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A Deep Dive Into Insider Risk Management

Diving Into Insider Risk Management for Enterprises

Enterprises need insider risk management solutions. Insider threats pose a significant risk to business operations and can result in financial losses, reputational damage, and so many other negative outcomes. Insider threats can come from current or former employees, contractors, vendors, or partners who have access to sensitive data and systems. These insiders may intentionally or unintentionally compromise the security of the organization by stealing data, sabotaging systems, or introducing malware. Insider risk management solutions provide organizations with the necessary tools and technologies to detect and prevent insider threats, reduce the impact of security incidents, and protect their sensitive data.

Effective insider risk management solutions can also help organizations comply with regulatory requirements and industry standards. Many industries, such as healthcare, finance, and government, have strict regulations that require organizations to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access and disclosure. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in significant penalties, fines, and legal liability. Insider risk management solutions can help organizations comply with these regulations by providing security controls, monitoring tools, and reporting capabilities that demonstrate compliance. By implementing insider risk management solutions, modern enterprises can proactively manage insider threats, reduce the risk of security incidents, and meet a variety of regulatory requirements. 

Why Insider Risks Are So Dangerous

Insiders already have authorized access to sensitive information and systems, making it easier for them to bypass security measures and exploit vulnerabilities. They are also harder to detect as their actions may seem legitimate. Given their understanding of their current or former employers environment and security controls, they are often in a much better position to cause harm to the business. There’s a never ending struggle in finding the balance between security and productivity. In general, implementing security measures has its challenges, so it's crucial to be vigilant and find ways to minimize insider risks effectively. 

*According to a Gartner® report: “Whether through error, negligence or malice, employees, contractors and integrated third party partners represent risk that must be addressed. The problem lies in the fact that insiders have an advantage over an external attacker — they know where the data exists and where to get it. Insider behavior coupled with lax governance puts midsize enterprises at a greater risk.”

Types of Malicious Activities

Here is a standardized list of different malicious activities an insider might perform:

  • Theft of confidential information: Insiders may steal sensitive information, such as customer data, trade secrets, and intellectual property, for personal gain or to sell to competitors.
  • Sabotage: Insiders may intentionally damage or disrupt computer systems or applications, causing system downtime or loss of critical data.
  • Fraud: Insiders may engage in fraudulent activities, such as creating fake invoices, misappropriating funds, or manipulating financial records.
  • Espionage: Insiders may engage in espionage activities on behalf of a foreign government or a competitor, such as stealing classified information or intellectual property.
  • Malware introduction: Insiders may introduce malware into computer systems or networks, allowing them to gain unauthorized access or steal sensitive data.
  • Unauthorized access: Insiders may use their authorized access to systems or applications to access data or resources that they are not authorized to access.
  • Data modification or destruction: Insiders may modify or delete data, causing damage to computer systems, applications, or business operations.
  • Social engineering: Insiders may use social engineering techniques to gain access to sensitive information or systems, such as phishing or pretexting.
  • Violation of policies: Insiders may violate company policies, such as bringing personal devices into the workplace or using unauthorized software or applications.
  • Physical theft: Insiders may physically steal laptops, hard drives, or other devices that contain sensitive data.

Signs of an Insider Risk

Signs of insider risk and threats come in many different forms. Organizations need to do their best to look out for indicators and identify potential threats. The use of security automation is really critical, especially at larger organizations where you have a vast number of identities. From a data perspective, the more your organization grows and scales, the bigger your problem becomes in trying to keep your data overexposure to a manageable level. Here are four common examples and signs to keep an eye out for:

  • File access at unusual hours: Insiders may exhibit behavior that is out of the ordinary  such as accessing systems at unusual times, downloading large amounts of data, or attempting to access systems outside of their normal work scope.
  • Use of untrusted domains: The use of untrusted domains can lead to security breaches and compromises in an organization's system. Insiders can leverage untrusted domains to access malicious websites, download malware or viruses, or transmit sensitive information outside of the organization.
  • Misleading file extensions: Using misleading file extensions can evade detection by security measures and to bypass security protocols. Insiders can rename files that do not accurately reflect the file's contents, making it harder for security software to detect and block malicious content.
  • Lifecycle milestones: Leaving the organization or being passed over for a promotion (i.e. lifecycle milestone) increases the likelihood of an individual to engage in malicious activities, such as stealing data, destroying files, or installing malware. This is probably the most common example out of the four, and is typically a main driver for insider threats.

How to Identify Insider Risks with Analytics

The market provides a swath of different technologies (UEBA, DLP, SIEM, anomaly detection, risk scoring, etc.) to help get in front of insider risks. Analytics are a powerful tool for identifying insider risks by analyzing patterns of behavior and identifying anomalies that may indicate potential insider threats. The use of data analysis techniques to monitor user activity and identify anomalies that may indicate potential insider threats is helpful in an environment where budgets are tight and there’s a lack of security professionals in the market. By analyzing user behavior and identifying deviations from normal patterns, organizations can automatically detect potential insider threats and take proactive measures to prevent security incidents. Analytics can be used to monitor login activity, file access, network traffic, and other user behavior, and to identify anomalies that deviate from established baselines of normal behavior.

To get the most out of insider risk management capabilities, organizations should use analytics to detect and prevent insider threats. Keeping a keen eye on user activity and detecting anomalies in real-time, organizations can take action to prevent insider threats before they result in a security incident. In addition, organizations should establish policies and procedures to address potential insider threats, and provide training to employees to ensure that they are aware of the risks and understand how to report suspicious activity.

*According to a Gartner report “Include insider threats as part of your end-user awareness training. Encourage employee participation in notifying IT security about suspicious behaviors and provide confidential mechanisms for them to do so. Be transparent in terms of informing the user base that activities are monitored.”

