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Defending against insider security threats hangs on trust

Thor Olavsrud | Jan. 25, 2016
If your security strategy only considers malicious insiders when addressing the insider threat, you may be miscalculating the risk. Accidental incidents are nearly impossible to guard against.

security trust

When it comes to security, insider threats are an unfortunate fact of life. But if you're thinking only about combatting malicious insiders, you may be miscalculating the risk.

"The insider threat is much broader," says Steve Durbin, managing director of the Information Security Forum (ISF), a nonprofit association that assesses security and risk management issues on behalf of its members. "It isn't just about bad apples — people that are deliberately out to steal information or harm organizations."

The other two types of insider threats, Durbin says, are negligent insiders, who are aware of security policies but find a workaround, probably with the best of intentions, to get work done, and accidental insiders. A negligent insider, faced with the need to get a large file to a colleague, might turn to a non-approved Web-based file hosting service. An accidental insider might be a manager who is emailing employee performance reviews and miskeys an email address. Due to the magic of autocomplete, that email winds up in the wrong hands.

"These two other segments within insiders probably have a more significant impact and are probably more difficult for security departments and the organization to control," Durbin says.

And, of course, regulators and customers don't care whether a data breach was the result of a malicious actor or not.

Accidents waiting to happen

"This makes life difficult," Durbin says. "The accidental incidents are well-nigh impossible to guard against. You have to focus on things like training and awareness. When it comes to negligent insiders, it comes down to communication of policies and procedures."

The ISF released a briefing paper, Managing the Insider Threat, to its members this week, noting that the insider threat has intensified as people have become increasingly mobile and hyper-connected. Nearly every worker now has multiple, interconnected devices that can compromise information immediately and at scale, according to the ISF. The impact is no longer limited by the amount of paper someone can carry. At the same time, social norms are shifting, eroding loyalty between employers and employees.

To lessen your vulnerability to insider threats of all stripes, Durbin says the place to start is with a risk assessment.

"What you really need to be doing is looking long and hard at the information available to you," he says. "Categorize it. Look at what might happen if that were to get lost."

The more valuable the data, the more stringent controls you should put in place. Then base your awareness and training programs around that. You need to communicate to your employees what's truly valuable.

It's also time to really institute a least privilege framework if you haven't already — limit access to information to those who actually need it. That includes upper management, Durbin says.

 

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