What is an Insider Threat? All You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is an Insider Threat? All You Need to Know (2023)<br />

What is an Insider Threat?

Did you know that your organization’s greatest security risk may be hiding right under your nose? Insider threats have the potential to cause significant damage to your organization, yet they often go undetected.

In this blog post, we will delve into the world of insider threats, help you understand the different types, and equip you with the tools and knowledge to defend against them. Are you ready to safeguard your organization from within? Let’s dive in!


  • An insider threat arises when individuals within an organization (“insiders”) misuse their access to harm the organization’s resources, data, or operations.

  • Threats can be intentional (malice or fraud) or unintentional (careless actions leading to breaches).

  • Preventive measures include strict access controls, continuous monitoring, and comprehensive employee training.

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Understanding Insider Threats

An insider threat is a security risk that originates from within an organization – typically by a current or former employee, contractor, or associate – who has access to privileged accounts and sensitive information. What makes insider threats particularly dangerous is that they can bypass traditional security measures thanks to their legitimate access to the organization’s systems. According to insider threat statistics, these types of threats account for a significant percentage of data breaches and security incidents, many of which result in the theft of intellectual property, trade secrets, and customer information.

Insider threats come in various forms, including malicious insiders, careless insiders, and mole threats. Malicious insiders are individuals who intentionally exploit their authorized access for personal gain or to cause harm to the organization. Careless insiders, on the other hand, pose a threat due to their unintentional actions, such as human errors and poor judgement, which can leave the organization’s systems vulnerable to external attacks.

Mole threats are individuals who gain access to the organization’s systems from the outside, often with the intent of conducting espionage or sabotage.

Defining Insider Threats

To better understand the gravity of insider threats, it is important to recognize the various expressions of insider threats, which can include violence, espionage, sabotage, theft, and cyber acts. Malicious insiders are employees or contractors who, fully aware of their actions, aim to steal information or disrupt operations. In contrast, careless insider threats occur accidentally, often resulting from human mistakes, bad decisions, phishing, malware, and stolen passwords. Compromised insiders are those whose computers have been infected by malware, potentially leaving enterprise systems vulnerable to external attacks.

Real-life examples of insider threats can help shed light on the different ways they manifest. For instance, a system administrator working for the San Francisco city government blocked access to the city’s network and refused to surrender the admin passwords, demonstrating the potential for abuse of power by a malicious insider. Another example is an employee who inadvertently clicks on a phishing email, compromising their credentials and exposing the organization’s systems to external threats.

By understanding the various forms and expressions of insider threats, organizations can better prepare to defend against them.

The Scope of Insider Threats

Insider threats are not limited to specific industries or organization sizes; they can affect any organization that handles sensitive information or valuable assets. The scope of insider threats includes unauthorized access to sensitive information, misuse of privileged access, theft of intellectual property, sabotage of systems or data, and fraud. To effectively address these threats, it is crucial to recognize both behavioral and technical indicators of potential insider threats.

Behavioral indicators include employees exhibiting unusual logins, attempting to use applications they are not authorized to access, or downloading large amounts of data. Technical indicators, on the other hand, may consist of anomalous user activity, unusual data access patterns, and suspicious file transfers.

By staying vigilant and implementing strategies such as robust security policies, advanced detection technologies, normal behavior baselines, and continuous monitoring and incident response, organizations can effectively mitigate the risks posed by insider threats.

Recognizing Insider Threat Indicators

To effectively defend against insider threats, it is essential to be able to recognize and detect potential threats. Malicious insider threats may include actions such as selling confidential data to a competitor or introducing malware into the organization’s network. Indicators of malicious insider threats may involve strange network activity, a disgruntled employee holding a grudge, or an overly enthusiastic attitude.

Careless insider threats, which often result from human mistakes, bad judgement, phishing, and stolen credentials, can also pose a significant risk to an organization. Monitoring user behavior is crucial for detecting both malicious and careless insider threats. By establishing baselines for normal user behavior and utilizing user behavior analytics, organizations can identify anomalies and deviations that may indicate potential threats.

This process enables security teams to proactively address potential insider threats before they can cause significant harm.

