The value of information today makes it a desirable commodity and a tempting target for theft and sabotage, putting those creating and using it at risk of attack. Criminals are constantly finding new ways of bypassing security tools and security developers are working to stay ahead by building more intelligent solutions.

The loss of information can cause great harm to a company, but by taking the right precautions and using the appropriate tools, the risk can be greatly minimized. Read on to find out what types of information security threats you have to consider, including examples of common threats, and how you can mitigate your risks.

In this post, you will learn:

What are information security threats?

Information security threats are vulnerabilities that lead to accidental or malicious exposure of information, either digital or physical. These threats include theft of sensitive information due to cyberattacks, loss of information as a result of damaged storage infrastructure, and corporate sabotage. Information security often overlaps with cybersecurity and encompasses offline data storage and usage policies.

The three principles of information security, collectively known as the CIA Triad, are:

  • Confidentiality—access to information should be restricted to authorized individuals only. Confidentiality breaches give outsiders and individuals with revoked authorization access to data,, or occur in inappropriate settings, such as public spaces.
  • Integrity—information should not be modified or deleted except by those with authorization.
  • Availability—information can be accessed by authorized users quickly and without undue hassle, in a useable format. This requires that storage and processing systems, security controls, and means of delivery are functioning as intended.

You need to protect your network from information security threats, as they have the potential to cause fiscal and intellectual damage via service blackouts, failure of equipment, theft of data, or even breaches of national security.

Types of Information Security Threats

Organizations can face threats that arise from either unintentional circumstances or malicious intent. Attacks often exploit unidentified vulnerabilities, which allow them to slip through undetected.

Unintentional
Unintentional threats are categorized as objective and subjective vulnerabilities.

Objective vulnerabilities occur due to:

  • Dependence on the technical design of equipment or supporting software
  • Data emission issues like leaked transmission signals
  • Environmental circumstances like damage caused by water, electricity, temperature, or natural disasters
  • Failure of housing or protective structures
  • Location of devices or means of data transfer such as the use of laptops in public places or with shared networks

Subjective vulnerabilities occur due to:

  • Human error or lack of training
  • Insufficient restriction of data access
  • Improper equipment maintenance
  • Incorrect protocols for manipulation of data

Malicious
Malicious threats can be either intentional, as in sabotage, or opportunistic, taking advantage of circumstances such as insufficient user training. These threats can take the form of an intentional breach of data through implanted hardware, but more frequently the attack vector is malicious software, known as malware, which operates through active infection or passive response to user action.

Threats caused by active infection include:

  • Viruses—can corrupt data or execute programs once a device is infected. They are bits of code that are self-replicating and attached to otherwise legitimate files and spread through file-sharing or file transfer.
  • Worms—pieces of code that are self-replicating and network-aware. They are often not as destructive as viruses and function more to inconvenience the user.
  • Trojans—work by concealing malicious code within benign software. This code can then be used to attack devices directly or by providing a backdoor gateway.
  • Bots—after infection, they connect to a central server allowing an attacker to control a device remotely. Bots can be used in a network as proxies to complete tasks from distributing spam to targeting websites for denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.

Threats created by user action include:

  • Adware—usually not intended to compromise security but to breach privacy. These programs are often embedded in freeware to monitor user interests and display relevant ads, and can be used to compromise devices.
  • Spam—unsolicited or too frequent emails that consume server space. They may contain images or links that direct users to malicious software when loaded, or phishing attempts meant to gain personal information such as passwords.
  • Spyware—silently monitor device activity and collect information revealed during operation. Generally, spyware installs itself after being dropped by a virus or trojan and takes the form of a keylogger, recording keystrokes along with contextual data to identify passwords and personal information.
  • Ransomware—encrypts files or otherwise denies access to data until a condition is met, usually a paid ransom.
  • Rootkits—code that provides root access and administrative privileges to the attacker once inserted. Rootkits can be used to provide remote access to data, to insert other malicious code or anything else accomplished by administrative rights.

Top Information Security Threats

While each of the threats covered above present a significant security risk, some threats occur more frequently than others and security teams need to be proactive and pay more attention to them.

Technology with weak security
The rate and competitiveness of technological development to meet production demands often results in compromised security measures . The ease with which relatively untrained individuals can release applications and programs can lead to insufficient security due to a lack of awareness or obligation.

Social media attacks
Most people use some form of social media and often share a large amount of information about themselves without meaning to. Attackers infect social media sites themselves or can use information taken from these sites to predict situations where users are more vulnerable to attack.

Mobile malware
Mobile devices are vulnerable because of their constant connection to the Internet and the ease of which new applications can be downloaded. Inconsistent use of security measures with mobile devices, in conjunction with our reliance on them, make them an appealing and easy target for attack.

Lack of encryption
Encryption involves encoding data so that only someone with access to a specific key can decode it and can be very effective at mitigating damage when devices or data are lost or stolen. Unfortunately, this measure is often ignored due to the complexity involved in implementing it correctly and the lack of a legal mandate.

