Software Engineering Institute | Carnegie Mellon University

SEI Insights

Insider Threat Blog

Real-World Work Combating Insider Threats

Editor's note: This blog post first appeared on the FAIR Institute Blog.

Organizations with a mix of cutting-edge technologies and legacy systems need adaptable, agile frameworks that provide executives with a real-time view of cyber risks. They also need tools and processes to ensure that everyone from executives to practitioners practice sound, consistent risk management.

Mitigating insider threats is a multifaceted challenge that involves the collection and analysis of data to identify threat posed by many different employee types (such as full-time, part-time, or contractors) with authorized access to assets such as people, information, technology, and facilities. The landscape of software and tools designed to aid in this process is almost as wide and varied as the problem itself, which leaves organizations with the challenge of understanding not only the complexities of insider threats, but also the wide array of tools and techniques that can assist with threat mitigation. This post explores some of the recommended tool features and functionality available through use of a combination of tools, as well as a proposed process to implement and operate controls at an organization.

In our cyber resilience assessments at the CERT Division of the SEI, we often find that organizations struggle with several fundamentals of cybersecurity management. Specifically, organizations have trouble identifying what critical assets need to be protected and then implementing specific cyber architecture controls, such as network segmentation and boundary protection, to protect them. This post will be the first in a series focusing on common weaknesses in organizational cybersecurity architecture. This initial post focuses on the importance of identifying an organization's critical assets and data so it can design a cybersecurity architecture that incorporates controls to protect those systems.

The CERT Division of the SEI has evaluated the cyber resilience of hundreds of organizations. We've seen that many organizations may not have formally established a controls management program. In this blog post, we will describe the basic controls management life cycle and provide a method for establishing effective controls for a new "green field" system or identifying gaps in an existing "brown field" system.

The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a directive that concerns the processing of personal data by private organizations operating in the European Union, whether as employers or as service providers. While many organizations have focused their GDPR readiness efforts on managing data subjects' personal information on customers, employees are also considered data subjects. This post will focus on an organization's obligations to its EU employees (inclusive of contractors and trusted business partners, regardless of a formal contract) under GDPR.

This blog post outlines best practices for establishing an appropriate level of control to mitigate the risks involved in working with outside entities that support your organization's mission. In today's business landscape, organizations often rely on suppliers such as technology vendors, suppliers of raw materials, shared public infrastructure, and other public services. These outside entities are all examples of the supply chain, which is a type of trusted business partner (TBP). However, these outside entities can pose significant security risks.

Insiders have been known to collude with others, both with coworkers (i.e., other insiders) and outsiders. In our previous post on insider collusion and its impact, we explored 395 insider incidents of collusion and found that insiders working with outsider-accomplices had greater financial impact to their organization than those working with other insiders. When an insider works alone, or when an insider works with others within their organization, User Activity Monitoring (UAM) / User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) tools have the ability to identify one or multiple insiders as engaging in anomalous or suspicious activity. When insiders are working together, further analysis can correlate that suspicious activity and provide insight into where data may have moved. But what insight do organizations have when an insider reaches out to others to commit a malicious act? In this post, we explore a subset of these insider-outsider collusion incidents that involve an insider's significant other (i.e., current or former partners or spouses).

In this blog post, I will discuss substance abuse as a potential precursor to increased insider threat and share statistics from the CERT National Insider Threat Center's (NITC) Insider Incident Corpus on incidents that involved some type of substance use or abuse by the insider. In relation to insider threats, I will discuss the prevalence of substance abuse and discuss some of its impacts on organizations. Finally, I will outline some technical means of detecting employee substance abuse and share some best practices from the CERT Common Sense Guide for Mitigating Insider Threats.