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How to identify and overcome insider threats

23rd September 2019

Networks aren’t dissimilar to the human body. Sometimes, the greatest threats to wellbeing are not external, but internal. The dominant narrative around best-practice network security focuses on external attack vectors: infiltration, DDoS attackers, viruses. Internal vulnerabilities, and their potential consequences, are commonly overlooked.

This is a problem, however. Insider threats are able to bypass traditional security systems. It’s the spy in the castle. The army secreted in the wooden horse. The disgruntled betrayer. Internal threats undermine our best efforts to keep networks protected.

But like all problems, the solution begins with awareness. Here, we’ll talk about the dangers and challenges of insider threats, and how to identify them.

Who and What Are Insider Threats

First, who are these nefarious insiders? Well, anyone with access to the network. An employee. A contractor. A cleaner with an inexplicably high degree of technical knowledge. Anybody with network access has the potential to cause harm.

Internal threats can be deliberate or not. Unwitting or non-deliberate damage can come from employees that fall for scams and disclose critical information, such as credentials. Employee training helps to mitigate some of this, but scams are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and even veterans make mistakes (as testified to by numerous real-world examples).

More common, however, are insider threats originating from malicious actors: those with the intention to cause harm and the know-how to do so.

Insider Threat Challenges

Insider threats from malicious actors create the challenge of detection: they’re far more difficult to identify and track. This is especially the case for a tech-savvy insider with intimate knowledge of networks and their security systems. Such an individual is better at covering their tracks; they know how to move stolen data, create confusion and obfuscation, and disguise their actions.

Once external tampering is ruled out, the fault of network disturbances is usually assumed to be that of the network. That is, problem diagnosis is made more problematic by an incorrect assumption of fault.

Unlike non-deliberate actors, education isn’t enough to ward against malicious actors. Better tools are required. For large networks – and especially for large distributed networks – it’s impossible to watch everything. Prevention begins with oversight – the ability to see what is happening within a network in real-time – and extends to insight: the ability to understand what has happened, why it happened and who is responsible. Without this, there’s the challenge of evidence. If you expect an employee is responsible, but don’t have the verifiable proof to back it up, you’re nowhere closer to solving the problem. Organisations err on the side of caution.

How To Identify Threats And Gain Insight

Manual detection, even when it’s successful, is too resource consuming to be sustainable. As with everything related to network performance, threat detection is about efficiency: identifying the exact root cause of the problem in the quickest time.

The earliest you can identify and analyse a problem, the less damage (quantifiable in cost) is incurred. Network traffic analysis, then, is the key to protecting against insider threats. More than additional eyes on the network, you need software that can identify irregularities and unusual patterns in real-time, instantly alerting network managers.

Other indicators detectable with network traffic analysis include violations of security policies and procedures, unauthorised data access, or the use of a single set of user credentials across many different servers and databases.

Scrutinizer by Plixer provides the network monitoring you need to detect, identify and resolve insider threats in their infancy. It allows you to monitor internal threats without diverting attention or resources from your network’s fortifications: additional security, but with no additional time requirement.

For more information about Scrutinizer by Plixer, insider threats, or to learn what network monitoring and analysis can do for your network, contact us today.

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