Insider Threat Prevention Best Practices

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Insider incidents, whether deliberate or accidental, can greatly harm your organization by causing financial and reputational damage, compliance breaches with potential fines, and operational interruptions. So, how can you prevent this from happening? What measures can you take to protect your organization from insider threats? In this guide, we will outline the best practices for insider threat protection to secure your organization and reduce risks, but before we do so, let’s define what insider threat is. 

What is an Insider Threat? 

Insider threats are cybersecurity risks that come from people within a company. These people may be employees, partners, contractors, or anyone else who has access to sensitive information or corporate resources and can accidentally or intentionally cause serious damage to the organization. Therefore, you need to manage insider threats to mitigate the risks and prevent such attacks.

What is Insider Threat Management?

Insider threat management refers to the processes and strategies that an organization implements to detect, prevent, and respond to threats posed by individuals within the organization who might have access to sensitive information or critical systems. The key components of effective insider threat management often include:

Risk Assessment: Evaluating which parts of the organization are most vulnerable to insider threats and what assets are most at risk.

Policies and Procedures: Developing clear guidelines that define acceptable and unacceptable behavior related to data security, use of IT resources, and access controls.

Training and Awareness: Educating staff about security practices, the importance of protecting sensitive information, and recognizing potential insider threat behaviors.

Monitoring and Detection: Using software tools to monitor user activities and data movements that can indicate malicious actions or policy violations.

Insider Threat Response and Management: Having a plan in place to respond to insider threats, including steps to mitigate damage, investigate incidents, and enforce disciplinary actions if necessary.

Continuous Improvement: Regularly updating policies, training, and technology to adapt to new security challenges and improve the organization’s ability to manage insider threats.

With that said, let’s discuss the best practices for preventing insider threats:

Insider Threat Prevention Best Practices

Perform an Enterprise-Wide Risk Assessment

A risk assessment can significantly reduce the risk of insider threats by systematically identifying and evaluating the vulnerabilities within an organization's security framework. To adhere to risk assessment best practices, the assessment should include the following steps:

  • Identify Sensitive Assets: Pinpoint the critical assets within your organization, such as proprietary data or key infrastructure, whose compromise could harm the organization. Apply data classification to prioritize your security efforts effectively.
  • Evaluate Accessibility and Exposure: Assess how accessible these sensitive assets are to different insiders and identify the potential threats these assets face, whether from malicious intent or accidental actions.
  • Assess Access Levels: Review the access levels granted to employees, contractors, and other insiders to ensure that the principle of least privilege, which limits user access to the minimum necessary to perform their job functions, is strictly enforced.
  • Identify Potential Vulnerabilities: Detect vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an insider, intentionally or through negligence.
  • Weigh Potential Impacts: Detail the potential impacts to the organization if these resources were compromised, considering aspects such as financial loss, legal consequences, and compliance penalties.

Enforce Policies and Controls

Enforcing policies and controls across an organization is a multidisciplinary effort that extends beyond the IT department. Collaboration with the HR department is essential to define the appropriate level of interaction each employee role should have with the IT environment. For instance, there should be proper implementation of user termination best practices to protect an organization legally and technologically from former employees.

These policies must be clearly documented and consistently updated to align with evolving security practices and regulatory requirements. They should comprehensively cover areas such as data protection regulations, management of third-party access, robust password protocols, and the monitoring of user activity. Policies must be accompanied by practical, enforceable controls and comprehensive training programs that ensure all employees understand their roles in safeguarding the organization's digital assets. Regular audits and reviews of these policies should be conducted to ensure compliance and to adapt to new security challenges as they arise. This integrated approach ensures a fortified defense against potential security breaches, enhancing the overall security posture of the organization.

Establish Physical Security in the Work Environment

The purpose of physical security is to limit unauthorized physical access to sensitive areas and information within an organization. Effective physical security measures, such as access control systems that require secure badges or biometric authentication, ensure that only authorized personnel can enter certain parts of a facility. Video camera surveillance should be used to monitor key areas. Surveillance cameras and security personnel also act as deterrents and monitoring tools by helping to detect and document suspicious behavior. Securing physical documents in locked cabinets and controlling access to printing and copying machines are necessary to prevent unauthorized reproduction and removal of sensitive information. By implementing strict physical security protocols, an organization can significantly reduce the risk of insider threats, as these measures not only prevent unauthorized access but also enhance the overall awareness and enforcement of security policies within the workspace.