Behavioral Red Flags

Behavioral red flags are indicators that can help organizations recognize potential insider threats. Some signs that may suggest a malicious insider threat include anomalous network activity, an employee who seems to be holding a grudge, and an overly enthusiastic attitude. In addition to these red flags, organizations should be on the lookout for unusual logins, attempts to use applications the person is not authorized to use, sudden increases in privileges, and suspicious employee behavior such as working odd hours or frequently missing work.

By staying vigilant and monitoring for these behavioral red flags, organizations can more effectively identify potential insider threats and take appropriate action to mitigate any risks. This proactive approach can help organizations stay ahead of potential threats and minimize the potential damage caused by insider attacks.

Technical Indicators

In addition to behavioral red flags, technical indicators can also help organizations detect potential insider threats. For instance, careless insider threats may be indicated by human errors, poor judgement, phishing attempts, and stolen credentials. To effectively detect complex insider threats, it is important to have a solid understanding of a user’s normal behavior, which allows for the quick identification of any unusual or potentially malicious activity.

User and Event Behavior Analytics (UEBA) is a powerful tool that can aid security teams in detecting, analyzing, and alerting to potential insider threats. By leveraging advanced technologies such as UEBA, organizations can enhance their ability to detect and respond to potential insider threats, thereby reducing the risk of security breaches and minimizing the potential damage to their digital assets.

Strategies for Mitigating Insider Threats

Mitigating insider threats requires a multifaceted approach, involving the implementation of robust security policies, the use of advanced detection technologies, and the development of an insider threat management program. Strong security practices can help safeguard an organization’s assets, decrease the risk of cyber attacks, and boost productivity by reducing network downtime.

Advanced detection tools, such as User and Event Behavior Analytics (UEBA), can provide security teams with greater visibility into potential threats, allowing for more precise and prompt detection. Establishing baselines for normal behavior and continuously monitoring activity can help organizations spot suspicious activities that could indicate an insider threat.

By setting up these baselines and implementing effective security policies, organizations can strengthen their defense against potential insider threats and minimize the potential damage caused by security incidents.

Implementing Robust Security Policies

Strong security policies play a crucial role in protecting an organization from insider threats. These policies should include measures such as data encryption, routine backups, scheduled maintenance, and the enforcement of two-factor authentication for passwords. By implementing robust security policies, organizations can reduce the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive data and systems, helping to prevent both malicious and inadvertent insider threats.

Database activity monitoring is another essential component of a robust security policy, as it can help organizations identify potential policy violations and detect insider threats early on. By incorporating database activity monitoring into their security policies, organizations can better protect their sensitive data and systems from potential insider threats.

Leveraging Advanced Detection Technologies

Advanced detection technologies, such as machine learning algorithms and data mesh architecture, can provide organizations with significant advantages in detecting and mitigating insider threats. These technologies can analyze user behavior and identify anomalies, helping organizations prioritize potential insider threats and take appropriate action to address them. By leveraging advanced detection technologies, organizations can enhance their ability to detect and respond to potential insider threats, thereby reducing the risk of security breaches and minimizing the potential damage to their digital assets.

In addition to machine learning algorithms, User and Event Behavior Analytics (UEBA) can also assist security teams in detecting and analyzing potential insider threats. By integrating advanced detection technologies into their security strategies, organizations can strengthen their defenses against malicious and inadvertent insider threats, ensuring the security and integrity of their sensitive data and systems.

Real-Life Examples of Insider Threat Incidents

Real-life examples of insider threat incidents can provide valuable insights into the potential risks posed by insider threats. One such example is the Capital One data breach, where an ex-employee was able to access the company’s systems and steal sensitive customer data. This incident highlights the potential damage that can be caused by a malicious insider with access to an organization’s sensitive information.

Malicious insiders are a concern for any organization. The recent case of Apple engineers being charged with data theft for stealing driverless car secrets for a China-based company is an example of this type of activity. This incident emphasizes the importance of implementing robust security policies and leveraging advanced detection technologies to protect an organization’s intellectual property and prevent insider threats from causing significant harm.