Just as with security automation, analytics really need to be baked into insider risk management solutions in order to better protect sensitive data and ensure business continuity. Better engagement with end users involving the controls and policies you have in place, coupled with automated notifications of policy violations will inherently strengthen your insider risk management program.

Insider Risk Management Principles

Insider risk management principles are a set of guidelines that organizations can follow to effectively manage their risk. To establish an effective program, organizations need to implement the right mix of people, process, and technology. Establishing granular data access control policies help limit access to sensitive data. Providing security awareness training to employees is also essential to help business users identify and prevent insider threats. Organizations should establish incident response plans to quickly respond to insider threats and minimize the impact of any security incidents.

Conducting thorough background checks on employees and contractors before granting them access to sensitive data or systems is a key element of an effective insider risk management program. By following some of the aforementioned insider risk management principles, organizations can effectively manage insider risks and maintain a stronger security posture in general.

Getting the Most of Insider Risk Management Capabilities

To get the most out of insider risk management capabilities, organizations should follow these best practices:

  1. Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment: A thorough risk assessment can help identify potential insider risks, assess their potential impact, and prioritize mitigation efforts.
  2. Implement a layered approach: A multi-layered approach that includes people, processes, and technology can help reduce insider risks. This includes implementing access controls, monitoring user activity, and providing security awareness training to employees.
  3. Use analytics and machine learning: Analyzing user behavior patterns and identifying anomalous behavior can help detect potential insider threats before they become security incidents.
  4. Establish a clear incident response plan: A clear incident response plan that outlines roles and responsibilities, escalation procedures, and communication protocols can help minimize the impact of insider threats.
  5. Regularly review and update security policies and controls: Regularly reviewing and updating security policies and controls can help ensure that they remain effective in reducing insider risks.
  6. Foster a culture of security: Building a culture of security where all employees understand the importance of protecting sensitive data and are aware of the consequences of violating security policies can help reduce insider risks.

As mentioned earlier in this blog, the use of security automation is so critical at scale. When you have an employee that is resigning from the business, their insider threat profile increases. Integrating your HRIS (i.e. Bamboo HR or WorkDay) with security solutions to automatically trigger a security workflow to closely monitor that user’s file sharing behavior (i.e. downloading large amounts of data or sharing with their private email accounts) will help you manage your insider risk in an automated way. Additionally, it will dramatically reduce your MTTR to these types of security events and activities.

Insider Risk Management Workflow

Insider risk management workflow refers to the step-by-step process that organizations follow to identify, assess, and mitigate insider risks. The workflow typically starts with identifying potential insider risks and prioritizing mitigation efforts. Once potential risks are identified, appropriate controls such as access controls, data encryption, and network segmentation should be implemented to limit access to sensitive data. Organizations should also monitor user activity to detect suspicious behavior and identify potential insider threats. If a potential insider threat is detected, an incident response plan should be initiated to minimize the impact of the security incident. After the incident is resolved, a post-incident review should be conducted to identify any weaknesses in the insider risk management program and implement necessary improvements. A structured insider risk management workflow enables organizations to effectively manage insider risks and protect sensitive data from insider threats.

Insider Risk Management Policies

Comprehensive insider risk management policies (a.k.a. the ‘process’ in ‘people, process, and technology’) are a set of guidelines that organizations can follow to manage insider risks effectively. These policies should cover all aspects and considerations of the insider risk management program that we’ve outlined above. The policies should clearly define roles and responsibilities, establish security controls, and outline procedures for detecting and responding to insider threats. The policies should also include guidelines for conducting background checks on employees and contractors before granting them access to sensitive data or systems.

Least privilege is an important piece in establishing policy. For example, once you run an assessment on a contractor, you really need to consider 4th party domains. It’s not uncommon for 3rd party vendors to share data with unapproved 4th parties. Enforcing least privilege at a more granular level is a better approach to an insider risk management program. An effective insider risk management program is an ongoing effort that requires continual reassessment and revision to policies; ongoing updates are necessary to ensure that the policies remain effective in reducing insider risks.

If you’re interested in learning more about DoControl’s approach to insider risk management, request a demo today.


What is an Insider Threat?

An insider threat is a cybersecurity risk that originates from within an organization. It refers to a situation where an employee, contractor, or other individual with authorized access to an organization's systems, data, or facilities misuses that access to cause harm to the organization.

How Can Companies Reduce Insider Threats?

Companies can reduce insider threats by implementing a multi-layered approach that includes conducting thorough background checks, implementing security controls, providing security awareness training, monitoring user activity, and establishing incident response plans. 

What is a Malicious Insider Threat?

A malicious insider threat is a type of insider threat where an employee or other authorized user intentionally misuses their access to an organization's systems or data for personal gain or to cause harm to the organization.

What are Insider Threat Categories?

Insider threat profiles can be categorized as accidental, careless, malicious, and compromised. Having the right preventative controls and detection mechanisms in place can mitigate the risk of insider threats across each of these profiles. 

Related Resources


*Gartner, ‘Strategies for Midsize Enterprises to Mitigate Insider Risk,’ April 19th 2023, Paul Furtado, https://www.gartner.com/document/4282499?ref=solrResearch&refval=364353154. GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

Corey O’Connor is the Director of Product Marketing at DoControl, with over a decade of experience as a Product Marketing leader in the enterprise software market. Prior to joining DoControl, Corey held multiple leadership positions at CyberArk and Dell EMC, where he was responsible for the Go-to-Market strategy and execution of multiple enterprise software solutions in the cloud computing, storage and security markets.

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