Insider Threats: The Frequently Overlooked Cybersecurity Concern

nsider Threats

When people imagine hacking (like a cybersecurity breach), they paint a mental picture of a covert group of people far away, hammering away at their keyboards as they try to outwit the digital infrastructure on which they have set their eyes. In reality, hacking isn’t as exciting as portrayed in the movies. At other times, it’s an insider job.

An independent study carried out by Ponemon Institute reveals that the total average cost of insider data breaches in 2020 was a staggering $11.45 million, with over 4,716 cases reported. It has become increasingly important to digitally protect an organization from both external and internal threats, which are consistently rising.

Many consider detecting insider cybersecurity threats to be a futile effort as the process can quickly create a distrustful company culture. As such, many leave the issue of insider security threats to chance where they hope for the best and believe that the mole will eventually make a mistake that exposes him or her. Sadly, it doesn’t always go that way.

Secure coding practices and security applications are essential to curbing insider threats. It is important to establish that not every insider security breach results from the actions of malignant actors, a shocking 63% of insider security breaches are caused due to negligence, according to the abovementioned study.

According to another published research, over 600,000 laptops are stolen yearly in the United States of America, with 80% of such theft being committed by internal employees. It is also estimated that 10-15% of laptop thieves target these devices for the sensitive data housed in them.

One can learn a lot from how banks and other financial organizations minimize insider cybersecurity threats. While we admit that not every organization can afford the kind of checks and balances found in the highly regulated financial industry, a little investment in hardware and software can significantly help reduce the likelihood of insider threats.

Useful Tips For Mitigating Insider Cybersecurity Threats

Hardware Investment

It is important to ensure that laptops used for sensitive work should, at the very least, have fingerprint and face scanners as the default login authentication demand. Since many professionals are known to leave their devices unattended, these features coupled with a quick lock feature can help ensure that the only person with access to the laptop is the owner (as passwords can be learned or hacked).

the different kinds of hardware devices that can be used to authenticate user access

Software Investment

Digital infrastructure such as Gurucul’s User & Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) has been recommended by many as ideal for ensuring that internal cybersecurity threats are almost if not completely neutralized. If you think such software is expensive, you should remember that the average cybersecurity cost of a negligent employee or contractor is a whopping $307,111.

Staff Training

Institutions are beginning to offer cybersecurity training to equip staff with the necessary knowledge about cybersecurity threats and protocols. An example of this is the training course offered by Carnegie Mellon University, with the institution even offering cybersecurity resources and software. 

Designated Application Usage

Organizations that deal with sensitive data should mandate that documents or resources be stored on secure applications that encrypt data such that each access requires authentication. There are many encrypted storage applications to choose from in the market for this.

Authorization Requirements

A lot of software solutions are built with really lax authorization features. As many organizations use bespoke software solutions, it is imperative to demand and ensure that strict authorization features are put in place to ensure that user roles have only as much data access as they need. 

Depending on the industry, junior staff authorization has to limit access to user details. Details that can compromise the financial safety or overall security of a client shouldn’t be available to the junior staff.

Error Handling

Many software engineers allow default values to be input on behalf of users, which can be quite problematic in the long run. A user should be fully responsible for all their actions on a platform. A user should get error reports, or there should be enough input validation features written into the application code to prevent users from making supposed mistakes and getting away with them.

Client-side and server-side input validations are paramount when trying to protect the database of an organization. For most organizations, the database houses the entire value of the organization. Enough thought and effort should go into the process of foolproofing the client-side and server-side code as it can prevent incompetent or malignant staff from compromising the database.

  • Here’s an example of error handling using exceptions in C#:

Unit Testing

When building large enterprise applications, unit testing becomes invaluable. Writing great unit tests can be pretty beneficial in establishing a baseline for how certain integral processes and features should operate. It is quite common for developers to change some bits of their code, and it can have a far-reaching impact on the security of the application. 

Unit testing can help prevent logically inconsistent code from making it to the production pipeline. One of the responsibilities of a software engineer who produces software solutions is limiting how the client can use the software. The entire point of this is to ensure that the client behaves the way we want them to. 

Unit testing helps ensure that the code has fairly consistent logic that can prevent unwanted or unforeseen circumstances from playing out.

Here’s an example of unit testing using C#:

Software Testing

Unit testing is a fantastic way to improve the quality of software solutions. However, it has its limit. Holistically speaking, software testing is a crucial part of ensuring that the digital infrastructure is market-ready. If the software testing is done well, it significantly reduces the ways in which a malignant intruder can exploit or compromise a software solution.

One must duly test common threats like cross-origin resource sharing and other use-cases and edge-cases both manually and through automated testing. Much emphasis must be placed on ensuring that the client can’t possibly use the platform in ways we don’t want them to because enough features and fail-safes have been put in place to ensure that the software can respond to client activities.

Here’s an example of automated testing using cypress:

Final Thoughts

Handling insider threats can seem overwhelming because a business is partly built on the confidence that employees will act in the interest of their organization. This article reemphasizes the implicit burden placed on the staff to protect sensitive company information while explicitly discussing the ideas that software engineers are expected to make use of when protecting the digital infrastructure of organizations from both external and internal threats. While no system is foolproof, one creates security processes to make it more difficult to penetrate, reassuring clients that it will dissuade most attackers. Be that as it may, continuously evaluating commitment to the organization during and after recruitment, can help prevent insider cyber-attacks as well.