Magazine article Security Management

Are Businesses Properly Handling the Insider Threat?

Magazine article Security Management

Are Businesses Properly Handling the Insider Threat?

Article excerpt

Business has good reason to take seriously the insider threat to its information systems. It is well known that "trusted" persons with authorized access to company information systems can do untold damage by compromising, corrupting, or disrupting those systems. What makes this threat so serious is that these workers are able to wreak havoc with near impunity. But the question remains: What is the best way to counter this threat?

For the most part, the search for defenses has focused on improved system security. The recent President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, for example, recommended $250 million in Fiscal Year 1999 for research and development into technical improvements, adoption of "best practices," better screening of employees, and related measures.

In the private sector as well, a huge effort is underway to address this issue. Companies can now purchase security software and hardware, as well as consulting expertise for network protection, pre-employment screening, and a myriad of other services aimed at hardening security. Competition in this market is so intense that an information security television ad even appeared during this year's Super Bowl.

While those protective steps make sense, improved security alone cannot solve the problem. Offense is always ahead of defense. All a new technology can do is make it harder for an adversary to penetrate the corporate system. However, the adversary with the best chance of slipping those few extra lines of code into the company's hardened system is the "trusted" insider.

To gain a meaningful edge, corporations must look at the source of the threat, specifically, at what transforms an insider into an "insider threat." Only then can they develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing the problem.

So why would an organization's "trusted" employees or contractors want to compromise, corrupt, or disrupt the information system? The most obvious answer is profit or malice.

Let's consider the malice motive. Most employees begin their jobs with excitement and enthusiasm. Of these, some portion, perhaps the smartest and most energetic, will "devote their souls" to the company. They become enmeshed in the corporate culture and look to it for recognition, fulfillment, security, and sometimes even the meaning of their lives. Many companies reinforce these notions (knowingly or unknowingly) and lead their employees to believe that they will, in fact, find fulfillment and financial security by giving their all to the company.

It is not hard for a company to fuel the unbridled expectations of its best and brightest. …

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