How to Prevent Insider Threats with Identity Security

How to Prevent Insider Threats with Identity Security

How can a next-generation identity security solution help prevent insider threats in your enterprise?

Technologically, the majority of identity and access management emphasizes preventing external threat actors. As a rule, hackers look for the easiest means of entry ports into your IT environment. Login portals provide these ports; only by constantly verifying the legitimacy of your users can you protect your most sensitive assets from external threat actors.

Therefore, next-generation identity and access management solutions provide strong authentication protocols to serve as the gatekeepers to your environment. Furthermore, behavior monitoring capabilities help ensure identity security by verifying whether the users act like themselves while connected.

These capabilities prove essential to your enterprise’s modern cybersecurity. However, insider threats represent an even more nefarious danger to your databases and digital assets. Your business must prevent insider threats to protect itself against the most subversive kind of data breaches.

What constitutes an insider threat? How can you prevent insider threats? Why is it so important? We answer these questions below.

To Prevent Insider Threats, You Must Know Them

Experts define insider threats as a cyber attack coming from any malicious or negligent actors within your own enterprise. Rather than attempting to penetrate the network as an external actor does, an insider already has access to your databases.     

After all, malicious insiders already possess legitimate credentials into your network. Thus, their login attempts and activities normally don’t arouse the suspicion of your identity and access management solution. As a result, malicious insiders can more easily conceal their activities within their everyday business processes.

Who can become an insider threat? The stereotypical image depicts a disgruntled employee, recently let go from their position, taking a final devastating parting shot at their former employers. Certainly, this kind of vengeful insider threat exists, causing damage to enterprises in the past.

However, malicious insiders prove much more diverse in their motivations and forms. They can include:

  • Actors motivated by greed; they may steal finances directly or may engage in corporate espionage.
  • Insiders unaware of the consequences of their actions; in fact, they may not realize their actions create security vulnerabilities or put data at risk.
  • Malicious third-party actors—insiders not directly employed by the enterprise but who still have access to the network.
  • Insiders who pose as another employee or a privileged user, using their credentials to access sensitive assets.

The next logical question enterprises should ask is: how serious is this identity security problem?         

Insiders Threats in Context

Recently, cloud cybersecurity solution provider Bitglass released “Threatbusters: Bitglass’ 2019 Insider Threat Report.” This whitepaper explores the need to prevent insider threats in context.

Among their research, Bitglass found:

  • 59% of surveyed enterprises experienced an insider threat over the past year, a significant increase from the year before.
  • 73% of enterprises report an increase in attacks from malicious insiders.
  • 54% of enterprises say detecting insider threats proves more difficult than detecting attacks from external threat actors.

Additionally, Bitglass determined valid credentials, data migration via cloud migration, and an absence of identity governance frustrates detection efforts.

Thankfully, enterprises do recognize the severity of these issues. According to the 2017 Insider Threat Report, 74% of enterprises recognize the danger of this identity security risk. Simultaneously, however, the SANS Institute notes nearly a third of enterprises lack the capability to detect internal attacks.

Why Enterprises Must Prevent Insider Threats

An unregulated insider threat can do untold damage to your digital assets and IT environment. Possibly, malicious internal actors could wreak more havoc than an external threat actor could ever dream.

With the intimate knowledge of your enterprise’s IT environment, an insider threat could outright destroy your network, delete important files, or alter important business processes. In addition, insiders can more readily traffic data outside your network, allowing for unchallenged thefts of your intellectual property.

In short, because insiders aren’t subject to the same level of perimeter security as external actors, they can achieve their aims with far less opposition. To prevent insider threats, you need to deter these actors and create a hostile environment for them. But how?

What Exacerbates or Allows Malicious Insiders?

A few behaviors, practices, and actions pave the way for malicious insiders to enact their devious schemes. Here are a few examples:

  • Password Sharing Behaviors. Notoriously, employees tend to share their passwords among each other, sometimes to bypass identity and access management policies. In other cases, employees may write down their passwords in plain sight, allowing malicious insiders to just copy down their passwords.
  • Access Creep. Without proper monitoring, employee credentials tend to accumulate more permissions as they fulfill unique projects or change roles. Eventually, they can access digital assets far beyond their job roles with no check on their power.
  • Improper Onboarding and Role Management. With due identity governance, employees may begin their careers with unnecessary permissions. Indeed, they may have access to assets outside their job description automatically.
  • Inefficient Offboarding. Conversely, when an employee leaves your enterprise, you may not have the capability to effectively remove their permissions or identity. You may lack the visibility to find it, or you may neglect rescinding permissions. In either case, the longer a defunct account remains, the higher the chances of an insider exploiting it.       

How to Prevent Insider Threats

Identity management solutions should guide your efforts to prevent insiders threats. Specifically, privileged access management (PAM) and identity governance and administration (IGA) should form the backbone of your internal identity security.

Identity governance works to enable automated and monitored role management throughout your entire enterprise. Indeed, it can help you define the permissions of specific roles, ensuring each only possesses the absolutely necessary access it needs.

Furthermore, your IT security can use IGA to review specific identities and ensure they only have the bare minimum of necessary access; if they detect an issue, they can remove the permissions at will. Ultimately, this helps prevent access creep.   

In addition, identity governance can automate the offboarding process, which ensures accounts do not linger after the employee leaves the enterprise.

Privileged access management not only protects your super-users from external actors (although it certainly does); it also helps regulate what your privileged identities can access in your IT environment. For example, your head of HR should not possess access to your banking resources; conversely, your CFO should haven’t access to sensitive employee files. This helps prevent insider threats and access creep even at the highest levels of your hierarchy.

However, you also need to take the time to educate your employees on best practices to prevent insider threats. For example, your employees should know not to share their passwords with anyone, even trusted colleagues. They should also not write down passwords if possible; if they struggle with remembering their passwords, your privileged access management or identity security solutions should provide capabilities to help.

To prevent insider threats, your enterprise can’t just recognize the problem. It needs strong IAM to tackle it head-on.

Ben Canner

Ben Canner is an enterprise technology writer and analyst covering Identity Management, SIEM, Endpoint Protection, and Cybersecurity writ large. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from Clark University in Worcester, MA. He previously worked as a corporate blogger and ghost writer. You can reach him via Twitter and LinkedIn.
Ben Canner