For over a decade, the public's eyes have been glued to the high-profile news of external cyber threats and hacks besieging financial institutions. From infamous ransomware attacks to the large-scale data breaches, our collective focus has almost exclusively been directed outward. However, this is only half of the picture—literally. Recent studies suggest that insider risks are responsible for approximately 50% of data breaches. Unfortunately, despite its significance, the peril of insider risks within small, medium, and large financial organisations remains woefully under-addressed.

The Fallacy of Exclusivity

In the labyrinthine corridors of financial institutions, the mainstream conversation about cybersecurity has always been skewed towards external threats. The amount of capital and resources poured into firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and anti-malware solutions is staggering. It is as though these organisations are preparing for a siege while forgetting that some enemies are already inside the castle walls.

Insiders have unparalleled access to sensitive information and critical systems; a rogue employee or a negligent team member can wreak more havoc than any external hacker. In short, external threats are like thunderstorms that we see and hear, while insider threats are akin to silent, odorless carbon monoxide that poisons us from within.

The Illusion of Complexity

One of the most pernicious myths about managing insider threats is that they are complex and nearly impossible to tackle effectively. The erroneous belief that insider risk is inherently more challenging to resolve than external threats has led to a fatalistic acceptance of its inevitability. In reality, a comprehensive, multi-faceted insider risk program can effectively mitigate these threats.

The Triad: People, Process, and Technology

For an insider risk program to be successful, it must incorporate three pivotal elements: people, process, and technology.

People: The First Line of Defence

Employee training and awareness campaigns must be part and parcel of the risk mitigation strategy. When employees are educated about the potential dangers and the red flags to look for, they become valuable assets in identifying and preventing insider threats.

  1. Employee Training & Awareness: The most advanced technological solutions are rendered ineffective if the people who use them are not trained properly. Employees should not only be trained on how to use systems securely but also educated on the potential risks that may arise from misuse or negligence. Regular seminars, workshops, and even gamified training can be employed to make sure the staff remains vigilant.
  2. Behavioural Analytics: Sometimes it’s the subtle changes in employee behaviour that signal something is amiss. By keeping an eye on behavioural cues—such as a sudden change in work hours or excessive data downloads—organisations can pre-empt risks before they become full-fledged threats.
  3. Psychological Safety: A culture that supports open communication allows employees to report irregularities without fear of retribution. In many instances, internal threats are detected by coworkers who observed something amiss but were hesitant to speak up.

Process: The Organisational Framework

Clearly defined protocols for access control, data sharing, and incident reporting can significantly reduce the window of opportunity for insider threats. Rigorous background checks and periodic reviews are also essential.

  1. Access Control and Privilege Management: Limiting access to sensitive information on a need-to-know basis is fundamental. Role-based access controls can restrict system permissions in line with job responsibilities, thus reducing the risk exposure.
  2. Insider Risk Reporting Mechanism: A clearly outlined insider risk response plan ensures that once an anomaly is detected, it can be swiftly and adequately addressed. This includes step-by-step guidelines on how to isolate the threat, assess the damage, and inform the relevant stakeholders.
  3. Audit and Review: Periodic audits and reviews of both system and user activities allow for a retrospective analysis of risk exposure. This enables organisations to fine-tune their security protocols, thus continuously improving their insider risk program.

Technology: The Monitoring and Alerting System

While technology alone is insufficient, it plays a critical role in monitoring and flagging suspicious activity. Proactive monitoring, and advanced algorithms can help in early detection.

  1. Proactive Monitoring Solutions: Inside risk monitoring solutions can flag any unusual activities, such as multiple failed login attempts, unauthorised data access, or irregular data transfers, thus enabling appropriate actions.
  2. Data Loss Prevention (DLP): These technologies help in detecting and preventing unauthorised data transfers. By establishing what is 'normal' within your environment, DLP systems can flag anomalies that may indicate an internal threat. It is important that any DLP solution is combined with an insider risk management platform to be most effective.
  3. AI and Machine Learning: Advanced algorithms can predict risky behaviours by analysing historical data and patterns. By combining AI with behavioural analytics, organisations can add another layer to their defence mechanism.

The Power of Integration

While each of these elements is potent in its own right, it's their integration that unleashes the full potential of an insider risk program. It is not enough to just install cutting-edge technology solutions or merely conduct staff training; these elements need to be cohesively linked.

Ignoring any of these elements results in a flawed and vulnerable system. People, process, and technology are like the three legs of a stool—remove one, and the entire structure topples. A well-rounded insider risk program that incorporates all three elements not only effectively mitigates risks but also engenders a pervasive culture of information security throughout the organisation. By understanding and integrating these aspects, financial institutions can significantly lessen their vulnerability to insider risks while fostering a more resilient and secure operational environment.

The Perils of a Solely Tech-Centric Approach

Solutions that focus solely on implementing tech-focused insider risk endpoint agents are doomed to fail. These tools, while useful for data tracking, cannot replace the nuanced understanding of human behaviour or the protocols required to act on the information. By ignoring the 'people' and 'process' aspects, these one-dimensional approaches offer a false sense of security.

Elevating Organisational Culture

Perhaps one of the most overlooked benefits of a comprehensive insider risk program is the overall uplift in the organisation’s information security culture. When a financial institution adopts a holistic approach, it is not just preventing leaks and breaches; it is also fostering an environment of shared responsibility and vigilance. In this culture, cybersecurity is not just an IT problem; it's everyone's business.

In Summary

Insider threats are the proverbial elephant in the room for financial institutions. The past focus on external threats, while understandable, has left a gaping hole in our defences. However, it's not too late to change course. Through a well-rounded insider risk program that incorporates people, process, and technology, financial institutions can create a robust and resilient security architecture. Ignoring this pressing issue is not an option; it is high time that insider risks garner the attention, resources, and comprehensive solutions they warrant.

Christopher McNaughton

Strategic Advisor, ShadowSight

Who is Christopher McNaughton

Chris is a proficient problem solver with a strategic aptitude for anticipating and addressing potential business issues, particularly in areas such as Insider Threat, Data Governance, Digital Forensics, Workplace Investigations, and Cyber Security. He thrives on turning intricate challenges into opportunities for increased efficiency, offering pragmatic solutions derived from a practical and realistic approach.

Starting his career as a law enforcement Detective, Chris transitioned to multinational organisations where he specialised and excelled in Cyber Security, proving his authority in the field. Even under demanding circumstances, his commitment to delivering exceptional results remains unwavering, underpinned by his extraordinary ability to understand both cyber and business problems swiftly, along with a deep emphasis on active listening.

What is ShadowSight

ShadowSight is an innovative insider risk staff monitoring tool that proactively guards your business against internal threats and safeguards vital data from unauthorised access and malicious activities. We offer a seamless integration with your current systems, boosting regulatory compliance while providing unparalleled visibility into non-compliant activities to reinforce a secure digital environment. By prioritising actionable intelligence, ShadowSight not only mitigates insider threats but also fosters a culture of proactive risk management, significantly simplifying your compliance process without the overwhelming burden of false positives.