What are Insider Attacks and How to Prevent Them

by Robert Best on February 24, 2021
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What are Insider Attacks and How to Prevent Them

While you may expect most cyber threats to come from outside of your business issues within your business can cause major breaches as well. 

Not all threats are coming from hackers or cybercriminals trying daily to access your sensitive data. A growing number of threats are now coming from within your business.

To help reduce the risk of an insider attack you need to understand the signs of an attack.

What is an insider attack?

An insider attack is when a member of your business uses their access to your network to cause harm to the company. 

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency class insider threats as events that include "sabotage, theft, espionage, fraud, and competitive advantage" and they are "often carried out through abusing access rights, theft of materials, and mishandling physical devices."

So that means, although employees tend to be a common cause of insider threats, anyone with access to your company's data poses a security risk. 

Insider attacks have grown by 31 per cent in the last two years according to a 2020 Ponemon study. The study also found that the frequency of such incidents grew by 47 per cent over the same two years.

As we rely further on technology and digital solutions the access to your sensitive data is greater than before. This means the likelihood of insider threats is going to increase.

How do internal attacks and external threats differ?

Internal attacks come from someone within your business who already has access to your data. External attacks happen when someone outside of your business tries to gain access. 

The key difference is who is purporting that attack. The tactics might be the same between the two types of attack but one is coming from within the business and the other is an outside influence.

What are the different types of insider attacks?

There are several ways for outsiders to force access to your company's network and there is more than one way an insider attack can happen. The difference usually comes from whether your employees are involved in it from the start.


In a pawn insider threat, the person involved has no idea they are being targeted or are the cause of the problem. The most common instance is when an employee has become a victim of an insider attack.

They are often targeted by phishing attempt or social engineering. For this to happen the external threat will have gain access to the 'pawns' credentials, making your employee a compromised insider.


This happens when employees fail to follow your security measures, living your business at risk. Skirting company guidelines could be staff trying to make things easier for themselves, but it makes them a negligent insider. Such acts could be as simple as storing company login information in the cloud, which would be easier to access but significantly less secure.

Although the employee isn't causing the problem with any malicious intent, they can end up accidentally making decisions that leave your business exposed to outside threats.


While the first two examples are the result of negligence or lack of awareness, this form of attack involves an employee intentionally looking to cause damage. 

This leaves your data exposed to outside sources and is the common form of attack seen in corporate espionage. The losses from this type of attack are likely to significant.

Lone wolf

This type of threat can stem from an angry employee, contractor or someone with privileged access looking to actively harm a company.

What methods are used for insider attacks?

Internal hacking

This is an intentional act to do things such as steal data, leak access to your network or corrupt sensitive data.

Email attacks

Phishing emails are a common way for people to gain access to your data. Emails are designed to get the recipient to click on a malicious link that will give the hackers access to your network.

Ransomware attacks

In the same way that phishing emails can allow access to your network, ransomware or malware can also be unintentionally introduced by an employee.

These attacks generally result in a company's system getting locked down by a virus, with hackers demanding payment before the systems can be accessed again.

Mobile and cloud storage attacks

An increase in remote working has laid to even more reliance on mobile and cloud-based storage. Both of these technologies are well protected so the danger comes from employees downloading data from the Cloud onto their own devices.

How to protect your business from insider attacks

Protection from insider attacks is about preempting, identify and stopping potential attacks. Though insider attacks can be hard to spot there are steps you can take to make sure things never get that far.

Implement employee monitoring software

The are various employee monitoring software your business can use to protect your data by keeping an eye on your employee's behaviours. 

Through the use of employee monitoring software, an employer can set rules for how data is handled and set triggers that go off when the suspicious activity of a potential insider threat is detected.

Establish a "safety-first" cybersecurity policy

In many insider attack cases, data became compromised by someone the employer trusted, regardless of whether it was a high-ranking IT manager or someone else in the business.

The days of giving someone full trust and full access over a company's sensitive data are gone. Employees should only be able to access the data they need to complete their role. That is an important part of GDPR compliance.

Provide cybersecurity training to employees

Part of the issue surrounding insider threats is that many times, these incidents occur by accident. By educating your employees about the importance of keeping data secure you can create an additional barrier against internal attacks.


Not all insider attacks are intentional and that is what makes guarded against them so tricky. The human element of cybersecurity is hard to manage and can leave your business open to cyber attacks.

Following the tips in this article can help you but cybersecurity has become so important you should consider getting help. Infotech Solutions have been helping businesses with their IT security since 1998.

For more information on how we can help your business protect itself from cyberthreats contact us here, email hello@infotech.co.uk or call us 01634 52 52 52.

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