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How to Build an Insider Threat Program [10-step Checklist]

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An effective insider threat program is a core part of any modern cybersecurity strategy. Having controls in place to detect, deter, and respond to insider attacks is necessary for your organization to protect its sensitive data. It’s also required by many IT regulations, standards, and laws: NISPOM, NIST SP 800-53, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and others.

In this article, we’ll shed light on the main insider threat program requirements and share the best tips on how to build an insider risk program.

What is an insider threat program?

Creating an effective corporate insider threat program can help you detect insider threats, prevent them, and mitigate their consequences. An insider threat program is “a coordinated group of capabilities under centralized management that is organized to detect and prevent the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information”, according to The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-53. It’s also frequently called an insider threat management program/framework.

Key sources of insider threats

What functions do insider threat programs aim to fulfill? They can help organizations detect insider threats, respond to them, remediate their consequences, and improve insider threat awareness. But before we get into the details, let’s examine why it’s worth investing your time and money in such a program.

Benefits of an insider threat program

Though external and opportunistic attackers are considered the main sources of cybersecurity violations, there are many reasons why an insider threat is even more dangerous and difficult to detect:

  • Insiders know your networks, processes, and security measures, enabling them to surreptitiously hide any malicious activity.
  • Insiders know your valuable data and where it’s located, so they can easily initiate a data breach.
  • Insiders have legitimate access, making it difficult to differentiate between normal and malicious activities.

Due to these factors, insider attacks can persist for years, leading to remediation costs ballooning out of proportion. The 2022 Cost of Insider Threats Global Report [PDF] by the Ponemon Institute states that the total average annual cost of an insider-related incident in 2021 was almost $4 million more compared to 2019. In 2021, it also took eight more days to contain an average insider threat than in 2019.

Cost of Insider Threats Global Reports

Insider threats are undeniably becoming more expensive and difficult to detect. Hence, establishing an insider threat program is critical for your organization.

Creating an efficient insider threat program rewards an organization with valuable benefits:

  • Early detection of insider threats: An insider threat program can help you spot cyber threat indicators before they cause harm to your organization.
  • Compliance with standards, laws, and regulations: An insider threat program can help your organization pass compliance audits and show adherence to  SOX, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and other IT compliance requirements
  • Fast and efficient response to insider attacks: An insider threat program thoroughly outlines the procedures, tools, and personnel required for mitigating a threat. Armed with a clear course of action, employees can promptly handle a cybersecurity incident.
  • Reduced costs of an insider attack: An insider threat program maximizes your chances of deterring an attack quickly, therefore minimizing the damage an insider can cause.

Insider Threat Statistics for 2023: Reports, Facts, Actors, and Costs

10 steps for building an effective insider threat program

Take a look at these 10 steps you can take to protect your company from insider threats.

Insider threat program checklist

1. Get ready to build an insider threat program

Preparation is the key to success when building an insider threat program, saving you lots of time and effort. During this step, you need to gather as much information as possible on existing cybersecurity measures, compliance requirements, and stakeholders, as well as define what results you want to achieve with the program.

Checklist

2. Perform a risk assessment

Defining what assets you consider sensitive is the cornerstone of an insider threat program. These assets can be both physical and virtual, e.g. client and employee data, technology secrets, intellectual property, prototypes, etc. Performing an external or insider threat risk assessment is the ideal way to identify these assets and possible threats to them. This will enable you to take an accurate look at the state of your cybersecurity.

Usually, the risk assessment process includes these steps:

5 steps to assess risk

Once you’ve listed and assessed all risks, inform your organization’s upper management about the results. It’s also a good idea to make these results accessible to all employees, thereby increasing risk awareness within your company.

