What Are Insider Threats & How Can You Reduce Your Risk?

An insider threat refers to a security risk that originates from within an organization, typically from employees, contractors, or other trusted individuals who have authorized access to the organization's systems, data, or facilities. Insider threats are unfortunately more common than one might think. A study by Cybersecurity Insiders found that 60% of organizations had experienced an insider attack at some point, and 23% of those attacks were done via email. While this may seem overwhelming at first, there are actionable steps that you can take to protect your business against theft, fraud, and the compromise of sensitive data, which will be discussed in this article.

What Is an Insider Threat?

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Insider threats can be intentional or unintentional and can result in the theft, loss, or compromise of sensitive information, financial loss, or damage to an organization's reputation. Examples of insider threats include employees stealing sensitive data, sharing confidential information with unauthorized parties, or accidentally exposing sensitive information through careless actions. It is important for organizations to have proper security measures in place to mitigate the risk of insider threats.

Insiders, in general, can be many groups of individuals, including:

  • Employees or former employees
  • Organizational board members
  • Any person who has been contracted to help develop the company's products and services
  • A person who is knowledgeable of the company’s business plans and goals
  • Any person who may have access to viewing the company’s finances, pricing, and costs
  • Any person with a badge or other access key to the organization as someone who is regularly and continuously present at the location (i.e. custodians, vendors, contractors, or repair workers)

There are two types of insiders, benevolent and malicious insiders. Benevolent insiders are average workers without any ill intention and are simply just trying to do their jobs. Their potential threat comes from accidental misuse of company technology, negligence, or manipulation by a malicious actor.

Malicious insiders have ulterior motives, and deliberately seek to compromise the safety of the company’s data. Examples of intentional insider threats include stealing sensitive data, damaging or destroying IT systems, or disrupting business operations.

Common Types of Insider Threats

Unintentional Threat (Negligence or Accidental)

Unintentional threats are when an employee, contractor, or business partner inadvertently comprises the security of the company’s data.These types of threats are often the result of human error, such as clicking on a phishing email, accidentally exposing sensitive information, or misconfiguring a system. 

Intentional Threat

As implied, these types of threats have been deliberately planned and executed. The malicious insider may be a current or former employee, contractor, or business partner who has authorized access to the organization's systems, data, or facilities.

Collusive Threat

Collusive threats are executed by one or more malicious insiders who work together with an external partner to carry out a security attack against an organization. In this type of threat, the insider may collude with an external partner to steal sensitive information, commit fraud, or cause other types of harm to the organization. 

Third-Party Threat

These types of threats appear from an individual or group of individuals that may not be directly employed by a company, but have been contracted to work on specific projects with a company. Third-party threats can be a result of accidental, negligent, or malicious activity. 

How Can I Protect Against Insider Threats?

As mentioned earlier, there are several ways you can protect your company against insider threats, such as:

  • Limiting access to sensitive information and systems only to those who need it to perform their job functions
  • Monitoring and auditing system activity to detect unusual behavior or activity that may indicate an insider threat
  • Regularly educating and training employees on best practices for handling sensitive information and avoiding common security pitfalls
  • Using data loss prevention tools to prevent accidental exposure of sensitive information
  • Implementing a comprehensive, adaptive cloud email security solution to prevent all malicious and fraudulent mail from reaching the inbox

Insider Threat Protection with Guardian Digital

Guardian Digital protects businesses against all internal and external email threats with its comprehensive, adaptive EnGarde Cloud Email Security solution. Guardian Digital anticipates the threats specific to your users, and stops them using a collection of flexible filters that adapt to your environment. Key features of Guardian Digital’s business email protection include:

Open-Source Community Input

EnGarde uniquely draws on resources, tools and intelligence available through the vibrant, global open-source community to enhance its protection against both internal and external email-borne threats to your business. A product of open-source development, EnGarde is supported by an innovative, community-powered global input program, resulting in rapid updates and superior security and resiliency.

Expert Managed Services & Accessible Support

EnGarde is managed around-the-clock by a team of experienced security experts who become a valuable extension of your company’s IT team, partnering with your business in securing its key assets and hard-earned reputation, and acting as the front line of defense against cybercriminals. Our experts work with you to understand your security needs, identifying individuals within your organization who are most likely to be targeted in an attack and closely monitoring them to watch for targeted threats. This ongoing expert system monitoring, maintenance and support can simplify administration, improve security and reduce costs, delivering a rapid return on investment (ROI).

Layered Email Authentication Protocols

The SPF, DMARC and DKIM email authentication protocols are crucial in preventing sender fraud and protecting sensitive information. These key standards verify sender identity and confirm the legitimacy of email communications.

EnGarde implements SPF, DMARC and DKIM as part of its multi-layered approach to preventing phishing and spoofing attacks and protecting sensitive data in transit. EnGarde goes beyond standard measures of email authentication, tracking hundreds of thousands of message attributes including sender-recipient relationships, domain reputation, email headers and envelope attributes and message content.

Malicious URL Protection

Malicious URL protection plays a central role in identifying and blocking phishing attacks that account for over 90% of all cyberattacks and data breach. EnGarde’s malicious URL protection extracts links from Microsoft Office documents, PDFs, archive files (ZIP, AIZip, JAR) and other file types (uuencoded, HTML), conducts a dynamic real-time analysis of these files in order to detect malicious URLs leading to compromise.

Spam & Virus Protection

EnGarde features multiple layers of detection engines capable of performing predictive spam and virus detection through heuristics analysis, an advanced technique that scans messages for characteristics and behaviors that are unique to spam email. The SpamAssassin spam filtration framework is also built into EnGarde’s layered architecture. If SpamAssassin’s software indicates that a message resembles spam, EnGarde quarantines the email, preventing it from reaching the end user. SpamAssassin works in harmony with EnGarde’s other proactive detection features to block spam email, while keeping the rate of false positives extremely low.


Once a message has been scrutinized by all of EnGarde’s security features and technologies, it is deemed either “malicious” or “safe”. All malicious mail is quarantined, never reaching the intended recipient’s inbox, where it could potentially cause great harm. Only confirmed legitimate, safe mail is delivered to the end user, mitigating the risk that human error and poor user security practices pose to your organization.

Final Thoughts on Insider Threats

Insider threats come from within the organization, by employees, business partners, or other parties that have been given access to the company. There are multiple types of insider threats: accidental or negligent, intentional, collusive, or third party threats. There are actions you can take to protect your company’s sensitive information, like limiting information access, frequent system auditing, regular employee training, and data loss prevention tools.

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