft, or using sensitive information for personal gain.

Which insider threat carries the most risk?

The insider threat that carries the most risk is when employees misuse their access privileges for personal gain. This can include unauthorized access attempts, data theft, or the misuse of sensitive information. Monitoring for such indicators can help organizations mitigate the risks associated with insider threats.

Final Thoughts

Insider threat detection and prevention are crucial for organizations in the digital age. Here, we’ve covered many potential indicators that security leaders and organizations should look for and explored some of the best prevention and remediation methods. Making insider threat protection central to organizational policies and training is always the best first step to preventing intentional and unintentional insider threats. 

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