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Insider threat detection tools: Hard to find, harder to fund

While most of the emphasis in cybersecurity seems to be on external threats and the damage suffered when network and data defenses are breached, threats from insiders are getting more attention in the aftermath of the Snowden and Wikileaks revelations. What to do about those is another question, since the tools currently used by organizations to track incursions don’t seem up to the task.

It’s not a new phenomenon. The FBI a long time ago began voicing its concern about threats from privileged users of data, both in government and industry. The issue has its very own website at the FBI, and the concern within government was bolstered by a White House memo published at the end of 2012 aimed at the heads of agencies.

Now comes a survey by the Ponemon Institute, sponsored by Raytheon, that shows where the recognition/mitigation gap lies.

Over all of the government and industry sources surveyed, for example, 88 percent said they recognized that the insider threat is a cause for alarm, and that the abuse will increase. At the same time, however, they said they have difficulty identifying what specific threatening action looks like.

chart showing challenges in establish whether an event is an insider threat

Source: Insider Threat Ponemon Survey Report

“Responders said they just don’t have enough contextual information from their existing tools, which also throw up too many false positives,” said Michael Crouse, Raytheon’s director of insider threat strategies. “There’s a real need for a different way to attack the problem.”

Unlike external threats, where malicious intent is assumed, the situation with insiders is more nuanced. Of those who access sensitive or confidential information that isn’t necessary for their jobs, for example, survey respondents said as many as two-thirds are simply driven by curiosity.

In government, you can probably add the frustration of people under increasing pressure to get the job done and who don’t want to spend the time working through the red tape necessary to access information they think they need. Who hasn’t asked a buddy in the office to help with that kind of thing?

Other recent studies have also made the point that insider threats come from relatively innocent actions as much, or even more, than malicious events. Verizon’s 2014 Data Breach Investigation Report, for example, showed that misuse by insiders could come from something as simple as sending an email to the wrong person or attaching files that shouldn’t be attached.

One simple move toward an answer would be for organizations to properly configure tools they do have, something Crouse said is “the easiest and most cost-effective” thing they can do. Beyond that, agencies  need complementary tools, such as end-point monitoring that show how users behave when they access data through an end-point, detailing IM traffic, contextual emails and whether they are cutting and pasting information in ways they haven’t previously.

That’s all well and good, of course, but there’s a big catch. While nearly 90 percent of those surveyed in the Ponemon report said they understood the need for enhanced security, only 40 percent had any kind of a dedicated budget to spend on tools specifically aimed at insider threats. That’s why most organizations — and certainly government agencies — have to limp along by trying to jerry-rig existing, and unsuitable, cybersecurity tools to do the job.

One of the reasons for that budget shortfall, Crouse gamely admitted, is that companies like his have not done a good job explaining the ROI from money spent on these tools. What organizations don’t understand, he said, is that while the number of actual breaches from insiders is low compared to those from external threats, the impact from those breaches is substantially higher.

“I don’t think they truly understand either the monetary or mission impact from these insider breaches,” he said. “They’re just now trying to get their heads around that.”

Posted by Brian Robinson on May 23, 2014 at 9:30 AM


Reader Comments

Mon, May 26, 2014 Chris Bunn France

I'd add to this that from our research, nearly 90% of IT pros believed the insider threat is cultural and not a tech issue. They were not aware that technology solutions exist to actively manage and reduce the threat from within. You can read more from this research called The Insider Threat Security Manifesto. http://www.isdecisions.com/blog/it-management/technology-solutions-insider-threat/

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