Skip to main content

Truth About Insider Threats

The 'insider' is the dude in the office.  He (or she) probably works in IT and looks and acts like a regular employee.  They are however, probably a bigger risk to the organisations corporate information than a hacker on the public internet.

An insider is generally seen as a trusted user of the network.  They have legitimate accounts and access on the corporate LAN to access, copy, modify and delete data without issue.  So why are they are threat?  We can define threat to be the potential exploitation of a vulnerability.  The vulnerability in this case could be the trust, means and motive of an employee to perform a potentially malicious act against the organisations data and infrastructure.  The motive and intent part is optional to an extent, as a malicious act may not necessarily be intentional, but could simply be erroneous or ignorance related.  For example the opening of a malware link.

Intent
Intent is a complex issue to discuss.  I think in the narrow sense they may be fewer individuals who will actively go and perform a malicious act against a corporate network.  However they do exist.  For example, the employee working on a notice period, disgruntled promotion hopefuls, an employee leaving to work for a competitor all may have some limited active motive to perform some sort of information discharge.

The intent though could be more subtle:  Curiosity of a super user to browse data shares not relating to their line of work; The checking of pay or HR information because 'they can'.  Or for example, users who don't want to follow desktop policy for things like screen savers, anti-virus or internet browser settings are all in a way creating a threat to the trusted network.

Identification
Managing, reducing or removing the threat of an insider attack can only be achieved if a correct understanding of the level and impact of the current threat has been completed.  It's important to be able to effectively identify 'who has access to what' within an organisation and correctly certify existing corporate LAN access levels.  This first step is a common approach for many compliance initiatives such as Sarbanes Oxley, PCI-DSS and components of ISMS frameworks such as ISO 27001.  Once existing access and users have been certified and any access misalignments and redundant accounts removed, it becomes easier to manage the remaining users and associated assets.

Data asset identification is also important here.  Classifying data and assigning data owners is a well documented process and one that is often time consuming and ongoing.  Understanding which data is critical and in turn which transactions access that data is an important step in creating a process to help protect the internal resources.

Mitigation
Mitigation, as opposed to complete remediation, is often the most effective response to insider threat.  Managing the risk involved is often more cost effective than attempting to remove the risk entirely - it can often be the case of spending $1000 on a padlock for a $100 bike.  Mitigation can be achieved in several ways.

  • Based on the risk identification and access certification process, users should be assigned the 'least privilege' required to do their job
  • Management of high privileged accounts is critical
  • Implement regularly updated Separation of Duty policies across key systems
  • Develop clear and well disseminated security policies and regular employee re-training
  • Implementation of a Data Leak Prevention process with associated tooling
  • Remove shared accounts and implement account-to-employee relationships to help drive auditing and accountability
  • Implementation of a Security Information & Event Management solution for centralised management of system, network and application logs
  • Use of abnormal access identification processes against the SIEM warehouse to help filter false positives and identify true access threats
One of the more advanced and stringent approaches is to treat content on the LAN as if it were held on a WAN or even public internet.  With the increased blurring of LAN boundaries due to mobile and cloud computing, the LAN is no longer the safe haven it once was, which includes the transient nature of employee working patterns and behaviour.

(Simon Moffatt)


Popular posts from this blog

Customer Data: Convenience versus Security

Organisations in both the public and private sector are initiating programmes of work to convert previously physical or offline services, into more digital, on line and automated offerings.  This could include things like automated car tax purchase, through to insurance policy management and electricity meter reading submission and reporting.

Digitization versus Security

This move towards a more on line user experience, brings together several differing forces.  Firstly the driver for end user convenience and service improvement, against the requirements of data security and privacy.  Which should win?  There clearly needs to be a balance of security against service improvement.  Excessive and prohibitive security controls would result in a complex and often poor user experience, ultimately resulting in fewer users.  On the other hand, poorly defined security architectures, lead to data loss, with the impact for personal exposure and brand damage.

Top 5 Security Predictions for 2016

It's that time of year again, when the retrospective and predictive blogs come out of the closet, just before the Christmas festivities begin.  This time last year, the 2015 predictions were an interesting selection of both consumer and enterprise challenges, with a focus on:


Customer Identity ManagementThe start of IoT security awarenessReduced Passwords on MobileConsumer PrivacyCloud Single Sign On
In retrospect, a pretty accurate and ongoing list.  Consumer related identity (cIAM) is hot on most organisation's lips, and whilst the password hasn't died (and probably never will) there are more people using things like swipe login and finger print authentication than ever before.

But what will 2016 bring?


Mobile Payments to be Default for Consumers

2015 has seen the rise in things like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay hitting the consumer high street with venom.  Many retail outlets now provide the ability to "tap and pay" using a mobile device, with many banks also offer…

Online-ification: The Role of Identity

The Wikipedia entry for Digital Transformation, "refers to the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society".  That is a pretty broad statement.

An increased digital presence however, is being felt across all lines of both public and private sector initiatives, reaching everything from being able to pay your car tax on line, through to being able to order a taxi based on your current location.  This increased focus on the 'online-ification' of services and content, drives a need for a loosely coupled and strong view of an individual or thing based digital identity.