Improper handling of data
It is increasingly common for organizations to allow employees to use personal devices for work purposes (known as BYOD), which often increases security risk. Although it is possible to manage devices and network connections, organizations have little control over what employees do with personal devices during non-working hours, so it is difficult to mitigate risk.

Neglecting proper configuration
The use of third-party data tools increases potential access to data when security settings are not configured properly. These tools are often designed for broader use, so it is up to each organization to determine the settings appropriate to its needs.

Social engineering
Attackers often send emails or messages with malware from friendly sources or provide a front that seems trustworthy to lure victims through psychological or social manipulation. Since the source seems reliable, people are more likely to open links or install programs from them, and they are more likely to have their systems infected.

How UEBA and SOAR can help mitigate information security threats

User and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) and security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) are technologies that aggregate threat activity data and automate processes related to its identification and analysis, increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of security teams.

UEBA
UEBA uses machine learning to construct a baseline of normal behavior for users or devices within a network, which helps to detect deviations from the baseline behavior. Behavior models and machine learning assign various levels of risk depending on the type of behavior. The risk score of the user or device for an event is determined and is stitched with related events into a timeline to assess if these events pose a threat to an organization. By tying together the behaviors identified as anomalous, analysts can trace all the steps an attacker has taken and thus pin down the threat quickly.

Unlike SIEM, UEBA solutions can detect threat activity over an extended period across multiple organizational systems. UEBA allows security teams to work more efficiently by narrowing down the number of threats they need to investigate, generating alerts, and providing information on breaches that occur.

UEBA can help identify a variety of insider threats, data exfiltration and lateral movement:

  • Malicious insiders—by determining a baseline of behavior for users, UEBA can detect abnormal activity and assist in interpreting intent. For example, a user might have genuine access privileges but not need to access sensitive data at a given time or place.
  • Compromised insiders—users with access privileges can become compromised through malware or phishing attempts, allowing their credentials to be used to initiate an attack. Attackers often change credentials, IP addresses, or devices once in the system. By comparing device and user behavior to baselines, UEBA can identify these attacks in a way that traditional security tools like firewalls and antivirus cannot.
  • Data exfiltration—tools use machine learning and behavior models to gather all evidence related to sensitive data exfiltration to quickly investigate and alert on anomalous activity. This includes data uploads, remote logins, database activities, cloud access, and file share access.
  • Lateral movement—attackers often traverse a network using a variety of IP addresses, credentials, and machines in search of key assets and data. UEBA tools detect this movement by enriching data with context which allows them to distinguish between servers, users, service accounts, HR personnel, finance staff, and executives and determine if they are behaving suspiciously.

UEBA can also prioritize high-risk events and monitor large numbers of devices:

  • Incident prioritization—can help determine which incidents are particularly suspicious or dangerous by evaluating them in the context of organizational structure and potential for damage.
  • Monitoring large numbers of devices—can be used even when a baseline for normal behavior has not yet been developed, using heuristic methods like supervised machine learning, Bayesian networks, unsupervised learning, reinforced machine learning, and deep learning.

SOAR
SOAR tools collect data for security investigations from multiple sources, facilitate incident analysis and triage with machine assistance, define and direct threat response workflow, and enable automated incident response.

Security teams can integrate SOAR tools with other security solutions to respond to incidents more effectively. They can use these solutions through a generic interface, eliminating the need for expert analysts specializing in each system. SOAR allows security teams to automate enforcement and status tracking or auditing tasks based on decision-making workflows as assigned.

SOAR tools simplify incident management and collaboration by automatically generating incidents based on guidelines and including relevant contextual information. They provide a timeline of events for analysis and allow for the addition of evidence as it is found as well as assisting case management by accepting documentation of threats, responses, and outcomes. A comprehensive UEBA solution goes hand-in-hand with SOAR as an effective investigation tool, where the ultimate goal of SOC analysts is to reduce the time needed to detect threats and respond to incidents.

Finally, SOAR tools aid security teams in effectively responding to security incidents by proactively enforcing processes to gather comprehensive evidence, seamlessly integrating with various third party services and security vendors, and associating a timeline of events to pinpoint anomalous behavior.

Conclusion

While it may seem overwhelming to protect information from all possible threats, the risk of these threats can be greatly minimized when appropriate steps are taken. As the volume of data and the number of users increase, tools for monitoring and preventing threats become increasingly valuable. Early implementation of these tools and strategies can increase the effectiveness of your security efforts and reduce your risks substantially.

The more time a security incident remains unmitigated, the longer your organization is exposed to breach risks. Orchestrating your systems and automating your response can eliminate much of the time and tedium required to mitigate security events while freeing your analysts to focus on more critical issues that demand their high-level skills.

Further reading

Director, Product Marketing

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