3. Estimate the resources needed to create the program

Developing an effective insider threat program is a comprehensive process that extends beyond just the cybersecurity department. To successfully implement this type of program, you’ll also need:

  • Administrative resources — Support from various departments in your organization and their involvement in developing the insider threat program
  • Technical resources — Deployment of dedicated insider threat management software along with reconfiguration of existing solutions and infrastructure
  • Financial resources — Money for purchasing cybersecurity software and hiring dedicated specialists

Before making technology investments, assess what technologies and tools are already in place and can be used for insider threat monitoring, for example, host- and network based monitoring, data loss prevention, and SIEM.

“Ignition Guide to Building an Insider Threat Management Program”
by Gartner (subscription required)

Prepare a list of required resources so you can provide a precise estimate of the finances and employees you’ll need to implement your insider threat program. 

4. Acquire support of senior management

Use the information gathered during previous steps to get support from your key stakeholders for implementing the program. The list of key stakeholders usually includes the CEO, CFO, CISO, and CHRO. Their support is crucial for securing resources and promoting a culture that takes insider risk seriously.

To get their approval, you should prepare case studies that demonstrate the need for and benefits of implementing an insider threat program. You may also want to point out some data breach examples and their consequences, as well as the ways an insider threat program can help C-level officers achieve their business goals. 

5. Create an insider threat response team

An insider threat response team is a group of employees in charge of all stages of insider threat management, from detection to remediation. Contrary to popular belief, this team should not consist entirely of IT specialists. It should be cross-departmental and have the authority and tools to act quickly and decisively.

When creating your insider threat response team, make sure to determine (1) its mission; (2) the responsibilities of each team member; and (3) the policies, procedures, and software the team will use to combat insider threats.

To define roles and responsibilities, you may use the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) matrix:

  • Responsible: The person who performs the task 
  • Accountable: The person who is responsible for the result of the task 
  • Consulted: The person who provides input and participates in the decision-making process 
  • Informed: The person who needs to be kept in the loop on progress and decisions

Note that formal responsibility for insider risk programs normally lies with the head of security/CISO (25%), IT security managers (24%), or the director of security (14%), according to the 2023 Insider Threat Report by Gurucul.

As seen, CISOs hold the primary responsibility for managing insider threat programs. With them in mind, we came up with a CISO’s Practical Guide for Building an Insider Threat Program. This guide was written for Ekran System by Jonathan Care, an expert in the field of cybersecurity and fraud detection.

6. Determine insider threat detection measures

Efficient detection of insider threats is only possible with dedicated insider threat management software. By helping you detect insider threats, such software allows for a quick response to and reduces the remediation cost of insider threats. Additionally, the ability to detect threats is often an integral part of PCI DSS, HIPAA, and NIST 800-171 compliance software.

To efficiently detect insider threats, consider choosing the software that can:

  • Monitor user activity and collect detailed logs of each user action within your network. Monitoring data helps security officers review suspicious sessions in real time, investigate incidents, and assess the overall state of cybersecurity.
  • Manage user access to sensitive resources. This allows you to prevent unauthorized access and detect suspicious access attempts.
  • Analyze user behavior to detect possible indicators of a threat. User and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) usually employs artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze normal user activity, create a baseline of behavior for each user, and notify the insider threat response team of suspicious actions.
  • Generate reports for investigation purposes. Detailed reports let you foresee malicious activity and prevent damage by investigating cybersecurity incidents. In addition, reports can help you conduct compliance audits by providing a comprehensive view of your IT infrastructure and activities within.

7. Form incident response strategies

To act quickly on a detected threat, your response team has to tackle common insider attack scenarios. Above all, an insider threat response plan must be realistic and easy to execute. Don’t try to cover every possible scenario with a separate plan. Instead, create several basic plans that cover the most probable incidents.

Your response for each of these scenarios should include:

Contents of an insider threat scenario response

An effective incident response plan will help you:

  • Get ready for emergencies.
  • Coordinate cybersecurity efforts if an incident occurs. 
  • Resolve incidents promptly. 
  • Reduce the damage caused by the incident.

