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Addressing Insider Threats: Safeguarding Sensitive Data in Federal Agencies

In an ever-evolving landscape of technology and data, the United States federal government faces a pressing challenge – safeguarding sensitive information from insider threats. Recent events have exposed the vulnerabilities within federal agencies, where the dangers now lurk within their ranks. From malicious insiders to unintentional errors, the impact of insider breaches extends far beyond financial losses, posing a grave risk to national security and public trust.

Government institutions should be well-secured and protected. The US government even established the National Insider Threat Task Force to assist federal institutions in “building programs that deter, detect, and mitigate” the actions of malevolent insiders after realizing the genuine danger of insider threats. However, we can see that many government institutions and agencies’ security risk management procedures still need to improve. They are exposed to both internal and external cyber-attacks because of these vulnerabilities. Statistics indicate that insider threats cause 30% of all cybersecurity issues in government agencies and enterprises. As a result, recognizing and countering an insider threat is crucial to safeguarding the private information of both public and governmental entities.

What is Insider Threat?

An insider threat occurs when an insider uses their access to or familiarity with an organization to harm the organization. The integrity, confidentiality, and availability of the company, data, people, or facilities can all be negatively affected by malicious, complacent, or unintentional actions. This general definition may be more appropriate and adaptable for their business usage than the specific definition provided by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

According to CISA, an insider threat is the possibility of using their access to the department’s resources, persons, facilities, information, equipment, networks, or systems maliciously or unintentionally.

It is difficult for traditional security measures to identify an internal threat inside an organization since they are focused on external threats. The following types of insider threats exist:

Malicious Insider:3
It is a person who willfully and maliciously misuses legitimate credentials, often for personal or monetary gain, to steal information. An employee who sells confidential knowledge to rivals or someone with a grudge against a former employer is an example of turncloaks. Since turncloaks know an organization’s security rules, procedures, and weaknesses, they have an advantage over other attackers.

Careless Insider:
An irresponsible insider exposes the system to dangers from the outside while acting as an innocent pawn. Most insider threats result from errors, such as leaving a gadget accessible or falling for a hoax. For example, a worker with no malice may click on an unsafe link and install malware.

A Mole:
A mole is a traitor who has managed to get insider access to a secure network despite being an outsider technically. It’s the type of person who is an outsider who poses as an employee or business partner.

Threat Detection Solutions for Federal Agencies

Since they are hidden from typical security solutions like firewalls and intrusion detection systems, which concentrate on external threats, insider threats might be more difficult to detect or avoid than outside attacks. The security measures might not spot strange behavior if an attacker takes advantage of a legitimate login. Furthermore, malevolent insiders can readily avoid detection if they know an organization’s security protocols.

The major problem is that malicious actors behave normally and perform their usual tasks, thus disappearing into the background. So how do you identify a snake in the grass?

Instead of relying on a single solution, you should diversify your insider threat detection strategy to safeguard your assets. An efficient system for detecting insider threats includes several methods to monitor insider activity, sort through the many warnings, and eliminate false positives.

The three steps an organization can take to increase its cybersecurity level:

  1. Specify Dangerous Actions: Organizations can maximize their cybersecurity policies by enforcing clear rules that prohibit harmful activities. Activities such as sharing passwords, using shadow IT, and using unapproved USB devices should be prohibited. By educating government employees about cybersecurity best practices, organizations can maximize the effectiveness of a traditional policy-based approach while reducing the number of negligent insiders.
  2. Limit Access Privileges: Access permissions should be defined for all employees and organizational roles. Only authorized personnel should be able to access information or systems they are supposed to.
  3. Monitor User’s Actions: The key to identifying and preventing insider attacks is watching, recording, and analyzing each user’s action when interacting with crucial assets. If a cybersecurity incident occurs, the captured information can be used to identify the root cause and enhance the cybersecurity strategy to avoid future recurrences.

Conclusion

Government agencies need help addressing the issue of insider threats. They are forced to create weak cybersecurity measures due to the necessity to save costs and adhere to numerous requirements.

Agencies should focus more on monitoring user behavior, access management, and incident response to combat the issue of insider threats within the US government. By doing this, they can dramatically reduce the attack surface and quickly identify potential attacks. It will also be beneficial to specify prohibited behaviors in an organization’s cybersecurity policy and to inform staff members of the true significance of these limits. For privileged access management, user activity monitoring, incident response, and auditing, vTech Solution offers a complete suite of insider threat protection solutions.

Works Cited

  1. “Defining Insider Threats.” CISA Gov, www.cisa.gov/topics/physical-security/insider-threat-mitigation/defining-insider-threats#:~:text=The%20Cybersecurity%20and%20Infrastructure%20Security,equipment%2C%20networks%2C%20or%20systems.
  2. “Insider Threat.” Imperva, www.imperva.com/learn/application-security/insider-threats/.
  3. “Insider Threats in the US Federal Government: Detection and Prevention  Origin: Ekran, 4 Oct. 2019, www.ekransystem.com/en/blog/insider-threats-us-federal-government-detection-and-prevention.

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