Developing an Insider Threat Management Program

Developing an insider threat management program is essential for organizations looking to reduce the risk of insider threats. Such a program typically combines physical security, personnel awareness, and information-centric principles to provide comprehensive protection against potential insider threats. By establishing baselines for normal user behavior, increasing visibility into user activity, and enforcing security policies, organizations can proactively address potential insider threats before they result in significant damage.

An effective insider threat management program should also include employee awareness and training to help staff members recognize and report suspicious activity and understand the importance of following security policies. By providing employees with the tools and knowledge to detect and mitigate potential insider threats, organizations can further strengthen their defenses against malicious and inadvertent insider threats.

Establishing Baselines for Normal Behavior

Setting baselines for normal behavior is a key component of an insider threat management program, as it enables organizations to identify anomalies or deviations from the norm that may indicate potential threats. To establish these baselines, organizations should collect data on user activities, analyze this data to identify patterns of normal behavior, and set thresholds for what is considered normal behavior.

By establishing baselines for normal behavior, organizations can more effectively monitor user activity and identify any suspicious actions that may signify an insider threat. This proactive approach helps organizations stay ahead of potential threats and minimize the potential damage caused by insider attacks.

Continuous Monitoring and Incident Response

Continuous monitoring and incident response are essential components of an effective insider threat management program. By providing real-time visibility into an organization’s IT environment, continuous monitoring enables organizations to identify threats early, manage vulnerabilities proactively, and respond to incidents effectively. Furthermore, continuous monitoring can help organizations shift from compliance-driven risk management to data-driven risk management, ensuring a more comprehensive approach to security.

An effective incident response plan should define roles and responsibilities, outline a process for responding to incidents, and provide procedures for documenting and reporting incidents. Employee training is crucial for ensuring that everyone knows what to do when an incident occurs and for raising awareness of the risks posed by insider threats. By developing and implementing a robust incident response program, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of insider threats and minimize the potential damage caused by security incidents.

The Role of Employee Awareness and Training

Employee awareness and training play a critical role in preventing insider threats. By providing employees with the knowledge and tools to recognize and report suspicious behavior, organizations can proactively address potential insider threats before they result in significant damage. Furthermore, training helps employees understand the importance of data security and follow best practices for prevention.

In addition to raising awareness of the risks posed by insider threats, employee training should also focus on the organization’s security policies and the proper use of company systems. By ensuring that employees are well-versed in the organization’s security policies and procedures, organizations can minimize the risk of accidental or inadvertent insider threats and maintain a secure environment for sensitive data and systems.

Assessing the Effectiveness of Your Insider Threat Program

Evaluating the effectiveness of your insider threat program is crucial for maintaining a strong security posture and minimizing the risk of insider threats. By assessing the effectiveness of security policies, detection technologies, and employee training, organizations can identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments to their insider threat management program.

Some of the advantages of evaluating an insider threat program include constructing a defendable security program, enhancing the general method of incident response, aiding in the prevention of insider incidents, decreasing the expenses of an insider attack, and allowing the team to analyze, assess, and act on prospective insider threats.

By regularly assessing the effectiveness of their insider threat program, organizations can ensure that they are well-equipped to detect and mitigate potential threats, thereby maintaining the security and integrity of their sensitive data and systems.


In conclusion, insider threats pose significant risks to organizations, and it is crucial to understand the different types and manifestations of these threats. By implementing robust security policies, leveraging advanced detection technologies, and developing a comprehensive insider threat management program, organizations can effectively mitigate the risks posed by insider threats. By staying vigilant, monitoring user behavior, and providing employee awareness and training, organizations can proactively address potential threats before they result in significant damage. Remember, the greatest security risk may be hiding right under your nose, but with the right tools and knowledge, you can safeguard your organization from within.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is an example of an insider threat?

An example of an insider threat is when a departing employee takes materials or sensitive data out of the company for malicious reasons, such as out of revenge. This kind of threat can lead to serious damage and put confidential information at risk.

What are common types of insider threats?

There are two main types of insider threats: malicious and careless. A malicious insider is an employee or contractor with malicious intent to cause harm. Meanwhile, a careless insider could unintentionally cause data breaches through negligence or human error.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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