8. Plan incident investigation and remediation

To effectively manage insider threats, plan your procedure for investigating both cybersecurity incidents and possible remediation activities.

Incident investigation usually includes these actions:

  • Collecting data on the incident (reviewing user sessions, interviewing witnesses, etc.)
  • Assessing the harm caused by the incident
  • Securing evidence for possible forensic activities
  • Reporting the incident to superior officers and regulatory authorities (as required)

After the investigation, you’ll get a clear picture of the incident’s scope and its possible consequences. Based on that, you can devise a detailed remediation plan, which should include communication strategies, required changes in cybersecurity measures, and the insider threat program.

9. Educate your employees

The contents of a training course will depend on the security risks, tools, and approaches used in your organization. However, there are some common steps for every organization to consider:

  • Explain the reason for implementing the insider threat program; include examples of recent attacks and their consequences
  • Describe common employee activities that may lead to data breaches and leaks, paying attention to both negligent and malicious actions, and including examples of social engineering attacks
  • Inform your employees of whom they should contact first if they notice an insider threat indicator or need assistance on cybersecurity-related issues

The final part of insider threat awareness training is measuring its effectiveness. To do this, you can interview employees, prepare tests, or simulate an insider attack to see how your employees respond. These actions will reveal what your employees have learned and what you should pay attention to during the next training sessions.

10. Review your program regularly

Creating an insider threat program isn’t a one-time activity. Insider threats evolve and become more elaborate and dangerous over time. Therefore, you should review and update your program in these cases:

  • At set intervals
  • In case of an insider threat incident
  • Once new compliance requirements appear
  • Whenever you have any changes in your insider threat response team

Note: In this article, we describe each step briefly. For more comprehensive information, please refer to our whitepaper.

Whitepaper on insider threat program

How can Ekran System help you implement an insider threat program?

Ekran System provides you with all insider threat detection tools needed to protect your organization. With Ekran, you can deter possible insider threats, detect suspicious cybersecurity incidents, and disrupt insider activity.

Note that Gartner mentions Ekran System as an insider threat detection solution in its Market Guide for Insider Risk Management Solutions report (subscription required).

Image - Ekran System for insider risk management

You can manage user access granularly with Ekran System’s privileged access management (PAM) module that allows you to configure access rights for each user and user role, verify user identities with multi-factor authentication, and manually approve access requests. With these controls in place, you can limit users to accessing only the specific data they need for their job. Consequently, you can reduce the risk of insider threats and sensitive data misuse.

User activity monitoring (UAM) functionality in Ekran System allows you to review user sessions in real time and in captured records. You can watch live user sessions, review suspicious activity, and determine whether there was harm caused by user actions.

You can also benefit from standard and custom alerts on user activity to make sure you won’t miss any indicator of an insider threat. When Ekran System detects a security violation, it alerts your security officers and provides them with a link to a corresponding online session.

Ekran System’s user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) module is another useful tool that helps you detect insider activity. It assigns a risk score to each user session and alerts you of suspicious behavior. For example, the EUBA module alerts you if a user logs in to the system during unusual hours.

With Ekran System, you can respond immediately to detected threats, killing processes and blocking users until further investigation. You can also set Ekran System to perform these actions automatically.

Nevertheless, if a security incident occurs, Ekran System’s robust incident investigation features can help you analyze data leaks, fraud, and other malicious activity within your infrastructure. Further, Ekran System can export encrypted data from monitored sessions in an immutable format for forensic investigation purposes. 

Conclusion

The ten steps listed in this article can help you build an effective insider threat prevention and detection program. To successfully implement your program, you may need a dedicated insider threat protection platform, such as Ekran System. The platform allows you to deter insider threat activity, detect any signs of it, and quickly disrupt suspicious actions. Ekran System can seamlessly integrate into your existing IT infrastructure to fortify your security posture against human-related risks.

Want to try Ekran System? Request access to the online demo!

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