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  • 16 January 2024
  • 7 min read

How to prevent and protect against insider threats?

How to prevent insider threats, 10 common indicators of insider threats and how employee morale influences insider threat levels.
FAQ Series How to prevent and protect against insider threats

Every single year, we must reiterate and reinforce the risk of insider threats. Organisations must be proactive in implementing strategies to prevent and protect against these threats.

Today, we are delving into effective methods for preventing and protecting against insider threats, offering valuable insights for decision-makers and employees alike.

How to prevent insider threats

How to prevent insider threats
  • Establish a robust security policy: Begin by developing and implementing a comprehensive security policy that outlines acceptable use, data handling practices, and consequences for policy violations. Running a Security Awareness and Behaviour Research (SABR) survey on your security network can really help in this process by identifying gaps that need plugging. It will also inform what your security policies must focus on. Ensure that employees are aware of and understand the policies through regular training sessions.
  • Conduct thorough background checks: Prior to hiring, conduct thorough background checks on potential employees, contractors, and vendors. This helps in identifying any red flags that may indicate a higher risk of insider threats. If you already practice data classification, ensure that employees assigned to handling confidential and internal data, understand the responsibilities they hold.
  • Implement least privilege principle: Adopt the least privilege principle, granting employees the minimum access necessary to perform their roles. Regularly review and update permissions based on employees' job requirements, limiting the potential damage of a security breach.
  • Consider zero trust: If you want an even more extreme solution than the least privilege principle, your organisation can consider ‘zero trust.’ In a ‘zero trust’ network, no single employee has immediate access to any data on their organisation’s network. In fact, they must request and obtain permission for accessing any data or files, thus making actions and the requests aware to the security team every single time.

How to protect against insider threats

  • Employee education and training: Invest in comprehensive cyber security awareness and training programs for employees. Equip them with the knowledge to recognise phishing attempts, social engineering tactics, and the importance of secure password practices. When organisations show their employees that they care and value their development and progression, employees reflect that in the strength and care they take in their digital actions. Security is reciprocated when respect is shown.
  • Data classification and encryption: Implement a robust data classification system to categorise sensitive information based on its importance and confidentiality. Encrypt sensitive data to ensure that even if it falls into the wrong hands, it remains unreadable and protected.
  • Monitor user activities: Leverage advanced monitoring tools to keep a vigilant eye on user activities within the organisation's network. Anomalies and suspicious behaviour can be detected early, allowing for a swift response to potential insider threats.

10 common indicators of insider threats

10 common indicators of insider threats

Several common indicators can serve as red flags, signalling the need for closer scrutiny. Vigilant monitoring, coupled with regular cyber security awareness training, can help organisations detect and address these indicators early, minimising the potential impact of insider threats. Let us run through some of these indicators:

  1. Abnormal access patterns: Unusual access to sensitive data or systems, especially during non-working hours or from unfamiliar locations, may indicate unauthorised activities.
  2. Frequent login failures: Repeated login failures or multiple attempts to access restricted areas may suggest someone trying to gain unauthorised access to the network.
  3. Unauthorised data access: Employees accessing files or databases beyond the scope of their job responsibilities, particularly those unrelated to their department, could be a sign of insider threats.
  4. Unusual network traffic: Abnormal network activity, such as large data transfers or multiple file downloads, could indicate an insider attempting to exfiltrate sensitive information.
  5. Changes in behaviour: Drastic changes in an employee's behaviour, such as sudden withdrawal, discontent, or disgruntlement, may signal potential malicious intent or susceptibility to external coercion. If you run employee behaviour research and surveys, you can also analyse and compare past and present employee behaviour to see if there are any drastic changes.
  6. Inadequate security hygiene: Employees ignoring or bypassing security protocols, like sharing passwords or neglecting to log out, may inadvertently create vulnerabilities that lead to unintended insider threat cases.
  7. Excessive print or copying activities: An unexplained increase in printing or copying activities, especially involving confidential documents, may be a sign of data theft.
  8. Accessing restricted areas: Unauthorised entry into physical spaces or digital areas outside an employee's authorised scope could be indicative of malicious intent or espionage.
  9. Communication with competitors: Unusual or unauthorised communication, particularly with competitors or external entities, may suggest potential insider collusion or information leakage.
  10. Unexplained system changes: Any unexpected alterations to system configurations, security settings, or user permissions should be investigated promptly, as they may be signs of an insider threat attempting to cover their tracks.

