5 Insiders Who Can Break Your Security

Threats conceived and orchestrated by external adversaries typically draw most of the attention when it comes to explaining the ongoing data breach epidemic. But organizations should not overlook the pernicious threat posed by insiders. In 2014, a year in which an astonishing number of records were breached, insider-aided compromises were to blame for a great many of them.

Still, many organizations have yet to appreciate the extent of the insider threat and thus are failing to adequately invest in protection. This is happening despite the fact that insiders - whether they are malicious or unwitting in nature - can inflict greater harm and be much more difficult to detect than external attackers. As an organization's IT environment expands and grows more complex, IT and security professionals will have more difficulty maintaining visibility into the actions of their users.

Yet a lack of awareness persists, despite statistics that show insider attacks are quickly growing as a percentage of overall breaches. The 2015 Security Pressures Report from Trustwave found that IT security decision makers were more distressed by threats from outside attackers than those posed by insiders, by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin.

Perhaps it's time for a wake-up call, especially considering the wide range of potential assailants. Here are five types of dangerous insiders you're up against (even if some of them don't appear like a threat at first glance):

1. The absent-minded: This type of worker unwittingly places the company at risk due to poor security practices, such as clicking on suspicious phishing links or attachments contained in emails, sending confidential email to a personal email or other cloud service, connecting a vulnerable or malware-infused mobile device to the corporate network, or losing a laptop or USB stick.

2. The revenge seeker: Last year, the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned about a spike in cyber cases involving disgruntled current or former employees. This type of worker is a malcontent who acts out by stealing (perhaps to be used a next job) or destroying sensitive data. Many organizations lack the visibility to track an employee's actions on the network - especially ones exploiting legitimate privileges.

3. The privilege abuser: Here again elevated access rights come into play. Many organizations face a breakdown in roles and responsibilities, resulting in this type of employee being granted permission to conduct tasks and reach assets that are not required for their job. An organization with poor visibility into its "privileged user" population is ripe for insider abuse.

4. The partner: Many of the recent data-loss incidents in the news involve the targeted compromise of credentials belonging to this type of worker: a legitimate third-party contractor or other service provider. This is typically accomplished through password-stealing malware or hacked credentials. In this instance, once they have retrieved the credentials, outside hackers pose as trusted users. What makes this particular profile so dangerous is that as more people access the network than ever before, it becomes increasingly difficult to pinpoint such behavior.

5. The colluder: This type of staff member is seen far less frequently than the previous example, but there have been instances in which a trusted insider has worked with an external party to perpetrate a data breach. One example is, during the supply chain process, purposefully creating a vulnerability that will be exploited later by an outside adversary.

Similar to battling the external threat, organizations require a layered approach to cope with interior risks. That means they must: 

Dan Kaplan is manager of online content at Trustwave and a former IT security reporter and editor.

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