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Secret Service and CERT Release Report Analyzing Acts of Insider Sabotage Via Computer Systems in Critical Infrastructure Sectors

Press Release

Secret Service and CERT Release Second Insider Threat Report

Second in a Series of Reports Focusing on Insider  Threats to Information Systems and Data in Critical Infrastructure Sectors

(Washington, DC) - The United States Secret Service and the  Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute’s CERT today announced  the findings of the second Insider  Threat Study report. According to the report, which analyzed acts of insider  sabotage on computer systems in critical infrastructure sectors, the majority  of insiders who committed the attacks were former employees, motivated at least  in part by a desire to seek revenge and who were granted system administrator  or privileged access when hired.

The goal of the Insider Threat Study, made possible in part  by financial support from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science  and Technology Directorate, is to better understand malicious insider activities  affecting information systems and data in critical infrastructure sectors. The  study is the first of its kind to provide a comprehensive analysis of insider  actions by analyzing both the behavioral and technical aspects of the threats.

“At a time when homeland security is more closely linked  than ever to the protection of our nation’s critical infrastructure, the  Insider Threat Study serves as an important reminder for all of us to protect  sensitive information by closely monitoring and safeguarding network usage and  reporting suspected intrusions to security personnel and law enforcement as  soon as a breach is detected,” said United States Secret Service Director  Ralph Basham.

  The Findings
  Forty-nine cases, carried out between 1996 and 2002, were examined across critical  infrastructure sectors. These cases were purposely limited to those in which  an insider’s primary goal was to sabotage some aspect of the organization  or direct specific harm toward an individual. The study revealed:

  • A negative work-related    event triggered most of the insiders’ actions.
  • Sixty-two percent    of incidents were planned in advance.
  • Eighty percent    of the insiders exhibited unusual behavior in the workplace prior to carrying    out their activities.
  • Fifty-seven percent    of insiders exploited systemic vulnerabilities in applications, processes    and/or procedures.
  • Thirty-nine percent    used relatively sophisticated attack tools.
  • Sixty percent of    insiders compromised computer accounts, created unauthorized backdoor accounts    or used shared accounts in their attacks.
  • Most incidents    were carried out via remote access.
  • Less than half    of the insiders (43%) had authorized access at the time of the incident.
  • Insider activities    caused financial losses (81%), negative impacts to business operations (75%)    and damage to the organizations’ reputations (28%).

“The power of a terminated employee with system administrator  access should not be underestimated," said Dawn Cappelli, senior member  of the technical staff with CERT. "Some organizations completely neglect  disabling access upon termination. Others go through the steps to disable access,  but the insider is able to find that one access control gap that was overlooked.  It is important that technical staff are attentive to the obscure methods used  in the insider attacks in this study.”

  This report suggests important proactive strategies by all levels of an organization’s  personnel to mitigate insider threats. These strategies include detailed suggestions  for best practices for information security and human resources that historically  have not been consistently implemented. Specifically, the report suggests:

  • Disabling access    following termination
  • Management attention    to negative events in the workplace
  • Establishing formal    grievance procedures as an outlet for insider complaints
  • Creating reporting    processes for when a colleague notices or suspects concerning behavior
  • Enforcing comprehensive    password policies, computer account management practices and layered security    for remote access
  • Using configuration    management practices for detection of logic bombs and malicious code
  • System logging    and monitoring, and backup and recovery procedures

About the Insider Threat Study
  The Insider Threat Study is a collaborative research endeavor between the Secret  Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) and CERT, designed  to develop information to help private industry, government and law enforcement  better understand, detect, and ultimately prevent harmful insider activity.  The definition of an insider for this study includes current, former, or contract  employees of an organization.

Previously, in August 2004, the first report of the Insider  Threat Study was released: Insider Threat Study: Illicit Cyber Activity in the  Banking and Finance Sector. It focused on the people who had access to and perpetrated  harm using information systems in the banking and finance sector, which includes  credit unions, credit bureaus and other financial institutions.

About the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment  Center
  The Secret Service has taken a lead role in the developing area of cyber crime,  establishing working partnerships in both the law enforcement and business communities  to address such issues as protection of critical infrastructure, internet intrusions  and associated fraud.

The National Threat Assessment Center was created by the Secret  Service in 2000 to provide leadership and guidance to the emerging field of  threat assessment. Two previous NTAC studies, the Exceptional Case Study Project  and the Safe School Initiative, analyzed physical attacks on public officials  and public figures and attacks on schools. Both studies focused on identifying  information that was operationally relevant and that could help prevent future  violent or disruptive incidents. Findings from the Insider Threat Study may  similarly enhance efforts within law enforcement, corporate security, information  technology, and others in prevention, early detection, and investigation of  cyber-related crimes.

About CERT
  CERT is located at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute  (SEI) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. The SEI is a U.S. Department of Defense  sponsored federally funded research and development center. The CERT Coordination  Center, an initiative within CERT, was established in 1988 to deal with security  issues on the Internet. It also partners with and supports the U.S. Department  of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division and its US-CERT  to coordinate response to security compromises, identify trends in intruder  activity, identify solutions to security problems, and disseminate information  to the broader community. CERT also conducts research and development to create  solutions to security problems and provides training to help individuals build  skills in dealing with cyber-security issues.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The  complete report from the Insider Threat Study can be found at  and