Insider Threat Definition

KZero Staff
Jul 27, 2023

What is an Insider Threat?

Cybersecurity programs can frequently be outward-focused. The assumption is that all threats to the organization originate from cybercriminals outside the corporate network. By fortifying the network perimeter, companies try to keep these threat actors away from valuable data and resources.

However, organizations also face security threats from the inside as well. These insider threats may intentionally attempt to harm the company or may place it at risk of cybersecurity threats.

What are Insider Threats?

An insider threat is a cybersecurity threat that originates from inside the organization. Some common types of insider threats include:

  • Malicious Insiders: Malicious insiders deliberately abuse their privileges and access to harm the organization. For example, a disgruntled employee may sabotage IT resources or steal data from the company.
  • Departing Employees: An employee leaving the organization — by choice or otherwise — is a common insider threat. Many people, when departing an organization, will take data with them. The argument behind this data breach is that the data is the result of their work, and they have a right to keep it.
  • Negligent Insiders: Negligence is likely the most common way that employees place the organization at risk. Failing to properly secure data, falling for phishing scams, and shadow IT are three examples of how an employee can unintentionally place the company at risk.
  • Compromised Insiders: External attackers may compromise insiders and convince them to participate in their attacks. For example, some ransomware gangs have offered rewards for employees willing to install ransomware on their employers’ computers.

Common Insider Attacks

Insiders are an especially dangerous threat to an organization because they have access to its systems and knowledge of how it works. Some common forms of insider threats include:

  • Data Breaches: An employee may expose or leak company data intentionally or otherwise. This could be by failing to properly secure it on the cloud, sending an email to the wrong recipient, or intentionally taking it with them upon departing a role.
  • Sabotage: Insiders often have the access and knowledge necessary to sabotage an organization’s operations. For example, an insider could delete important files or plant malware on corporate systems.
  • Fraud: Insiders can also engage in fraudulent activities that involve cybercrime. For example, insiders could falsify data for their own gain.
  • Espionage: An employee can engage in espionage against the company. This could involve selling data to competitors, foreign governments, or other interested parties.

Protecting Against Insider Threats

Insider threats can be difficult to protect against because insiders are already within an organization’s network perimeter and have the access needed to carry out their attacks. Some ways to manage insider risk include:

  • Least Privilege Access: Graning insiders the minimum set of permissions needed for their role limits the damage that they can do to an organization.
  • Separation of Duties: Breaking critical tasks into multiple pieces owned by different people makes it harder to perform fraud or other risky activities.
  • Employee Training: Training employees on cybersecurity threats and best practices reduces the risk of insider threats caused by negligence.
  • User Behavior Analytics (UBA): UBA monitors behavior to identify anomalous and suspicious behavior that might be linked to insider threats.
  • Monitoring and Auditing: Regular security audits and ongoing monitoring can help to identify insider risk.


Insider threats are cybersecurity threats posed by trusted employees or contractors. These trusted parties can place the organization at risk either intentionally or through negligent actions,

KZero Staff

Explore more insightful content from the knowledgeable KZero staff on our blog and guides section.

Glossary Terms

Stay up to date with the most recent #infosec topics

Trending Topics

Interested In
Next-Gen MFA?

Discover Multi-Pass enterprise passwordless authentication

Share the page: