The Impact of Remote Access on Insider Threats

If you’ve been following our previous articles on the Fudo Security Blog, you’ve likely noticed that we often mention how remote work has become an essential component of the modern workplace, greatly enhancing efficiency while also representing an appealing employment option in various settings. This is a fact, and that’s why we frequently address this topic. Equally important is the acknowledgement that, alongside its advantages, remote work introduces numerous security threats to your company. Remote access functions as a gateway for cybercriminals and must be adequately safeguarded against unauthorized intrusion; otherwise, the consequences of negligence can be severe. We went into more detail about this in our article titled “TOP 8 Remote Work Best Practices for SMB’s.”

However, despite the fact that external threats are very dangerous and strong emphasis should be placed on defenses against such attacks, remember that there is also a type of threat known as a malicious insider. This is a very challenging type of threat because it is difficult to predict from which direction it will strike.

Understanding What Is an Insider Threat

Insider threats refer to security risks posed by individuals with authorized access to an organization’s systems, data, or facilities. These individuals can be employees, contractors, or business partners who, intentionally or unintentionally, misuse their privileges to compromise security. This type of threat occurs among the most expensive types of breaches in 2022, according to the Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022. A malicious insider is usually a current or former employee or business associate with privileged access to a company’s sensitive data or critical infrastructure. This is the most difficult opponent to handle because he has authorized access and intentionally misuses his privileges to steal information.

According to the “CISA Insider Threat Mitigation Guide” (November 2020), various types of insider threats can be categorized as follows:

  1. Unintentional Threats:
    1. Negligent Threats – Negligent insiders are individuals who fail to follow security policies and best practices, often due to carelessness or lack of awareness. Their actions can lead to data breaches or security incidents.
    2. Accidental Threats – These threats occur when well-intentioned individuals inadvertently compromise security. Common examples include employees clicking on phishing emails, mishandling sensitive data, or falling victim to social engineering attacks.
  2. Intentional Threats: These are individuals who intentionally misuse their authorized access for personal gain, revenge, or to harm the organization. They may steal sensitive data, sabotage systems, or engage in fraud.
  3. Other Threats:
    1. Collusive Threats – Collusive threats occur when insiders collaborate with external actors to compromise an organization, often for fraud, theft, or espionage. Detecting this type of insider threat is challenging because external actors are skilled at evading detection.
    2. Third-Party Threats – Third-party threats involve contractors or vendors who have been granted access to an organization’s resources. These threats can be direct, where individuals compromise the organization, or indirect, resulting from system flaws exposing resources to threat actors.

How Does Remote Access Impact Insider Threats?

The expanded use of remote access, driven by the growing popularity of remote work, has a significant impact on cybersecurity. Employees, contractors, and third-party vendors now have the capability to connect to an organization’s systems and data from an array of locations and an assortment of devices. This broadening of the attack surface presents a substantial challenge in terms of security. With more access points available, the potential for insider threats to exploit vulnerabilities increases.

What further complicates this scenario is the reduced level of direct oversight that remote workers typically experience. Traditional office environments often provide a controlled setting where security measures and monitoring can be more centralized. However, remote work setups, by nature, distribute the workforce across disparate locations, making it challenging to consistently and comprehensively monitor user activities. This decentralization can inadvertently create opportunities for malicious insiders to operate with a greater degree of autonomy, as they are less likely to be under direct observation.

In remote work environments, insider threats can take various forms, each with the potential to inflict significant damage. Data breaches, where sensitive information is accessed or leaked, pose a severe risk. Intellectual property theft, a growing concern, can result in the loss of critical business assets. Additionally, the possibility of sabotage, where insiders deliberately disrupt systems or operations, adds another layer of complexity to this situation.

Doesn’t all that sound serious, right? Now it’s time to answer the question of how we can address insider threats.

How To Prevent Insider Threats?

To secure resources from external cyber threats, we have a wide range of solutions, including VPNs, firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), intrusion prevention systems (IPS), antivirus and antimalware software, web application firewalls (WAF), and more… But how can we defend ourselves against internal threats? A VPN or a firewall won’t help in this case because the internal intruder can be a person to whom we ourselves have granted access to our resources. How can we prevent this?

To overcome the challenges posed by insider threats, organizations must take a multi-faceted approach to security. Implementing robust security measures helps control and restrict access, ensuring that only authorized individuals can perform specific actions. User education programs are invaluable in raising awareness among remote workers about cybersecurity best practices and the importance of adhering to security policies. However, proactive monitoring and continuous surveillance are equally essential. Organizations need to invest in tools and technologies that enable real-time tracking of user activities, network traffic, and system behavior. This allows for the rapid detection of anomalies and suspicious behavior, which can then trigger immediate responses to potential insider threats.

Now, you may be wondering what can be particularly effective in dealing with insider threats. A comprehensive solution that encompasses many of the aforementioned security measures is known as Zero Trust, along with the technology that implements its principles: Privileged Access Management (PAM).

What is Zero Trust and PAM?

The goal of Zero Trust is to grant access to assets as precisely as possible, so employees have permission to use specific applications, accounts, or equipment only when needed and with stringent control. It operates on the principle of “never trust, always verify.” This approach is aimed directly at malicious users. According to the Zero Trust guidelines, defense must be focused on resource protection, with the assumption that access to those resources is continually evaluated. Employees or third parties must continuously prove their identity and intent, making it exceedingly difficult for malicious insiders to operate undetected. Privileged Access Management (PAM) systems accomplish this by implementing a set of session management tools that help to audit users’ activities and prevent unintentional and unnecessary data access. Administrators can closely monitor all privileged employees and their moves across the company’s assets. It ensures that individuals with elevated permissions use them only for their intended purposes, minimizing the risk of insider abuse.

On top of the mentioned core functionalities, cutting-edge PAM systems offer a range of unique solutions that can help prevent internal threats. For example, our flagship product, Fudo Enterprise, incorporates AI-Powered Prevention, which is one of the most advanced features on the market. Through individual behavior analysis, AI creates personalized behavior patterns for each user. Any suspicious activity triggers immediate notifications to the administrator, enabling them to track and mitigate potential threats while ensuring accountability for the actions of relevant individuals.

As you can see, PAM adhering to the Zero Trust principle is a potent weapon in the battle against insider threats. If you want to learn more about the Zero Trust approach and the fundamentals of Privileged Access Management (PAM), you may also find our other articles interesting: “Understanding the Basics of Privileged Access Management (PAM) Systems” and “​​What is Zero Trust, and how does it apply to PAM systems?

Finally, a Conclusion

As we wrap up our discussion on the impact of remote access on insider threats, it’s clear that while remote work offers undeniable benefits in today’s workforce, it also presents new challenges to cybersecurity. The rise of insider threats, whether unintentional or malicious, is a pressing concern for organizations. As you can see, the fusion of Zero Trust principles with Privileged Access Management (PAM) emerges as a formidable defense against insider threats, ensuring that access remains precise and controlled. By continuously verifying identities and monitoring user activities, organizations can stay ahead in the battle against these elusive adversaries. To learn more about these cutting-edge security measures, don’t forget to check out our Fudo Security website or schedule a demo with us by filling out the form.