While most security teams are focused on preventing malicious outsider attacks, recent data suggests that close to 30 percent of confirmed breaches today involve insiders.

Today’s increasingly complex networks across physical, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems make it difficult for security teams to detect and prevent insider threats. This is compounded by the proliferation of data, devices, applications, and users accessing networked resources.

Rising insider malicious attacks threat

As the threat landscape evolves rapidly, CISOs need to step up their game

According to the 2017 U.S. State of Cybercrime Survey, 50 percent of organisations experience at least one malicious insider incident per year. And the Verizon 2018 Data Breach Report found that close to 30 percent of confirmed breaches today involve insiders. In August 2018, a tragic crash involving a Seattle airplane stolen by an employee raised awareness for the need for physical insider threat awareness (as well as more psychological screening before employment).

As the threat landscape evolves rapidly, CISOs need to step up their game, says Aamir Ghaffar, Director of Solutions Engineering at AlertEnterprise. They should implement security controls that protect their company’s people, physical assets, data, intellectual property, and reputation both inside and out. And they need to do it while simultaneously satisfying industry compliance requirements. In response to our questions, Aamir Ghaffar offered some additional insights on the timely topic of insider threats.



Q: We are hearing discussion about the emergence of cyber-physical security systems. What are they and how do they help organisations address insider threats?

Threats now originate not only in the physical space but also in cyber environments

Ghaffar: The concept of convergence has evolved in response to risk and the overall threat landscape. Threats now originate not only in the physical space but also in cyber environments – this is what is commonly referred to as blended risk. These blended risks require a converged approach and a converged view of security as a whole; connecting data, building new capabilities and gaining new insights to allow security teams to better defend against attacks.



Q: How are organisations responding?

Ghaffar: They are shifting towards centralisation – from the security operations center all the way to the executive level, where one C-Suite executive manages all security across physical, IT and OT domains. According to Gartner by 2023, 75% of organisations will restructure risk and security governance to address new cyber-physical systems (CPS) and converged IT, OT, Internet of Things (IoT) and physical security needs, which is an increase from fewer than 15% today.



Q: How does the shift impact insider threats?

Ghaffar: Unifying cyber and physical unlocks powerful new capabilities. For example, cyber-physical teams faced with a threat such as an intrusive device planted within their network environment, can quickly connect the cyber footprint to a physical location – understanding where the threats originate and identify those responsible for bringing it in. Converging physical and cyber identity through platforms that connect physical access control, IT and OT systems is an example of how organisations can better prepare for blended security threats

AI and machine learning (ML) technology helps organisations map complex patterns of user behavior and detect threats in near real time.
An AI-enabled automated system is the most practical and human error-proof solution today


Q: How is AI being used to protect against insider threats?

Ghaffar: With increased security convergence we are now collecting such a large volume of data that relying on manual detection of insider or external threats is no longer a viable solution. An automated system, powered by artificial intelligence used with digital identities, is now the most practical and human error-proof solution today. AI and machine learning (ML) technology helps organisations map complex patterns of user behavior, process tens of millions of events within seconds to detect threats in near-real-time and respond swiftly. This benefits security operations personnel to go from distraction to action, allowing them to focus on what really matters, which are their most critical security events.



Q: Sometimes the threat is about human error.

Oftentimes we think the most harmful insider threats are intentionalGhaffar: Oftentimes we think the most harmful insider threats are intentional; however, unintentional user behavior and negligence could have serious ramifications for an organisation. Organisations should deploy technology that delivers automation and active policy enforcement to prevent employees from making inadvertent yet critical errors. Organisations should also do regular risk assessments – not one and done. Don’t implement a process and think you’re secure. Automated identity and access management technology can provide scheduled access reviews to help detect high-risk user profiles with accumulated or a toxic combination of access, as well as segregation of duties violations due to department change or job transfers.



Q: What are the biggest misconceptions about insider threats?

Ghaffar: First, that the biggest threats originate outside my company. Or that insider threats are a problem for government agencies and highly sensitive organisations, not “regular” companies like us. A company may also mistakenly think that they have limited assets that could be exposed, or that the assets are of little value; therefore, a large-scale breach is less likely to happen. And even if it does, it probably won’t have a big impact.



Risk management leaders should start by developing a compelling visionQ: So, they think “it can’t happen here.”?

Ghaffar: Yes, and they think their employees are inherently trustworthy, and that with basic security measures in place, the risk is small. They think that insider threats are always intentional. Or they think “it’s not my job.”



Q: What next steps should security leaders take in addressing insider threats in their organisation?

Ghaffar: Security and risk management leaders should start by developing a compelling vision and strategy that will resonate with key company stakeholders. They can expand the visibility they have into user activity beyond things that happen on the network. Go beyond a data-centric approach to a people-centric approach through identity behavior analysis. Improving visibility into user activity and taking a more preventive approach are the best ways to manage risk of an incident. Develop an inside-out approach to security. By converging physical, cyber and OT security you’ll gain a holistic view of your enterprise-wide security landscape.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

Larry Anderson Editor, SecurityInformed.com & SourceSecurity.com

An experienced journalist and long-time presence in the US security industry, Larry is SourceSecurity.com's eyes and ears in the fast-changing security marketplace, attending industry and corporate events, interviewing security leaders and contributing original editorial content to the site. He leads SourceSecurity.com's team of dedicated editorial and content professionals, guiding the "editorial roadmap" to ensure the site provides the most relevant content for security professionals.

