Survey: Insider Threats Surge Across U.S. Critical Infrastructure

Survey: Insider Threats Surge Across U.S. Critical Infrastructure

Over three-quarters (77%) of organizations across US critical national infrastructure (CNI) have seen a rise in insider-driven cyber threats in the last three years, according to new research by leading cyber security services firm Bridewell. The threat from within ranges from criminal intent to individual negligence, but those surveyed said an act of intentional destruction at the hands of an employee was committed on average at least every other week within the last year.

Bridewell’s findings come amidst a growing international focus on insider-driven cyber threats against critical infrastructure. The recent US Pentagon data leak, which saw a junior employee leak highly sensitive information, highlights the increased importance of strong insider threat controls and broader operational security.

The ‘Cyber Security in CNI: 2023’ research report, which surveyed 525 cyber security decision makers in the US, in the transport and aviation, utilities, finance, government, and communications sectors, reveals that increased insider threat could also be linked to increased geopolitical tension and the current economic pressures felt by individuals, with over a third (35%) of critical infrastructure organizations reported a rise in the number of internal employees turning to cyber crime due to poor economic conditions.

At the same time, the worry around cyberwarfare right now also remains high, with 81% of CNI organizations concerned the services that keep the US running are under threat. With high levels of risk associated with human factors, such as fear, natural error, or inadequate training, the research highlights the need for organizations to be particularly vigilant to insider threats and vulnerable employees as the economy continues to recover and nation-states remain politically motivated.

The research also highlighted that threats are continuing from all angles, with 38% of security decision makers worried social engineering and phishing attacks will increase as a direct result of economic uncertainty – which rises to 52% within the US finance sector.

The finance sector is under particular threat from ransomware attacks, with incidents occurring on average every 5-6 days in the past year compared with every two weeks across all sectors. A series of high-profile hacks against the sector, including February’s ransomware attack against financial software provider Ion Group, highlight fears that threat actors are preying on employees’ vulnerabilities and financial concerns to gain illicit access to sensitive critical data and systems.

Scott Nicholson, Co-CEO at Bridewell, commented: “Due to its importance to daily life and the economy, any insider threats whether through malice, negligence, or desperation, within critical infrastructure organisations could have severe and far-reaching consequences. The recent National Cybersecurity Strategy outlined the need for collaboration between private and public sector organizations to ensure national security is protected and maintained against threats from all angles. Sophisticated threat actors are primed to capitalize on human vulnerabilities and mistakes, so organizations must take proactive steps towards reducing insider risks through regular background checks, robust monitoring and access controls, and continual employee cybersecurity education and training that reflects the ever-evolving threat landscape. ”

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