95% of cyber security breaches are due to human error, which in reality means it could be any user, at any time. The best bit? They probably won’t even know they’re doing something wrong, but they have inadvertently just become an unintentional insider threat. As Andy Pearch, Head of IA Services, CORVID, explains, organisations need to stop playing the blame game and pointing fingers at users when the system is compromised and instead ensure they have the right technology in place to take back control of their security defences.
Unintentional insider threats
A person becomes an unintentional insider threat when they unwittingly allow a cyber attacker to achieve their goal – whether that’s a breach of systems or information, or diverting payments to a criminal’s account. This can be through negligence or lack of knowledge, but can also be a result of just doing an everyday job.
Unintentional insider threats are particularly dangerous because the traditional methods of identifying insider threats don’t work – they don’t try to hide emails or files, because as far as they’re aware, they’re not doing anything wrong. If an attacker presents themselves as a legitimate person with the right credentials to request a change, the unsuspecting employee will probably respond exactly as the attacker was hoping.
Trusted employees have access to company-sensitive information, assets, and intellectual property, and permission to make financial transactions – often without requiring any further approval. Threat actors target these privileged, trusted people – impersonating suppliers, regulators, and known colleagues – and try to encourage them to do something they have permission to do, but shouldn’t.
Removing reliance on users
Email allows threat actors to communicate with users with almost no defensive barriers between them. Even the most diligent employee gets distracted, rushed, or slightly too tired, which is all it takes for a malicious email to achieve its objective – whether that’s clicking a link, opening an attachment, or trusting the email’s source enough to reply. Employees don’t expect to be attacked in a safe office environment but threat actors prey on this perceived safety to catch them off guard and socially engineer them into doing something they shouldn’t.
Many people think they know what a spam email looks like, but 97% of people are unable to identify a sophisticated phishing email. This is hardly surprising when considering there are, comparatively, so few highly-convincing fake emails; because they aren’t seen every day, employees aren’t always looking out for them. Then there are some methods of impersonation that organisations can’t realistically be expected to detect – for example, spotting the difference between a 1, l, and I (1, L, and i, respectively). Attackers know that employees aren’t meticulously scanning every email for tiny details like this, so they take advantage. If an organisation’s email security currently relies on users correctly identifying malicious emails 100% of the time, quite simply, their defences are going to succumb to attack.
Preventing the unintended
Research shows that 90% of organisations feel vulnerable to insider attacks, so now is the time for change. Monitoring normal access and behaviour patterns can give early warning signs of potential intentionally malicious activity, but the same can’t be said for unintentional insider threats. The attacker’s request could be comfortably within the scope of an employee’s daily duties.
The information available to users is often insufficient for them to determine whether an email is legitimate. As such, they should be suspicious and challenge requests, especially if they’re unexpected or urgent. Checks should also be put in place for a second pair of eyes to confirm certain requests before any action is taken, for example, changing payment details or making unscheduled wire transfers. If the request is for a financial transaction or asks for sensitive or personal information, phone the person who made the request (or better still, speak to them face-to-face) to confirm it’s genuine.
There is only so much humans can do. By having technology in place that alerts users to potentially malicious content and enables them to make an informed decision about an email’s nature and legitimacy before acting on it, organisations can take back control of their security defences instead of playing the blame game and pointing fingers at users when the system is compromised.