In case you missed it

What are the security challenges of protecting SMBs?
What are the security challenges of protecting SMBs?

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) make huge contributions to the economy overall. Considered individually, they may not be as large as companies in the enterprise market, but they have big requirements when it comes to security. SMBs also present unique challenges to security manufacturers and integrators seeking to serve their needs. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What are the security challenges of protecting small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)?

Expert roundup: healthy buildings, blockchain, AI, skilled workers, and more
Expert roundup: healthy buildings, blockchain, AI, skilled workers, and more

Our Expert Panel Roundtable is an opinionated group. However, for a variety of reasons, we are sometimes guilty of not publishing their musings in a timely manner. At the end of 2020, we came across several interesting comments among those that were previously unpublished. Following is a catch-all collection of those responses, addressing some of the most current and important issues in the security marketplace in 2021.

Smart Offices: How is mobile ID changing the way we access the office?
Smart Offices: How is mobile ID changing the way we access the office?

If you’re a security or facilities manager, you may already be aware of the quiet revolution that’s taking place across businesses and organisations up and down the country. By the end of 2020, 20% of all ID and access control systems featured mobile capability, and this is set to increase by a further 34% over the next three years. There’s no doubt that using a smartphone or mobile device in place of traditional credential and access control is a growing trend that’s only been sped up by the pandemic. It’s true that many businesses are still very much focused on remote working, although many are now starting to implement new-and-improved strategies that are better suited to protect the workforce moving forward. Mobile ID systems As the next normal becomes clearer, businesses will be reviewing procedures such as access control, occupancy monitoring, reducing touch points and tracking visitors. Mobile ID systems are ideally suited to this task. But what are the key reasons for considering such a setup in 2021? But why is this new technology so well-suited to future-proof your physical access system, and why is it becoming so popular? Eradicating outdated legacy credentials Have you seen just how vulnerable outdated Proximity card technology can be? Low-frequency 125kHz cards can be cloned in a matter of seconds with the use of cheap, readily available tools. Despite their weaknesses, they are still used by a huge majority of businesses – big and small. All smartphones include two industry-standard features that make them perfect for operating a secure, contactless credential Replacing such a system with a mobile-enabled system is one of the best ways to increase security ten-fold. Thanks to a cloud-based infrastructure, mobile ID offers best-in-class security and cryptography. All smartphones include two industry-standard features that make them perfect for operating a secure, contactless credential. Bluetooth Smart and NFC (Near Field Communication) make them the best product to operate such a credential via a secure app. If you’re looking for best-in-class security in 2021, mobile access is most definitely the way forward. Removing touch points across the business Reducing touch points and the adoption of touchless facilities has become a key priority for businesses in the wake of COVID-19. Even as businesses start to return to the office and operate a home/office split, it will be imperative that unnecessary contact is kept to an absolute minimum between staff. The traditional issuance of identification and access control credentials can pose problems in this regard. Facility and security managers who are responsible for onboarding and processing ID have done the process face to face. Mobile access makes it possible to carry this process out without people coming into direct content. First, the security manager has access to a secure portal, allowing them to create, manage and edit credentials anywhere. They can upload and remotely transfer mobile ID and access control credentials directly to users’ smartphones over the air. Via the secure app, users can view and see their credentials and immediately begin using it for ID and access control by simply placing their smartphone over card readers. Enabling a more flexible way of working The way in which we work has changed for good. Even as people more people return to the office in 2021, a majority of businesses will be operating a home/office split indefinitely. This once again reinforces the need for a smarter, more adaptable onboarding system. Implementing mobile ID is the perfect way of doing this: over-the-air delivery of credentials and security data is now a given, helping businesses create the perfect balance between the home and the office. No longer do people have to come into the office for the onboarding process. Increasing convenience and user experience More often businesses are realising the value mobile ID can have for enhancing the work experience as well as security Ok, so mobile ID is the perfect way of increasing security and adapting workplaces to a post-COVID way of working. And we’ve not even touched on the most obvious advantage yet: Convenience. How many times have you forgotten your ID card? We’re sure it’s more times than you forget your smartphone. These powerful processors have become intertwined with the way we carry out tasks on a daily basis. They’re so vital that people will soon notice if they’ve forgotten it. From an employee’s perspective, mobile ID and access control is simple, convenient and extremely user-friendly. More and more businesses are realising the value mobile ID can have for enhancing the work experience as well as security. From the employer’s perspective, mobile ID means it’s easier for administrators to manage access and credentials. Future-proofing access control now will ensure that in the longer term, mobile ID is well worth the investment. The annual expenditure of printing ID cards and purchasing credentials can be vast, while reissuance costs can also quickly add up for larger organisations. These issues are a thing of the past for businesses using mobile ID. Mobile ID perfect tool for 2021 and beyond Until mobile ID, new and improved credentials’ main focus was on increasing security. Mobile ID not only delivers that, but it also provides a more convenient way of accessing the office in a way that’s perfectly suited to returning to the office in 2021. If there was ever a time to upgrade, now is the time. Summing up, mobile access is changing the way we access the office by: Eliminating weak links in security systems such as outdated legacy card technologies Eradicating the need for touch points across multiple areas of the workplace Enabling a smarter, more flexible approach to onboarding Increasing convenience – for both employers and employees.