Perhaps because of their incredible scope or their shocking prevalence, data breaches are creating a lot of buzz right now. It seems that a new event happens every week, and even though companies rightly fear an attack from an external source, internal threats pose a hidden risk, accounting for a substantial number of data breaches.

While we hear about major incidents in the media, the truth is that no business is immune from the danger of insider threats. Fortunately, companies are quickly recognizing this new dynamic.

According to a recent report by CA Technologies, 90% of organizations feel vulnerable to insider attacks. Indeed, the financial impact, the loss of core IPs, and the damage to brand reputation are cascading problems that can shake the very foundation of any SME.

However, since insiders, including employees, suppliers, and partners, are already in the organization’s trusted network, standard cybersecurity measures usually designed to defend against outside attacks aren’t adequate to protect the organization from these accidental or malicious “enemies within.”  

Therefore, organizations need to look into user activity and behavior monitoring and adopt a user-behavior driven data loss prevention strategy to effectively defend against insider threats. Here are ten tips to develop an insider threat prevention strategy:

1. Implement a risk assessment methodology

When it comes to data security, operating without a plan is most certainly planning to fail. In today’s digital environment where data breaches and leaks are uncomfortably common, every organization needs a holistic approach to data security.

In other words, the only way to effectively protect data is to analyze and evaluate every aspect of a company’s data landscape and to adopt a methodology for continually assessing the risk protection strategies already in place. This includes identifying vulnerable assets and weak access points, while also observing risk trends and mitigating opportunities to fail.

While implementing a risk assessment methodology requires an all-in approach from the entire organization, implementing the right technology, like comprehensive employee monitoring software, can be the natural next step to identify and prevent a devastating data loss event.

2. Monitor employee activity, and respond to suspicious behavior

Advances in machine learning and other ancillary technologies allow companies to establish user profiles so that abnormal behavior can be identified and investigated.

For example, frequent late shifts, printing more documents than normal, or copying substantial amounts of data from external drives can be an indication of possible malicious behavior.

Of course, other, more subtle activity can be a red flag as well. Powerful employee monitoring software equipped with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and context analysis capabilities can detect when employees research topics related to hacking, an uptick in complaints or angry sentiments expressed through internet chats, or a sudden decline of work-related activities. These signals can all serve as a precursor to the intention to steal data.

While these behaviors may not necessarily indicate a data breach, they could mean everything for early detection, and they are worthy of response and investigation.

3. Collect and save data for forensic examination

When a data loss event does occur, companies need to understand what happened so that they can improve their practices and seal the security holes.

In short, there is both an educational and a deterrence component to data security, and both require digital forensics.  

Therefore, recording sessions when employees access sensitive information, maintaining logs of data access, and sustaining digital activity trails can equip IT admins with the investigative capabilities necessary to evaluate the threat and to fortify protocols to prevent it from happening again.

4. Minimize the threat by limiting access to safe resources

The internet is an expansive ecosystem with a myriad of websites and apps that, taken together, represent both an opportunity and a threat to organizations striving to protect their data.

To limit their exposure, companies should determine and implement a whitelist and a blacklist for websites or apps that are useful or even dangerous. Moreover, for the inevitable gray area between white and black lists, IT admins should be notified when unknown apps are being accessed so that they can evaluate the use and take action if necessary.

5. Classify sensitive data and implement perimeter rules

Not all data is created equally, and some data is more sensitive than others. More importantly, not all employees need to have access to all the organization’s data. Classify sensitive data as such, and limit access to employees who actually need that information.

In a very real way, employees should be on a need-to-know basis, and today’s software can ensure that they only have access to what they need to see. Perhaps more importantly, sensitive data can be protected with additional security measures like tagging and fingerprinting that can, among other features, stop users from sharing secure data.

6. Automate security policies to take proactive action

Whether they act maliciously or accidentally, employees can quickly compromise their company’s data. Fortunately, by deploying the right software, any organization can automate policies that proactively prevent this from happening.

For instance, it’s possible to prevent employees from opening PDFs from unknown email senders and to block the upload of company files to personal storage sites like Dropbox or Google Drive.

As a best practice protocol, companies should implement privileged user monitoring to maintain extra vigilance and scrutiny for administrators and other privileged users, ensuring that they don’t create new system rules, open backdoor accounts, increase their system privileges, access sensitive personal information, or edit configuration or system files.  

7. Implement third-party vendor monitoring

Maintaining a modern IT infrastructure frequently involves providing third-party vendors with network access, which can compromise user data. According to a 2018 study by the Ponemon Institute, more than half of companies that experienced a data breach attribute the cause to a third-party vendor.

The ability to access system preferences allows external vendors to steal company data as well as damage IT infrastructure, but monitoring third-party vendors can protect against inappropriate data use or theft. In addition, companies can suspend a vendor’s credentials, so that they cannot access the network unless they are actively working on a project.  

Collaborating with third-party vendors may be a veritable necessity of the digital age, but that doesn’t mean that sensitive data needs to be compromised in the process.

8. Establish compliance and security standards

In today’s regulatory environment, data loss isn’t just an existential threat, it’s a practical problem with legal and financial consequences. The implementation of Europe’s comprehensive GDPR legislation, the medical sector’s HIPAA guidelines, and other forthcoming regulations significantly raise the stakes for data protection.

Identifying and examining their protocols can yield helpful strategies for preventing data loss, while simultaneously ensuring that companies remain compliant with their increasingly stringent demands.

9. Integrate DLP and SIEMs for better coverage

When examining a company’s network infrastructure, it’s critical to attain as much security coverage as possible. Therefore, choose a solution that provides a unified insider detection and data loss prevention feature set.

A responsive, real-time DLP framework that seamlessly integrates with SIEMs provides centralized insight into data management protocols and offers real-time alert management for complete security coverage.

10. Train & educate employees, contractors, and suppliers

Ultimately, data protection is a priority that requires consistent training and retraining to be effective. Although it may look different for each company, outlining the boundaries with a comprehensive Acceptable Use Policy is a natural next step.

Best practice guides, business etiquette initiatives, and onboarding training can reinforce and reproduce company values. When combined with instructive technology that provides on-time warning messages and behavior-shaping monitoring tools, companies can create a dynamic learning environment that educates their workforce on the practice and priority of data security.

In today’s data landscape it’s more important than ever for companies to protect against the insider threats lurking within their companies. To be sure, this starts with hiring the right people who support and adopt the organization’s data security mindset. However, implementing the right policies and integrating the right technologies can make all the difference. Comprehensive employee monitoring software is the place to start, providing valuable metrics and instituting guidelines to protect against internal threats.