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Insider Threat

Definition: An insider threat is a security risk that originates within the targeted organisation, typically involving an active or former employee, contractor, or business associate who has or had authorised access to the organisation's network, systems, or data.

Insider threats are particularly challenging because they involve individuals who legitimately have, or once had, access to sensitive company information and may understand the company’s security practices and weaknesses. Unlike external threats, insider threats can be harder to detect and can come from the negligence, carelessness, or malicious intent of the insider.

There are two primary categories of insider threats:

  1. Unintentional insiders who inadvertently cause harm due to lack of knowledge, negligence, or being manipulated (for example, via social engineering or phishing attacks).
  2. Malicious insiders who intentionally steal, sabotage, or leak data for personal gain, a grievance, or other reasons.

Companies must take a multi-layered approach to minimise the risks associated with insider threats. This includes implementing security policies such as regular access reviews, user activity monitoring, deploying data loss prevention (DLP) technologies, and providing ongoing security awareness training. It is equally important to foster a positive workplace culture to reduce the likelihood of malicious actions by disgruntled employees and to conduct thorough background checks during the hiring process.

Key Characteristics:

  • Security risk originating from within the organisation
  • Involves individuals with legitimate access to the network, systems, or data
  • Can be unintentional or malicious in nature
  • Requires a comprehensive approach to mitigate, including policy measures and work culture improvement


  • Real-World Example: A bank employee with access to customer data exploits his privileges to siphon off funds from customer accounts into personal accounts, reflecting a malicious insider threat.
  • Hypothetical Scenario: An employee of a software company, out of negligence, leaves a backup drive containing sensitive source code at a coffee shop. An external actor finds and exploits this data, showcasing an unintentional insider threat.

Related Terms:

  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP): Security strategies that help detect and prevent data breaches, which are vital in mitigating the risks associated with insider threats.
  • Privilege Escalation: A process where an insider threat might seek to gain higher access levels without authorisation, to carry out malicious activities.
  • Social Engineering: A tactic that may be leveraged by insider threats to manipulate colleagues into unknowingly providing access to restricted areas or sensitive information.
  • Access Control: Measures that restrict system access to authorised users, which help limit the potential damage that insider threats could cause.

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