What role does employee morale play in insider threats?

Employee morale is a subtle yet powerful factor that can significantly impact an organisation's cyber security landscape. A positive work environment fosters trust, collaboration, and a sense of loyalty among employees, reducing the likelihood of insider threats. On the other hand, low morale can create an environment conducive to malicious activities. Here is a closer look at how employee morale influences insider threats:

  • Disengagement and discontent: Employees experiencing dissatisfaction or disengagement may become susceptible to external influence or exploitation. Disgruntled individuals might be more prone to committing insider threats as a form of retaliation or seeking personal gain.
  • Lack of loyalty: When employees feel undervalued or disconnected from their organisation, their loyalty diminishes. This reduced allegiance can lead to a higher likelihood of insiders compromising sensitive information without a sense of responsibility towards the company.
  • Increased vulnerability to social engineering: Low morale can make employees more susceptible to social engineering tactics. Cybercriminals may exploit their emotional state, manipulating disheartened individuals into unintentionally participating in activities that compromise cyber security.
  • Neglect of security protocols: Employees with low morale may be less inclined to adhere to security protocols and best practices. This can manifest in neglectful behaviours such as sharing passwords, ignoring cyber security training, or bypassing established security measures.
  • Lack of team cohesion: Healthy workplace relationships contribute to a keen sense of camaraderie and mutual respect. In contrast, poor morale may lead to a lack of collaboration, making it easier for individuals to engage in malicious activities without the oversight of their peers. A disconnected team also does not look out for or advise each other on security practices.
  • Increased likelihood of insider collusion: Low morale can foster an environment where employees are more inclined to collaborate with external entities or competitors. This collaboration may involve sharing sensitive information, leading to insider threats aimed at economic espionage or intellectual property theft.
  • Reduced reporting of suspicious activity: Employees with low morale may be hesitant to report suspicious activities or potential security incidents. Fear of repercussions, laziness, or a lack of trust in organisational processes can contribute to the underreporting of insider threats.

Addressing employee morale as part of a comprehensive cyber security strategy is essential. Organisations should prioritise creating a positive work culture, fostering open communication, and regularly assessing and improving employee satisfaction. By investing in employee well-being, organisations can fortify their defences against insider threats and cultivate a workforce that actively contributes to a secure and resilient cyber security posture.


Preventing and protecting against insider threats requires a multifaceted approach encompassing policies, education, and technology. By implementing these strategies, organisations can fortify their defences against potential insider threats and create a cyber-aware culture that safeguards sensitive data.

Stay informed, stay vigilant, and empower your workforce to be the first line of defence against insider threats.

Working with the right partner

Partnering with a trusted cyber security training and awareness company, such as The Security Company Ltd. (TSC), is crucial. With 25 years of experience, TSC specialises in enhancing security behaviours, fostering a robust security culture, and raising awareness of threats and risks across global organisations.

The dynamic nature of cyber threats necessitates a comprehensive and adaptive cyber security strategy for UK law firms. By understanding the evolving threat landscape and investing in robust training and awareness initiatives, decision-makers can fortify their organisations against potential risks and cyberattacks.

At The Security Company, we specialise in boosting cyber awareness, targeted training, customised projects and role-based solutions. Through our tailored subscription services, targeted and customised eLearning and awareness materials and our behavioural assessments, we're committed to helping organisations like yours instil long-term, security-conscious behaviours.

Our method is distinct. We begin by diving deep into your team's current mindset, pinpointing lax behaviours, security gaps and departments in need of focus and attention. From there, we craft tailored solutions that encourage better cyber practices from your employees. With comprehensive training and seamless integration into your current systems, we're here to fortify your team against modern cyber threats and be your trusted cyber security and awareness partner.

Ready to take the next step?

We can help you to formulate an effective and comprehensive cyber security training and awareness program for your organisation year-round and be your dedicated partner for employee behaviour change and, ultimately, security culture change.

Do not hesitate to contact us for further information.

Written by
Nas Ali
Cyber security and awareness content creator focused on emerging threats and the next wave of cyber security risks like AI, deepfakes and tech 4.0 initiatives in order to build towards a more secure organisational culture.
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