You Can't Blindly Trust Your Employees: 6 Ways to Prevent Insider Threats


Tech Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for IT pros

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Security threats from people within your organization shouldn't be ignored. Here are some of the actions you can take to identify and tackle these dangers.

Article 5 Minutes
You Can't Blindly Trust Your Employees: 6 Ways to Prevent Insider Threats

One of the most important goals any company can focus on in its efforts to achieve high security standards is to increase and maintain awareness of insider threats.

Outside parties such as hackers and fraudsters are clearly a danger you need to deal with, but this focus on tackling external attacks shouldn't stop you from monitoring and managing hazards originating in your own workforce.

Whether it's through malicious intent, compromised login details or simple carelessness, your employees can present a serious security risk.

So what can you do to manage this and keep your business and its customers safe?

1. Start with a comprehensive security policy

Your strategy for maintaining the highest levels of safety and tackling risks, wherever they originate, should be reflected in your core security policy.

This is your first (and potentially most important) resource for communicating the standards you expect your employees to maintain and establishing procedures that will help you:

  • Spot warning signs of insider threats
  • Set guidelines for conducting investigations
  • Train and educate employees who have inadvertently created security risks through carelessness or lack of knowledge

Putting clear and easily accessible policies at the heart of your strategy will also help you build a strong security culture. By making protection against all kinds of threats a fundamental part of your identity as a business, you can establish safeguards that stand the test of time.

2. Secure critical systems and data

A key goal in your mission to tackle insider threats - and indeed any danger to your company and the valuable data and assets it possesses - should be to establish strong security around your critical infrastructure.

In some cases, this will involve monitoring physical access to key areas. Someone who doesn't have the appropriate security clearance and an obvious reason to be there shouldn't be able to enter a server room, for example.

Evaluate different protective measures based on how feasible and effective they'll be for your company. Options to consider include hiring security professionals to control entry to sensitive areas and introducing biometric or two-factor ID verification to ensure only authorized individuals can access these locations, either physically or virtually.

3. Look out for suspicious employee activity

Unusual and potentially dubious employee activity is one of the most common warning signs you should be looking out for to protect your organization against insider threats.

Potential indicators that members of your workforce could present a security risk include:

  • Noticeable changes in performance or attitude: An employee who has become dissatisfied or feels underappreciated at work, for example, could be looking for a way to inflict damage on the business or make a financial gain for themselves.
  • Sudden enthusiasm to take on new responsibilities: This could be a sign that an unscrupulous worker is trying to gain access to systems or data they can turn to their own advantage.
  • Unusual working times: Someone logging on at unusual times of the day might be engaging in activities they want to keep hidden from their co-workers or line manager.
  • Frequent overseas travel: This could be a warning sign of one of the most extreme and potentially damaging insider threats: corporate espionage.

4. Show caution when hiring new staff

When recruiting new staff - particularly those whose role will put them in close proximity to sensitive data and IT infrastructure - make sure you're going through the proper processes to evaluate their integrity and reliability.

This is likely to involve running background checks, through which you can gain specific information about job candidates that will help you evaluate whether they could pose a security risk.

A criminal record check may show that an individual has a history of fraudulent activities, for example, which is likely to sway your decision about hiring them. Applicants who have experienced recent financial troubles could also be excluded if you're concerned about employees stealing customer data to sell on the black market.

5. Monitor remote access

COVID-19 triggered a range of long-term consequences for IT, HR and business as a whole, including an increase in remote and hybrid working, with many employees spending at least some of their time doing their jobs from home.

This creates some potential security concerns that IT teams need to be aware of, such as remote workers having unmonitored or unsecured access to critical systems.

Make sure you have rigorous workflows and checks in place to maintain high standards around secure remote access. That could require you to evaluate, compare and implement technologies such as:

6. Conduct regular enterprise-wide risk assessments

Regular risk assessments are essential if you want to stay up to date with threats facing the company, regardless of their origins.

This should include key steps such as identifying your most important assets and their respective threats and vulnerabilities, running through scenarios of how these targets could be compromised, planning your response tactics and gauging potential consequences for the business.

As well as putting you in a stronger position to tackle insider threats, routine risk assessments can deliver benefits such as improved compliance with regulations and reduction of inefficiencies in your IT infrastructure.

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