Malicious Insider Threat Indicators can compromise security through hacking, theft or sabotage. Their activities often follow specific patterns that make it easy to spot with appropriate technology.
Many organizations have established baseline downloading patterns, with HR saving payroll files and sales departments downloading large marketing documents. If data downloads go outside these normal patterns, this could indicate an insider threat.
What Are Some Potential Insider Threat Indicators?
Malicious insider threats are among the hardest to detect of all threats; they gain legitimate access to secure data, bypassing security infrastructure and making monitoring their activities challenging for IT administrators. Their motives could range from revenge and financial gain all the way through to corporate disruption and espionage.
Unfortunately, most employees don’t engage in malicious acts. While cases of negligence resulting in an insider threat occur frequently, these incidents tend to be less prevalent. At a recent webinar hosted by Forrester Research, senior security analyst Joseph Blankenship discussed early warning signs to watch out for.
Keep an eye out for employees who seem discontent at work or suddenly make lifestyle changes that differ from what was expected, such as working outside typical business hours, transferring files without cause to personal devices or cloud storage, or trying to gain elevated access privileges that don’t pertain to their roles within the company. Any of these actions indicate something is amiss – fortunately they’re also easy to detect with proper security tools in place.
Potential insider threat indicators
Potential warning signs that an insider threat exists include data movement issues, the use of unapproved software and hardware, accessing non-core information for work purposes without proper authorization, requests for escalated privileges and renamed files with extensions that do not match up with their source files.
Malicious insiders include current and former employees, contractors, suppliers, vendors and third-party partners who may seek revenge, financial gain or any competitive edge loss for personal gain. They may act out with multiple agendas such as revenge, financial gain or competitive edge loss.
Disgruntled employees have been known to take drastic actions against companies when their demands are not met, while other insiders may take more passive approaches but may still compromise it with their actions.
Cybersecurity teams can detect malicious actions through behavior monitoring solutions like Exabeam’s. Furthermore, they can assemble a threat management team comprised of representatives from security, IT, human resources and legal departments when suspicious activity is detected – this team then can collect and analyze evidence related to this incident to assess its severity before taking further steps or initiating discipline if required.
1. Unusual data movement
Malicious insiders who steal data or subvert company systems for financial, vengeful or other personal gain are notoriously difficult to detect and often pose greater risk than negligent insiders as they gain access to crucial company information.
One of the clearest indicators of malicious insider activity is unusual data movement. This activity often marks part of an attack’s reconnaissance stage, as compromised insiders move sensitive data into staging areas for easier extrusion. Security teams should monitor such suspicious behavior using real-time log and event correlation, forensic analysis and threat intelligence features available from SIEM solutions.
Increased requests for escalated privileges could be a telltale sign that an internal attacker is active. Anyone with elevated system access has the potential to roam servers looking for sensitive data they can sell on the dark web or deploy malware for ransom; to detect this behavior, an identity security strategy should look for anomalous login failures, consolidated logins and pattern matching capabilities to detect unique or one-time access behaviors.
2. Use of unsanctioned software and hardware
An indicator of insider threat occurs when an employee attempts to install software without consulting with his/her IT or cybersecurity team. This could range from installing malware, such as ransomware, or backdoors that allow an attacker to gain entry and exploit vulnerabilities to steal information or even take control of an entire system and demand ransom in exchange for accessing data.
As part of your due diligence, take note of any unusual login attempts by employees. For instance, an employee logging into systems at 2 AM when they typically don’t work late could be trying to cover their tracks or access more sensitive information.
Malicious insiders pose a threat to every organization, regardless of their role. Malicious intruders could be seeking revenge against certain employees, trying to steal valuable information for personal gain or acting on behalf of competitors or hostile nation states conducting espionage operations. Monitoring indicators as part of an employee-friendly security culture that encourages reporting threats can help organizations detect these issues early and address them before they impact business performance negatively.
3. Access to information that’s not core
An employee’s theft of confidential files or hacking into company systems can have severe repercussions for an organization – they could incur financial loss, disrupt operations, damage its reputation and compromise innovation efforts.
Malicious insiders may act for any number of motives, including financial gain, organizational disruption, revenge and espionage. Their goal may vary; typically however they take information that’s easy to sell on the black market (e.g. product designs, customer lists or research findings).
An insider seeking to avoid detection may attempt to hide their data exfiltration by renaming files and changing file extensions; for instance, they could rename a PowerPoint presentation of the product roadmap as “2022 support tickets”, or convert it to JPEG format. A security tool which analyzes file extension matches can identify these suspicious activities and help detect unauthorized access; an increase in system searches could also indicate malicious activity; for instance a sales team member searching client lists within accounting database can indicate potential criminality.
4. Increased requests for escalated privileges
Malicious insiders may seek revenge against their former employers or colleagues, steal sensitive data for competitive gain or simply cause security breaches through negligence. Such behaviors may be difficult to spot due to behavioral indicators like working odd hours and frequent disputes among coworkers as well as sudden financial fluctuations that might signal malice on their part.
However, it is possible to detect suspicious access and login anomalies by monitoring authentication and authorization logs – this can be accomplished using a SIEM with advanced features for looking out for one-off behaviors.
Employees’ increased use of systems for searching information outside their normal job responsibilities can also indicate possible unauthorised access. A tool which detects this can be extremely helpful in spotting potential threats; additionally if an employee changes his/her file extension – for instance changing PowerPoint into JPEG or adding ZIP extension — that should raise red flags. A solution which detects such mismatching activities should form part of any cybersecurity strategy.
5.Renamed files extension that doesn’t match
Malicious insiders can conceal their activities by renaming files with extensions that do not correspond with their originals, for instance renaming PowerPoint slides from product roadmap to 2022 support tickets – making it more difficult for security teams to detect suspicious activity. It is therefore vital that data security tools detect mismatched file extensions and reveal potentially harmful behavior. Luckily, an effective identity and access management strategy can prevent insider threats even for those with access to sensitive information; CrowdStrike Falcon offers comprehensive asset visibility and analytics that allow businesses to mitigate risks effectively.
6. Departing employees
Employees leaving an organization often act with malicious intentions in mind when making their exit decision. They could send strategic plans or templates directly to personal devices for use in their new role; or with more malicious motivations they might attempt to access data for competitive gain by stealing it and passing it along.
Unusual international travel could be a telltale sign of industrial or governmental espionage by employees. Employees who openly criticize company policies must also be closely watched; their displeasure might prompt extreme measures like hijacking network services or holding the company’s information hostage in an attempt to exact revenge or influence policy changes by any means necessary – from hijacking networks to holding off-site hostages until things blow over.
Prevention and detection are the keys to effectively countering insider threats. Employers need to create clear policies on access and usage of company resources, making sure employees do not possess more privileges than necessary for their roles. They should also educate staff members on signs of malicious insider activity so they can respond swiftly should indicators appear.