Insider Threats: Spotting Common Indicators and Warning Signs

Data protection regulations require your business to assess all possible threats to the sensitive data your business stores or manages. While most businesses tend to focus most of their attention on external threats, they often overlook insider threats that exist right under their collective noses.

Although the market is flooded with cybersecurity solutions that promise to protect your business from all kinds of cyberthreats, they cannot guarantee or even assure you of protection against insider threats.

While your employees may form the first line of defense against cyberattacks, all it takes is one of them acting out of line to cause damage to your business. To put this into perspective, Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report stated that 30 percent of breaches involved internal actors.

The last thing you need is your business falling foul of an insider threat and facing regulatory action for failing to mitigate it. In this blog, we will help you understand the different types of insider threats, the warning signs you need to look out for and how you can devise a defense strategy to mitigate these threats in a way that will convince most compliance regulators.

Knowing Insider Threats Better

As the name suggests, insider threats refer to security risks that originate from within an organization. Essentially, an insider threat is someone who is a part of your business network or has access to it. It could be a current employee, consultant, former employee, business partner or even a board member. Insiders with access to your business’ sensitive data can compromise the integrity of the data for any reason that suits them.

Let’s take a look at the two types of insider threats you must assess, monitor and mitigate.

The Malicious Insider

A malicious insider is anyone with legitimate access to your business’ network and sensitive data, who decides to exploit the privilege either for financial gain or out of spite.

Out of the 4,716 insider incidents that were studied by the Ponemon Institute and IBM in the Cost of Insider Threats: Global Report 2020, 23 percent were related to criminal insiders. Moreover, the report pegged the annual cost to companies due to criminal insiders at $4.08 million.


The Negligent Insider

A negligent insider is a regular employee who falls prey to a cyberattack. A hacker then exploits his/her mistake to compromise your business’ sensitive data. They are said to be negligent because they have either ignored existing security policies or haven’t been vigilant enough to identify and protect themselves from cyberattacks.

The Cost of Insider Threats: Global Report 2020 by the Ponemon Institute and IBM found that 63 percent of security incidents in 2020 that were caused due to insider threats were related to negligence, with the annual cost to companies coming in at $4.58 million.

Imagine your business suffers a data breach due to one of these insider threats and then gets pulled up by a regulator for not undertaking appropriate measures to avoid such a breach. A nightmare scenario if ever there was one.

While you mull over that, here are some warning signs you should watch out for to identify potential insider threats before it’s too late.

Warning Signs to Watch Out for

Although accurately identifying and determining insider threats can be a tough task, there are some early warning signs you can watch out for to nip them in the bud. These signs can be categorized as behavioral and digital.

Please pay close attention to the list below. Keeping a keen eye out for these signs and recognizing unusual patterns could give you the impetus you need to fight insider threats.


An employee or a stakeholder could be a potential insider threat if he/she exhibits any of the following behavioral patterns:

  • Attempting to bypass security controls and safeguards
  • Frequently and unnecessarily spending time in the office during off-hours
  • Displaying disgruntled behavior against co-workers and the company
  • Violating corporate policies deliberately
  • Discussing new opportunities and/or the possibility of resigning


Some of the digital actions mentioned below are telltale signs you must closely monitor:

  • Accessing or downloading substantial amounts of data
  • Attempting to access data and/or resources unrelated to his/her job function
  • Using unauthorized devices to access, manage or store data
  • Browsing for sensitive data unnecessarily
  • Copying data from sensitive folders
  • Sharing sensitive data outside the business
  • Behaving differently from their usual behavior profile

Keeping Insider Threats Under Check

The only way you can avoid regulatory action following a compliance audit is by producing documented evidence of the preventive and corrective measures you have undertaken to safeguard your business’ sensitive data from insider threats.

Here is a list of some of the measures that should feature in your defense and response plan:

  • Identify and document where your business’ sensitive data lies
  • Control access to sensitive data and define privileges for stakeholders based on their needs
  • Build suitable infrastructure that monitors abnormal behavior and raises timely alerts
  • Enhance your regular risk assessment by adding insider threat parameters to it
  • Introduce a robust security awareness training program for all stakeholders
  • Devise a strategy to investigate a breach caused due to insider threats and get notified accordingly

Promptly taking these steps will go a long way towards significantly securing your business from insider threats and convincing regulators that you are committed to ensuring data protection.

It’s time to make this a priority at your next management meeting, especially since cyberthreats have recorded an unprecedented surge during the ‘new normal.’ You certainly wouldn’t want an insider threat making the situation any worse, would you?

Remember, you aren’t alone in this fight. Let us help you tackle this deadly cybersecurity menace and avoid regulatory action for non-compliance. Get in touch with us now!

Article curated and used by permission.