Security Technology

Protecting Against Internal Threats to Data Security

Whether it is the digital assets defining your product or the private information of your customers, a business’s data is fundamental to its success. Therefore, keeping it safe and out of the hands of malicious actors must be a top priority for every business looking to survive in the current cybercrime landscape.

Covid-19 created millions more employees working from home. All these new remote workers required seamless access to data to keep the business operating. Unfortunately, this opened the door to hackers and placed an enormous strain on IT departments worldwide.

Protecting Against Internal Threats

With so much more opportunity, cyberattacks have skyrocketed since 2020. A survey of IT professionals found the most significant increase since the pandemic is in data exfiltration – the unauthorized access or transfer of an organization’s private information.

While much of data security focuses on the external threat of cybercriminals spotting a vulnerability and breaching a company’s system, there are other areas of concern closer to home that can’t be ignored.

Looking in the Wrong Place

Internal threats to data security can be just as severe as the big scary hackers looking to tear down your protections and extort your information. It could be accidental, through manipulation, or a deliberate act.

Whatever is behind it, organizations need to consider the internal threat from their own employees’ actions when developing data security programs.

Accidents and Negligence

A sizeable percentage of data breaches are caused by accidents or pure negligence on behalf of the organization itself. There are many ways in which employees can mishandle company data. Granting access to the wrong individuals, sharing in the wrong setting, or losing it entirely. Common accidental data security issues include.

  • The use of unauthorized, unsecured devices.
  • Sharing information with external parties.
  • Installing unauthorized third party software.
  • Physical theft of an employee’s equipment.
  • Accidentally damaging equipment.

Often the fault lies with poorly defined or communicated security procedures and employees not knowing the correct processes to follow.

Social Engineering

Although caused by an external party, social engineering requires the manipulation of a company insider. Social engineering in cybersecurity is the act of tricking an employee into revealing sensitive information or helping an attacker looking to breach the network.

Common social engineering approaches include attackers.

  • Impersonating a friend, colleague, or another trusted individuals.
  • Blackmailing an employee.
  • Pretending to be a legitimate brand, often offering a prize or reward.

While technology can help flag digital communication containing dangerous links, overcoming social engineering also requires education.

Employee Sabotage or Theft

Employees have trusted access to the company’s physical infrastructure housing confidential information. This data is precious to the company, and malicious insiders have the opportunity to take advantage of that fact. They may look to harm or sabotage the organization or steal it for their own personal gain.

Employees can expose, sell, or repurpose hard-earned data by physically stealing storage devices (hard drives, USBs, etc.), and businesses need strict policies only offering privileges to trusted individuals.

Departing Employees Take Data with Them

Research recently published exposed the growing problem of employees exfiltrating data when they leave a job. In a survey of 2000 workers, 29% admitted to taking data with them after changing positions.

71% of IT leaders polled believe these acts generate security risks for the organization, and 45% stated the problem has increased in the past year. This is not surprising given the large numbers of resignations and career changes we’ve seen following the pandemic.

The most common reason employees gave was to help in their new job (58%), followed by the belief the information belonged to them (53%). Worryingly, 44% stated they took information with them specifically to share it with new employers. The business areas where data exfiltration is most likely to happen were marketing (63%), HR (37%), and IT (37%)

While malicious intent and using company information to benefit careers is at play, it is also essential to consider that many of these employees may not realize that what they are doing is wrong. Companies need to clearly state their data ownership and security policies during the offboarding process.

Protecting Against Internal Data Security Threats

Internal threats to data security can be addressed through adequate employee training, effective access controls, and suitable data management technology. Businesses need to monitor their data, understand who needs access to what, and identify anomalous behavior.

Steps to consider when protecting against internal data concerns include.

  • Staff education: Preventing your staff from compromising data security accidentally goes a long way to safeguard your network. This could be cybersecurity best practices, identifying suspicious communications, or learning potential issues employees should flag immediately.
  • Privileged access controls: Limiting access to only what an employee needs in their role reduces the risk of insider attacks.
  • Third-party software use: Consider any potential vulnerabilities in third-party software and what access to your network these applications are granted.
  • Restrictions on data handling: It is possible to implement restrictions on when, where, and how data is transferred or copied. This could be blocking sensitive data from being sent to external sources or transferred to unauthorized devices.
  • Understanding employee behavior: Monitoring and analyzing how employees use your network can help identify unusual behavior early and prevent attacks from escalating.

Data Security Solutions and Technologies

Thankfully, many data security solutions are available to solve common internal threats, allowing your business to maintain and simplify operations while staying safe.

This could be for data discovery and classification, data masking, access management, encryption, data loss prevention or much more.

With the right tools, you can get complete visibility of the data in your network and understand how it is accessed, used, transferred, and disposed of in your organization.

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About the author

Vidya Menon

Vidya is an online content developer for Justwebworld. She has a BA in English Language and Literature and an MA in Current Linguistics. She is a passionate reader, writer and researcher with a background in academic writing.