Use Software Solutions to Secure Access

Organizations can deploy a range of software solutions specifically designed to monitor, control, and secure internal access to sensitive information and systems to effectively mitigate insider threats. Some of these software solutions include the following:

  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP) software to prevent unauthorized access or transmission of sensitive data.
  • User Behavior Analytics (UBA) can identify anomalies or deviations that might indicate insider threats, such as unauthorized access to sensitive data or unusual file transfers.
  • Endpoint Security Tools to detect the installation of unauthorized software and disable removable storage to prevent data theft.
  • Encryption software that encodes data and safeguards it from unauthorized access.
  • Identity and Access Management (IAM) Solutions to manage user identities and regulate access to organizational resources while enforcing the principle of least privilege to ensure that users are granted only the permissions necessary to perform their job functions.

Implement Proper Access Controls

Access controls are critical in reducing the risk of insider threats by managing and restricting who can access specific data, systems, or resources within an organization. Here’s how implementing strong access controls can mitigate these risks:

  • User authentication and Authorization: Proper authentication mechanisms ensure that only authorized personnel can access sensitive systems and data. All users should have a unique login ID to enter digital systems along with a password that adheres to password best practices. Ensure that all remote access is terminated when an employee leaves the organization.
  • Deploy role-based access controls (RBAC):  Ensure that permissions are grouped by roles rather than assigned to individual users and ensure that employees in administrator roles have separate, unique accounts for their administrative and non-administrative activities.
  • Privilege-elevation best practices: When users require additional access rights, they should adhere to a formalized request and approval process within the privileged access management system. Once approved, the user’s privileges should be elevated only for the duration necessary to complete the specified task.
  • Regular Access Reviews: Conduct regular reviews and audits of user access rights to ensure that the permissions are still appropriate for each user’s current role and prevent "permission creep," where employees accumulate access rights over time and may no longer need them.

Regularly Monitor Activities to Detect Unauthorized Actions

Security is not a one-time setup. It requires ongoing vigilance. Continuous monitoring and logging of access and activities are crucial for alerting organizations to unusual or unauthorized actions. Analyzing these logs can reveal patterns that suggest potential insider threats, allowing for timely interventions. It is important to regularly reassess whether employees require remote access or mobile devices to fulfill their duties. Employing a Security Information and Event Management system (SIEM) enables the logging, monitoring, and auditing of employee actions, and maintaining device logs for multiple years facilitates incident investigation and ensures historical evidence is readily available. Always monitor your security systems and address any suspicious or threatening behavior in accordance with your incident response policy. Additionally, maintain stringent control over remote access to the organization’s infrastructure to further secure your systems.

Train Employees for Security Awareness

Educating employees on the importance of security, proper use of access privileges, and the consequences of security violations is crucial for reinforcing access controls and reducing insider threats. Incorporating insider threat awareness into regular security training for all employees will pay dividends down the road. Conducting training and simulations to test employees against phishing or social engineering attacks can bolster your front-line defenses against attacks. Provide remedial training for those who fail these tests and encourage all employees to report security concerns. Consider incentives for those adhering to security best practices. 

Other Best Practice Steps to Take

A well-implemented backup strategy is crucial for mitigating insider threats by maintaining secure, recoverable copies of critical data. Such threats can include both deliberate sabotage, like data deletion or corruption, and accidental data loss. Regular backups ensure that data can be restored to a pre-compromise state, minimizing downtime and data loss. Store your backups and archived data in diverse, secure locations or in the cloud with strict access controls to protect data integrity and limit damage potential. Don’t overlook the importance of regularly testing your backups to ensure they can be effectively restored quickly to maintain operational continuity.

Equipment disposal also plays a crucial role in data security, as users may store sensitive information on local devices. Before disposing of or recycling disk drives, completely erase all data to ensure it is unrecoverable. Physically destroy old hard disks and other IT devices that contain critical information and assign a specific role to oversee and document the entire disposal process.


Recognize that eliminating all insider threats entirely is not feasible. Instead, you should aim to implement a comprehensive insider threat detection solution to monitor and manage these risks effectively. By implementing a well-designed strategy, organizations can proactively manage potential threats and cultivate a culture of security awareness. Regular audits and adapting to new security technologies will also enhance your defense mechanisms, ensuring that your organization remains resilient against evolving internal risks.

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