Hackers? Pah! It's that sysadmin who has had enough

Disgruntled workers are causing more problems for their employers, the FBI warns.

Employees, ex-workers or contractors with a grudge against their former paymasters are abusing cloud storage sites or remote access to enterprise networks to steal trade secrets, customer lists or other sensitive information.

Insider threats have, of course, been a problem in business for decades. But the internet had brought a new dimension to the problem by making it far easier to destroy data or swipe customer records.

Physical records that used to occupy racks of shelves can now be contained on a single USB stick. It's also easier to put a spanner in the works of business-critical IT systems than it would have been to stop deliveries to a factory in days gone by.

The FBI said it has investigated multiple incidents involved disgruntled or former employees who've attempted to extort their employer after disabling content management systems or conducted distributed denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.

In other cases, the theft of proprietary information was facilitated through the use of cloud storage websites like Dropbox and personal email accounts. In many cases, terminated employees had continued access to the computer networks through the installation of unauthorised remote desktop protocol software, effectively planting a back door in the systems that can later be used to siphon off confidential customer lists or proprietary data.

An alert by the FBI-backed Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) goes into greater depth about the current state of insider threat, as the agency summarises below.

There has been an increase in computer network exploitation and disruption by disgruntled and/or former employees. The FBI and DHS assess that disgruntled and former employees pose a significant cyber threat to US businesses due to their authorized access to sensitive information and the networks businesses rely on.

"Insider threat is one of the most difficult challenges for the enterprise since businesses must trust employees with access to their systems in order to be productive," said Craig Young, security researcher at intrusion detection and security tools firm Tripwire. "Some measures can limit the risk [such as revoking 2FA after a worker leaves], but when someone has legitimate access to some data or systems, it is almost impossible to defend against all malicious actions."

A review of recent FBI cyber investigations revealed victim businesses incur costs ranging from $5,000 to $3m due to cyber incidents involving disgruntled or former employees.

Estimating the extent - much less the damages - caused by malicious employees is an inexact science. Recent studies by Risk Based Security and Forrester Research paint contrasting pictures about the prevalence of insider threats. Both studies covered last year but Risk Based Security (RBS) reckoned insider threats were to blame for 9.4 per cent of data-loss incidents, a lot less than the 17.1 per cent of data loss incidents blamed on accidents.

A survey by Forrester Research, by contrast, found that 25 per cent of survey respondents blamed a malicious insider for incidents of breaches affecting their organisation, the biggest single cause. Other cause of problems include external criminals, coding mistakes that result in data spills and more.

Whatever the cause of a data breach problems, enterprises need an incident-handling plan in place before a breach takes place – rather than scrambling to deal with an emergence after the fact, as a post on Sophos's Naked Security blog notes. ®

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