Detecting And Mitigating
Search for the key that will minimize risk
- By Don Campbell
- Jan 01, 2017
Insider threat has become an increasingly prevalent concern for organizations,
and the damage from breaches caused by current or former employees,
contractors or partners misusing access credentials can be devastating.
Despite the very real risk, many organizations are not certain whether the
policies and processes they employ, such as candidate screening and background
checks, are adequate for identifying potential problems. While they recognize
the risk presented by insider threat, they may not be confident in their ability
to detect, or what solutions are the most effective for prevention. Some organizations
may also be hesitant to monitor employees for insider threat for fear of causing
dissatisfaction or interfering with their ability to perform their jobs. That type
of thinking may well lead to negative repercussions at some point.
They say that the first step in solving any problem is to understand that there’s
a problem in the first place, which bodes well given the recognition of the need for
protection from insider threat. It is the next steps—understanding what constitutes
insider threat, prevention, detection and response—that merit further discussion.
UNDERSTANDING INSIDER THREAT
Insider threat or attack covers a full spectrum of actions, ranging from wide-scale
catastrophic incidents to those that are less severe but still damaging in some way.
Most notably are the high-profile, well-publicized attacks like the Sony breach,
which was found to have been the result of insider attack because trusted credentials
were used. But while these breaches can be devastating, not all insider threat
is as obvious. It might be as simple as a sales rep who takes an account list when
leaving a job, a programmer who takes a piece of proprietary code, or even an
employee who deletes important emails prior to resigning. Given the complex psychology
that plays into these and other threats, it can be difficult to understand, let
alone mitigate or avoid potential problems.
Here are three key factors in addressing and mitigating insider threat, along
with best practices for effectively accomplishing each.
The first step in addressing insider threat is prevention, which begins with a formalized
program to address the issue. To do this, organizations must develop strong
policies or revisit those already in place using enterprise-wide risk assessments to
consider threats from insiders and trusted business partners.
In addition to policies, organizations must also have a strong understanding of the
assets and locations that must be protected, as well as the risk level associated with
each. For example, data centers and control rooms would be labeled as the highest
priority for protection, while office supply rooms could lie on the opposite end.
Credentialing is another major part of prevention. Badges must be issued with
access privileges that are specific to each individual, department and/or job title.
The most diligent approach organizations can employ when approaching insider threat prevention is the “least privilege” concept. Enforcing a strict separation of
duties among employees ensures each individual is given the lowest level of access
needed to perform their jobs, making it impossible for employees to use their
credentials to enter areas or access assets that should be available only to management
or security staff.
Effective prevention measures include periodic security training for employees.
Focused training can help them understand that insider threat prevention is a risk
that everyone in the organization shares and employees are being entrusted with
this responsibility as part of the team. The right training and awareness program
can help employees see security as a provider of services that eases access requests
and other processes with automation. Once they can view security as a positive,
employees become a valuable part of detection, which is the second – and often
most challenging – factor in mitigating insider threat.
The main key to detection is to implement strong metrics for measuring usage and
identifying potential problems. Along with metrics, it is important to institute stringent
access controls and monitoring policies to develop and rank potential risk
factors that will help focus ongoing activities. There are a number of ways organizations
can accomplish these goals, including passively monitoring for misused
credentials or monitoring and responding to suspicious or disruptive behavior.
Analysis of credential usage helps establish employees’ typical patterns. Any
action outside of that norm will flag the system of a potential insider threat, which
can then be monitored to determine if that is the case or whether there is a harmless
explanation for this deviation. If the threat is real, security can work to avoid
Employees can play a major role in effective insider threat detection but getting
them to participate can be difficult if they feel like they’re being watched or that
they aren’t trusted. A good first step is to initiate regular security training and
make clear that any reporting is confidential. When people feel like a trusted member
of the team, they are more willing to participate in the “if you see something,
say something” aspect of detection.
The final step in mitigating insider threats is to develop a strong, comprehensive
plan for responding to incidents. The goal of response is to ensure swift follow-up
with the most appropriate actions by the security team.
Effective response requires linking data generated by access and other systems
to individuals’ actions, which must be actively monitored and audited to generate
real-time awareness of emerging threats. There are automated solutions that
monitor and audit these systems for anomalies and correlate them with other data.
Once data has been reviewed, raising the issue of atypical access patterns with
an employee can be sensitive. After someone attempts to access an unauthorized
area, security might send an email asking the employee if they need access to that
area. Proactively de-escalating the situation helps prevent honest employees from
feeling attacked. For those who may be planning or considering insider theft or
other action, it is a warning.
For handling the worst-case scenario where an insider breach has already occurred,
organizations must develop a comprehensive employee termination procedure
that includes deactivating credentials to remove access privileges immediately.
Simply knowing insider threat is a problem is not enough without concrete
policies and procedures in place to mitigate or avoid these types of breaches. By
implementing best practices to ensure effective prevention, detection and response,
organizations can ensure not only that they are actively working
to prevent these threats, but also that employees are willing to
become an extension of the security team, helping to prevent
potentially devastating consequences.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Security Today.