How to Protect Against Accidental Insider Threats

March 22, 2023


7 min read

How to Protect Against Accidental Insider Threats

Defending against cybersecurity attacks is becoming more challenging as threats evolve, and new ones emerge. Companies of all sizes need to be on the lookout for potential problems that could cause irreparable damage to a company if not dealt with properly.

Written by Zachary Amos

Defending against cybersecurity attacks is becoming more challenging as threats evolve, and new ones emerge. Companies of all sizes need to be on the lookout for potential problems that could cause irreparable damage to a company if not dealt with properly.

One type of cybersecurity risk many modern companies deal with is insider threats, many of which are considered unintentional or accidental. Just because a hack was done by accident does not make it any less damaging to operations or reputations. Here’s more about unintentional insider threats and how small businesses can defend against them.

An Overview of Insider Threats

Insider threats are complex and ever-changing. These cybersecurity risks originated from people within or working with an organization, such as third-party contractors, former or existing employees, and others. Any person with authorized access to a company’s assets, networks, information, or systems is considered an insider.

A successful insider threat can come in many forms. For example, a former employee just laid off can harm the organization they used to work for because they still have access to its applications and network. 

Insiders can be the root cause of data breaches, instances of fraud, and theft of trade secrets and intellectual property (IP). They can even sabotage a company’s physical or cybersecurity infrastructure.

Understanding Accidental Insider Threats

Most people who think of a hacking incident picture someone wearing a black hoodie, typing away on a computer in a dark room. However, this is not always the case. Insiders are typically trusted individuals within an organization, and while some act with malicious intent, not all do.

Sometimes, insiders can unintentionally or accidentally harm their company, leading to an accidental insider threat. They often occur due to a lack of cybersecurity knowledge, excessive access privileges, password sharing, or using unsecured Wi-Fi. Research suggests that around 43% of remote employees admit to making mistakes that result in security repercussions. 

The Importance of Defending Against Accidental Insider Threats

It’s critically important for companies of all sizes, including small- or medium-sized businesses (SMBs), to defend against accidental insider threats. Unintentional damage is just as dangerous to a company as a malicious insider. No matter the intent, no company wants to suffer from a cybersecurity incident brought about by someone involved in the organization.

According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, approximately 82% of breaches occur due to human error, a prime example of an accidental insider threat. Employee negligence, ignorance, or lack of education in cybersecurity can open companies up to cyber risks. Therefore, organizations must mitigate the risk of an accidental insider threat.

How SMBs Can Protect Against Accidental Insider Threats

Cybersecurity might seem like something small businesses should put on the back burner. However, there’s nothing stopping threat actors from targeting an SMB with an attack, especially if its guard is down. Company owners may not take security as seriously as they should, making it easier for hackers to launch an attack.

Thankfully, SMBs can employ strategies to prevent accidental insider threats from negatively impacting their organization.

Monitor Network Activity Regularly

SMBs that monitor activity on their network infrastructure are better prepared to detect and respond to potential threats, often with a sense of urgency. There are several types of network monitoring solutions available on the market that fit the needs of most SMBs. 

Some of these tools may come with high upfront costs, but any form of monitoring you can invest in can help you down the road. Similarly, spending on these tools, if possible, is highly suggested, as it can save money if a cybersecurity incident occurs. 

Keep Access Control Privileges Updated

SMBs should consider implementing the principle of least privilege. This is a security measure companies take that grants employees the minimum access to resources necessary to perform their job. 

In other words, employees that don’t need access to certain data or resources should not be allowed to. There’s no reason for it, and it can prevent a potential accidental insider threat. People who receive a promotion or demotion should have their access privileges updated accordingly.

It can take time to determine your structure of what each employee role should access, but this can be a cost-effective solution to help avoid accidental insider threats. And once your access control guidelines are set, they are easy to continue to implement as you bring on more employees.

Remember to Offboard Employees

Offboarding is an essential part of doing business and letting employees go. Most companies do not enjoy losing workers, but it’s a natural part of the business landscape. 

The IT department must remove outgoing employees’ access privileges during offboarding. This will prevent any accidental threats, such as password or file sharing. For example, a former worker may accidentally lose a company device, opening it up to cybersecurity risks. Remember to prioritize offboarding to offer protection against this type of scenario. 

Use Automated Cybersecurity Solutions When Possible

Myriad automated cybersecurity solutions are available to help companies secure their networks and systems. Some are suitable for SMBs, while others are tailored for larger companies. Small-business owners should investigate and determine what will work best for their organization. 

The cybersecurity landscape is evolving, and there are various categories of solutions to fit business needs. For example, there are vulnerability management, risk assessment, firewalls, endpoint protection, and plenty of other types that can help SMBs stay protected from accidental insider attacks.

Ask Employees to Change Passwords Frequently

Another step SMB owners or managers should take is asking employees to change passwords on websites, applications, and other company platforms regularly. This makes it more difficult for threat actors to gain access, limiting data breaches. 

Changing passwords, using unique, strong passwords, and using different passwords for various login credentials is highly recommended. Additionally, if remembering them all becomes a pain point, companies should ask employees to use one of the many password managers available to help keep track of what’s needed for work.

Offer Employees Cybersecurity Training

Training employees in cybersecurity is one of the best ways to lower the risk of an accidental insider threat. Otherwise, it would be challenging for them to practice good cybersecurity hygiene, increasing the risk of an accidental or unintentional threat.

SMBs can benefit from free online resources from CISA (Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency) or opt for a paid training program for their employees. Either way, educating workers about cybersecurity is essential to defending against accidental insider threats.

Avoiding Accidental or Unintentional Insider Threats in 2023

No organization, big or small, wants to face ongoing threats in cybersecurity, but it’s a reality every business and employee must be aware of if they want to protect themselves. It’s critical to remember that accidental or unintentional insider threats are just as dangerous as malicious ones. 

Both types of threats can damage company operations and reputation, sometimes past the point of no return. Cybersecurity is vital in today’s business landscape. SMBs should consider using these tips to help protect themselves from accidental insider threats in today’s digital business environment.