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Insider Threats: Recognising, Minimising, and Responding


Emily Keeling

Posted Jul 1, 2024

While much attention is given to external threats from hackers and cybercriminals, a significant and often overlooked risk comes from within organisations: insider threats. These threats, posed by current or former employees, contractors, or business partners, can have devastating consequences. 


Understanding Insider Threats

Insider threats occur when someone within an organisation misuses their access to harm the company. This can be intentional, such as data theft, sabotage, or fraud, or unintentional, like careless behavior leading to data breaches. Insiders typically have legitimate access to the company's systems and sensitive data, making their actions particularly dangerous and difficult to detect.


Minimising Insider Threats

Reducing the risk of insider threats requires a multifaceted approach, combining technology, policies, and a culture of security awareness. Here are some effective strategies:

  1. Implement Robust Access Controls: Limit access to sensitive data and systems based on roles and responsibilities. Use the principle of least privilege, ensuring employees have only the access necessary to perform their jobs.

  2. Regularly Update and Enforce Security Policies: Develop comprehensive security policies and ensure all employees are aware of them. Regular training sessions can help reinforce the importance of adhering to these policies.

  3. Utilise Monitoring and Detection Tools: Deploy monitoring tools to detect unusual or unauthorised activities. Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems can help identify suspicious patterns indicative of insider threats.

  4. Conduct Regular Audits and Assessments: Perform regular security audits to identify potential vulnerabilities. Penetration testing can help uncover weaknesses that insiders might exploit.

  5. Encourage a Culture of Security Awareness: Promote a security-conscious culture where employees feel responsible for protecting company assets. Encourage reporting of suspicious activities and provide channels for anonymous reporting.

  6. Implement Strong Authentication Methods: Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to enhance security. This adds an additional layer of protection, making it harder for insiders to misuse credentials.

  7. Perform Background Checks: Conduct thorough background checks during the hiring process to identify potential risks. Continuous evaluation and monitoring of employees' activities can also help in early detection of insider threats.


Signs to Watch For

Detecting insider threats can be challenging, but certain behaviors and indicators may signal potential risks:

  1. Unusual Access Patterns: Employees accessing data or systems outside their regular scope of work, especially during odd hours.
  2. Disgruntled Behavior: Expressions of dissatisfaction or negative attitudes towards the company, colleagues, or work environment.
  3. Unexplained Wealth or Lifestyle Changes: Sudden changes in an employee's financial situation or lifestyle without a clear explanation.
  4. Bypassing Security Protocols: Attempts to bypass security measures or refusal to follow established protocols.
  5. Frequent Data Transfers: Unusual amounts of data being transferred to external devices or locations.


Responding to Insider Threats

If a company suspects or confirms an insider threat, immediate and decisive action is necessary:

  1. Contain the Threat: Quickly limit the insider's access to systems and data to prevent further damage. Disable accounts and change passwords if necessary.

  2. Conduct an Investigation: Launch a thorough investigation to understand the scope of the threat and identify the insider's actions. Collaborate with legal, HR, and IT departments.

  3. Preserve Evidence: Collect and preserve all relevant evidence, including logs, communications, and access records, to support any legal actions and investigations.

  4. Notify Affected Parties: Inform affected customers, partners, and stakeholders about the breach, following legal and regulatory requirements.

  5. Review and Revise Policies: Analyse the incident to identify weaknesses in current security measures. Update policies and procedures to prevent future incidents.

  6. Provide Support and Training: Offer support to affected employees and provide additional training to reinforce security awareness and prevent similar incidents.

  7. Collaborate with Authorities: Report the incident to relevant authorities and regulatory bodies, ensuring compliance with legal obligations.



Insider threats are a critical concern in cybersecurity, requiring vigilance and proactive measures to mitigate risks. By implementing robust security practices, fostering a culture of awareness, and being prepared to respond effectively, companies can protect themselves from the potentially devastating impact of insider threats. Remember, the best defense against insider threats is a combination of technology, policy, and people working together to safeguard the organisation.