Monitor Insider Threats but Build Trust First

Pierluigi Paganini July 28, 2023

The issue of how to prevent insider threats without infringing on employee privacy is one that has been a hot topic of debate in recent years.

Because insider threats are uniquely challenging to detect and identify, different methods are needed than traditional detection based on signatures or other known threat triggers. Tools that are designed to detect insider threats are more effective, but also bring up questions related to the level of monitoring necessary and employees’ right to a certain level of privacy. It is not impossible to juggle these contradictory needs, but it may require a more holistic approach to security and a culture of trust within an organization.

Insider Threats

An insider threat refers to any time that someone with authorized access to any part of an organization’s networks, systems, devices, accounts, or assets uses that access to cause damage to the organization from within. An insider can be an employee, a contractor, a partner, or even a maintenance or custodial worker in the building. Their risky behavior may be intentional or unintentional, and can manifest in a variety of ways.

There are three major types of insider threat: malicious insiders, negligent insiders, and compromised insiders. Malicious insiders set out to intentionally cause harm to an organization from within, negligent insiders accidentally damage the organization through their action or inaction, and compromised insiders have their credentials stolen by external actors looking to infiltrate the organization. All three are costly to remediate and potentially dangerous to a company’s assets, operations, and reputation.

Detection and Prevention

Tools that attempt to prevent cyberattacks are often designed to keep outsiders out, using firewalls, authentication and authorization, signature-based detection, and other measures. While these are important and effective parts of a robust and layered security strategy, they are not effective against insider threats. In order to detect insider risks and prevent them from turning into insider threat incidents, it is necessary to use a solution that monitors user behavior to establish a baseline and then detect anomalous activity.

There are a variety of different tools on the market, and it is important for security teams to weigh all of the options and decide what is best suited for their organization’s needs and abilities. Each solution has its pros and cons, different features and abilities, so research is paramount before making a decision. Employing “a data-aware insider threat detection platform” may go a long way toward preventing insider threats and deliver fewer false positives than a less dynamic solution.

The Importance of Trust

While user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) software as described above is effective against insider threats in contrast with traditional threat detection, it comes with its own thorny complications as well. Many employees feel that software closely monitoring their activity is a violation of their privacy and shows a lack of trust in them and in their abilities. These feelings can lead to the exact opposite of the intended effect: high turnover, low morale, and disillusionment toward the organization that may even be the direct reason for an employee betraying their organization.

In order to effectively protect against insider threats without alienating employees or encroaching on their right to privacy, it is essential to build a security-minded culture of trust within an organization. Transparency is key for employees to understand which of their activities are being monitored and why; this way, everybody in the organization is on the same page regarding the surveillance taking place and nobody is left in the dark.

How to Build Trust

The question of how to build trust with employees, much like every other factor in preventing insider threats, is complex and does not have one simple solution. There are, however, a few guiding principles that should be of help. It is important to understand—and share so employees can understand—the precise purpose of whatever monitoring software is used. Surveillance to an extent is expected and accepted in the workplace, but the purpose must be clear, and the process should be suited to the purpose.

It is also recommended that organizations communicate with their employees regarding what areas of activity are monitored, how and where behavioral data is collected and stored, the standards to which they are being held, and what software is being used. This is impactful as part of a culture of trust, where employees are treated with respect rather than suspicion and the purpose of surveillance is “to better educate and guide them,” not to catch them breaking rules.


Organizations looking to fortify their security posture to defend against insider threats should approach the subject from all angles, considering not only the technical and logistical aspects, but the human element as well. It is important to foster a culture of trust and empathy where employees are aware of the security measures in place and their feelings are weighed seriously in security decisions. Monitoring and surveillance may be able to identify when user behavior deviates from the established baseline, but it cannot account for employees’ need—and their right—to have a certain level of privacy and transparency from the organization they work for.

About the author: PJ Bradley is a writer on a wide variety of topics, passionate about learning and helping people above all else. Holding a bachelor’s degree from Oakland University, PJ enjoys using a lifelong desire to understand how things work to write about subjects that inspire interest. Most of PJ’s free time is spent reading and writing. PJ is also a regular writer at Bora

Follow me on Twitter: @securityaffairs Facebook and Mastodon

Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Insider Threats)

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