How to Detect a Security Breach that Comes from the Inside

How to Detect a Security Breach that Comes from the Inside
How to Detect a Security Breach that Comes from the Inside

The signs are usually there. We know from past experiences that people are unpredictable. While no one within leadership wants to think of an employee as a potential insider threat, there’s always the possibility that there is one. The insider threat may be acting unintentionally or maliciously, but either way, you can reduce the attack surfaces through security culture, education, and technology.

Regardless, every organization should be able to spot the warning signs and have a plan of action in case a cyberattack occurs. Awareness of these indicators might put you in a better position to detect a security breach and respond proactively.

Behavioral Warning Signs

There are certain indicators that things just aren’t right. We can learn to recognize these behaviors and what to look for as potential precursors to elevated risk.

Life Stressors, Dissatisfaction, Changed Demeanor

Everyone has life stressors, and these may be heightened at certain times. Examples include financial difficulties or relationship conflicts that cause monetary issues – which may open the door to bribery or extortion.

Another signal something is amiss is a co-worker suddenly starts spending an extraordinary amount of time working off-hours or off days. They may be open and vocal about their dissatisfaction with the company, co-workers, management, policy changes, or other parts of the business.

Unusual or inconsistent behavior, attitude changes, or performance might be part of their reaction, and this sometimes stems from escalating, ongoing disciplinary action or grievances the worker may be involved in.

Many malicious insider acts are in response to a trigger – poor management or leadership, being discriminated against, or harassed. Workers may also feel they’re underpaid or that performance expectation at the company are unrealistic.

Look Out for the Warning Signs of Unintentional Insider Threats

Outward, physical changes may emerge, almost as a subset of behavioral issues. It’s not out of malicious intent, but unintentional mistakes happen based on these conditions. For example, employees are distracted, so they don’t pick up on a phishing email, a code is keyed in incorrectly, or a device isn’t configured correctly.

These signs may include:

  • Exhaustion, fatigue, or sleeplessness
  • Distraction
  • Time-bound or under pressure (deadlines)
  • Individual characteristics might make employees more likely to fall for emotional manipulation (phishing emails). This can include someone who’s highly anxious or overly optimistic.

Consistent social engineering training is the key to spotting a phishing email— especially in times of exhaustion or moments of high stress. Find out how to implement a successful employee security awareness program within your organization.

Implementing a Successful Employee Security Awareness Program
Technology Red Flags

These actions, centering on technology, could mean employees are actively targeting inside information and company data.

  • Accessing/copying large amounts of files—for example, going into OneDrive and sending multiple files to their personal email, or someone from the marketing department who begins looking at files and folders in accounting or other departments, i.e., information not related to their job.
  • Accessing shared drives often—using OneDrive or DropBox more frequently, emailing documents to themselves at the company or to personal accounts, or uploading files and putting them on a USB.
  • Utilizing USB drives and other unsecured storage—these devices are magnets for cyber risk. Their use should be disallowed as part of company-wide data security policies and procedures.
  • Bypassing security measures, including tampering with firewalls, turning off anti-virus protection, attempting to escalate privileges, etc.
Use an Integrated Approach to Respond to Insider Threats

Instilling a culture of trust and “see something, say something” is crucial to stopping cyberattacks fueled by an insider threat. In addition, educating workers is critical, as the lack of employee training/awareness has been cited as the main reason behind insider attacks.

Cybersecurity awareness training can teach employees to pick up on all these warning signs. Follow up with policies that dictate how they safely report their suspicions without fear of reprisal. Clear reporting pathways should make it easy for employees to stay on track.

While creating a strong culture throughout the organization will lessen the likelihood of an insider threat carrying out a cyberattack, organizations can’t avoid all risks. This is why managed detection and response (MDR) technology is key to detecting a data breach before it spreads. MDR is an automated solution that can detect the technology red flags and alert IT so they can appropriately respond to an insider threat before the breach escalates.

These strategies all work together to provide a better, more holistic solution. It starts with recognizing certain behavioral factors and understanding other warning signs and characteristics.

Providing employees with better skills prepares them to take your organization to the next level, and that also comes from regular, consistent training. Coupled with data use policies and automated solutions like managed detection and response, you’ll stay ahead of cybersecurity threats and detect breaches before they escalate.

More Resources:

Webinar: Implementing a Successful Employee Security Awareness Program
Blog: Cybersecurity Threats and Attacks: The Insider Edition
Blog: The Business Impact of Cyberattacks from Insider Threats 

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