Insider Threat Indicators: Finding the Enemy Within

Insider Threat Indicators: Finding the Enemy Within

Organizations strive to protect their sensitive data and information. Many organizations allocate numerous resources to their cyber defensive measures and form a security operations center (SOC) to protect themselves against cyberattacks.

While cyberattacks are a threat to companies, they are not as common and, in some cases, not as dangerous as hard-to-detect insider threats. In this article, we provide you with information about insider threats, including what they are, the indicators that can help you detect them, and the best tools to provide protection against them.

What is an insider threat?

An insider threat is malicious activity aimed at organizations and carried out by people who are employed by the organization. The suspects in these scenarios are typically employees or contractors who have access to the organization’s network, including databases and applications.

Types of insider threats

There are several ways that an individual employed by the company becomes an insider threat:

  • Malicious insider — an individual who abuses their access and credentials to carry out activities with malicious intent, typically in the form of stealing information for financial and personal gain
  • Careless insider — someone who unknowingly or mistakenly creates vulnerabilities and exposes the system or network to outside threats. This is the most common insider threat since it can happen to anyone without intention by clicking on a misleading link or forgetting a flash drive that contains sensitive information.
  • Compromised insider — an outsider who achieved insider access by posing as a user with legitimate access such as an employee, contractor or partner. This can include corporate espionage.

Examples of insider threat indicators

Any form of irregular behavior at the system or network level that indicates suspicious activity would constitute an insider threat. There are numerous insider threat indicators, and knowing how to recognize the signals and keep track of employees is a major part of insider threat prevention. Examples include:

  • Poor performance reviews — When performance reviews of an employee suddenly start to drop, it might be a sign of a disgruntled employee who has lost interest in their work or loyalty to the company. On the other hand, a poor performance review may cause an employee to take offense and abuse their access to hinder the organization’s operations in an attempt to “get back” at the company.
  • Policy disagreements — Employees who vocally express their disagreements with company policies may become insider threats. This typically occurs when they decide to take action to encourage the company to make the change in policies they desire.
  • Displeased employees — Employees who are frequently arguing and getting into conflicts with co-workers and supervisors can take out their frustration in ways that may cause damage to the organization. More ways to detect disgruntled employees are: declining performance, more mistakes than usual, missing deadlines, and constantly arriving late to the office.
  • Financial distress — Employees under duress from financial causes are constantly under pressure. They can be easily exploited by outsiders. Selling valuable data to outside parties can be an attempt to manage their debts.
  • Suspicious financial gain — Employees who start to make big purchases like new cars that seem more expensive than what they should be able afford in their pay grade can be a cause for concern. They should be watched carefully to make sure they are not trading company information for a profit.
  • Odd working hours — Employees who sign into the network outside of working hours at suspicious times, such as the middle of the night, could be attempting to conceal malicious intent.
  • Unusual international travel — Employees who suddenly start to take multiple trips to other countries and/or cities may be engaging in corporate espionage. These employees are often referred to as moles because they might be secretly employed by other organizations, industrial or governmental, to steal information from other companies.
  • Leaving the company — Anyone who leaves the company is a potential risk for an insider threat. It is a good practice to look at past network activities of such individuals and ensure they have not abused their access in any form.
  • Overly enthusiastic employees — Employees who are overly enthusiastic could be acting under a secret agenda and will try to prove their value to expand their access to data in an attempt to abuse it.

Insider threat detection solutions

Insider threats are more elusive and harder to detect and prevent than traditional external threats. An unauthorized party who tries to gain access to the company’s network might raise many flags. However, a former employee who sells the same information the attacker tried to access will raise none. This is why many insider threats are not detected before they carry out their malicious intent.

The most common insider threats are not motivated by malicious intent and the damage they cause is unintentional. To deal with these kinds of threats, certain security solutions and policies have to be applied. For example, increasing visibility into user access and activities is a good practice for detecting and defending against insider threats.

Using UEBA to detect insider threat indicators

User and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) tracks, collects and analyzes data gathered from computer and user activities. UEBA uses several techniques to distinguish between normal and suspicious behaviors.

To enable them to perform this task, UEBA solutions require a learning period. After UEBA learns the normal patterns of behavior, it can flag suspicious activities that do not fit these guidelines. UEBA solutions can detect suspicious activities that might indicate insider threats, such as irregular online behavior, unusual access activities, credential abuse, and large uploads or downloads of data.

The most critical function of UEBA is the ability to detect suspicious activities that might be the result of malicious intent, and flag the individuals who perform them as insider threats before they can cause significant damage.

Using SOAR to detect insider threat indicators

Security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) tools are cybersecurity solutions designed to allow organizations to collect data and alerts on security threats generated by multiple sources.

Many organizations use SOAR solutions within their security operations center (SOC) to augment other security tools like security information and event management (SIEM). A SOC can use the automated functions of SOAR to deal with threats more quickly and efficiently in addition to reducing staff workloads and standardizing security incident response processes.

SOAR assists the SOC analysts in decisionmaking and groups all the information together. SOAR can detect suspicious activities, such as multiple users created in your system, and let the analysts in the SOC decide how to act against these users. Additionally, SOAR provides SOC analysts with playbooks they can use to run automated workflows and perform various actions to contain and mitigate threats. These capabilities reduce the potential to cause critical damage.


Protecting your business against insider threats is as important as traditional cybersecurity practices that focus on external threats. However, insider threats are often much harder to detect than threats from outside the organization that cannot be blocked by antivirus and firewalls. By looking for insider threat indicators, you can stay ahead, and respond to one of the biggest threats facing your organization.

In terms of threat solutions, Exabeam offers capabilities such as SIEM, UEBA and SOAR, which can help recognize suspicious employee behavior that might indicate malicious intent. Read more about Exabeam’s solutions to see how you can develop a better security strategy and protect your environments and systems from a range of internal and external threats.