Learnings From Verizon’s Insider Threat Report Code42 Blog

Learnings From Verizon’s Insider Threat Report

What does McKinsey call one of the largest unsolved issues in cybersecurity today? Insider threat. They noted that a staggering half of all breaches between 2012-2017 had an insider threat component. To make consequential strides in combatting insider threat, the topic must be explored further. Thanks to Verizon’s Threat Research Advisory Center, which produced the Verizon Insider Threat Report, we can take an in-depth look at the role insider threat plays in the broader cyber threat landscape.

The Verizon report draws on statistics from their Data Breach Incident Reports and lessons learned from hundreds of investigations conducted by their internal forensics teams. It highlights the ease with which insiders exfiltrate data, while detection on the other hand often takes far longer.

“ Insider threat should no longer be a taboo subject for internal security teams. Denial has not helped – it has only resulted in time-to-discovery being months-to-years for most inside breaches. ”

A trio of Code42’s leading experts on insider threat shared their reactions to the report. Read on to find out their most compelling takeaways.

Jadee Hanson, CISO and VP Information Systems for Code42 called out:

  • The top motivations for insider threats include financial gain (48%), which is not surprising. This is followed second by FUN (23%). It’s deeply concerning to think that a colleague would do something detrimental to their own company… just for fun. 
  • Detecting and mitigating inside threats requires a completely different approach than what we (security teams) are used to when it comes to external threats. Insiders are active employees with active access and sometimes the actions these individuals take look completely normal to a security analyst. 
  • Security awareness and education and overall company culture continue to be a very effective way to mitigate the risks of insider threats. 

  • Data theft incidents are driven mostly by employees with little to no technical aptitude or organizational power. Regular users have access to sensitive and monetizable data and unfortunately too often are the ones behind most internal data breaches.

Code42’s Vijay Ramanathan, SVP Product Management, shared these thoughts: 

  • Insider threat should no longer be a taboo subject for internal security teams. Denial has not helped – it has only resulted in time-to-discovery being months-to-years for most inside breaches. This is a massive blind spot for security teams. Also, this is a problem for all sorts of companies. Not just large ones.

  • The report outlines counter measures that companies should take as part of a comprehensive data security strategy. This is a great starting point. But those measures (outlined on page 7) are nonetheless complex and require skilled staff. This continues to be difficult for many companies, particularly smaller and mid-market organizations, to navigate, especially because of the chronic skills shortage in the security industry. 

  • The “Careless Worker” is called out as one of the harder vectors to protect against. Security teams need to take a proactive, “data hunting” approach to help them understand where data lives and moves, when it leaves the organization, and in what situations data is at risk.

  • Robust data collection and preservation, along with behavior analytics, are models that can help organizations understand where accidental or deliberate data exposure/exfiltration may be occurring. This need is going to become even more stark in the next 12-36 months as companies come to terms with the reality that current data security tools, technologies and practices (eg. policy management, data classification, user blocking, highly-skilled security staff) are not designed for a much more fluid and unpredictable future.

Mark Wojtasiak, VP Portfolio Marketing highlighted: 

  • Nowhere in the report did Verizon say the goal was to prevent insider threats – the focus was all about detection, investigation and response. Verizon even called out DLP as a monitoring tool, likely to the chagrin of legacy DLP providers.
  • The single biggest problem relative to insider threat is detecting them in the first place and the length of time it takes to detect one. I argue that most insider breaches go undetected altogether and the number of insider breaches are actually grossly underreported.
  • Detecting insider threats comes down to how effective a company is in defining, collecting, correlating, analyzing and reporting on insider indicators of compromise. This basically means “machining” a security analyst’s intuition.
  • Creating insider indicators of compromise is difficult because they rely heavily on what is considered “normal” or “abnormal,” which can vary greatly by company, department, job role, individual and the data itself. It’s a lot of work, so why not just use machine learning to do it? 
  • Once an insider breach is detected and the investigation process starts, it can grow very complex quickly. Oftentimes multiple stakeholders are involved and organizations might hire or outsource digital forensic services, which can be expensive. There has to be a faster, simpler process, especially for small to mid-market companies, which can be devastated by insider threats.
  • Insider Threat Programs go way beyond the incident response process (detect – investigate – respond – communicate, etc.). Ongoing vulnerability audits and assessments are needed to fine tune the insider indicators of compromise.
  • I still find it shocking that data classification continues to be a must have – and that employees need to be trained, made aware of and actually take the steps to classify the data they create. Couldn’t it be an indicator of compromise in and of itself if an employee self-classifies data as non-sensitive, then exfiltrates it? 
  • Finally, it is clear that the key to establishing an insider threat program is to start with the data (called “assets” in the report), and then move to people. 

The rise of insider threats is a significant threat to every business and one that is often overlooked. While we all would like to think that employees’ intentions are good, we must prepare for malicious (or accidental) actions taken by those from within our organizations. And because up to 80 percent of a company’s value lies in its intellectual property, insiders are in the position to do serious harm to your business. Is your business prepared to minimize the impact of these data threats?