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How Cybercriminals Turn Employees Into Rogue Insiders

The Dark Web is a growing threat to organizations as hackers recruit insiders with access to corporate networks.

Cybercriminals are ramping up efforts to recruit employees with access to corporate networks. The Dark Web, which promises anonymity to rogue insiders, is driving that trend.

Researchers from IntSights and RedOwl spent two years studying Dark Web forums on recruiting, and working with, insiders. Today they released their findings, in a report entitled "Monetizing the Insider: The Growing Symbiosis of Insiders and the Dark Web."

In those two years, they saw about 1,000 references to insiders in cybercrime forums, with a spike occurring towards the end of 2016. Forum discussions and insider outreach nearly doubled between 2015 and 2016.

"Recruitment of insiders is increasing, and the use of the dark web is the current methodology that malicious actors are using to find insiders," explains researcher Tim Condello, technical account manager and security researcher at RedOwl.

Cybercriminals recruit with the goal of finding insiders to steal data, make illegal trades, or otherwise generate profit. Advanced threat actors look for insiders to place malware within a business' perimeter security. However, sophistication isn't a requirement for success.

"Successful hacking is a mix of tech savviness and domain knowledge," says Condello. "Hackers previously had to have a hybrid of both, or fully understand the domain they were attacking. Now, they can leverage an insider to provide domain expertise to have a successful attack."

Think your business is safe? Think again. All insiders pose a risk, regardless of their seniority or technical ability, experts say. As major data breaches continue to make headlines, people are recognizing the tremendous impact leaked data can have on a business -- and how they can profit from it.

There are three types of people who fall into the "insider" category, says Condello: negligent employees who don't practice good cyber hygiene, disgruntled employees with ill will, and malicious employees who join organizations with the intent to defraud them.

Those who are recruited on the Dark Web know they are protected, as most forums require a selection process. Insiders have to submit information to administrators, who review and verify the information.

"There is an elaborate vetting process before you can access the forum," he explains. "They want to know where you are in the organization, how much access you have, and how timely you can release information."

The growth of insider recruitment is a problem across industries, but it's predominantly affecting financial institutions, notes Condello. Because that's where the money is, cybercriminals know there's a clear line to turning a profit.

This is a growing trend and will continue to threaten businesses. As bad actors learn about attacks that were successful due to domain expertise, and expertise gained by leveraging insider knowledge, they will be motivated to solicit insiders and plan new crimes. A powerful draw will be the quick and easy monetization provided by the Dark Web.

Businesses need to be aware of the types of information being accessed, monitored, and moved inside and outside the organization. The only way to detect, monitor, and manage this type of activity is to implement an insider program.

"The way organizations can protect themselves is by understanding the threat landscape," Condello says. "Landscapes are not just external; they're also internal. Make sure you're building mitigation into external and internal threats."

More businesses are developing insider threat programs, the report found, but there is room for improvement. Eighty percent of security efforts focus on perimeter defenses, and less than half of businesses have budgets for insider threat programs.

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
2/1/2017 | 4:36:53 PM
Combating the Insider Threat
It's so much more difficult dealing with the insider than it has been with the traditional threat actor. Before, you could always set access controls on information and that was generally enough. These folks are supposed to have access, everyone else is not.

The insider introduces a new challenge, though. The insider is actually supposed to have access to the information, so now it's a matter of what they did with that information.

A thorough, well-rounded insider program is going to have technology in place that allows your organization to monitor what employees are doing with the information that they have access to. Are they sharing it? Where are they sharing it? Who are they sharing it with?

Obviously, not every employee would be classified as a "high risk" employee, but every employee has some level of risk associated with them and their activities should be monitored to ensure that your company's data and intellectual property are protected.

Jack Doyle
Senior Sales Engineer, Veriato
User Rank: Strategist
2/1/2017 | 5:56:03 AM
Avoid accountabiltiy and non-repudiation issues
Your right, organizaions do need to be more aware of the information being accessed and by who. However only when an organization can accurately identify and verify each authenticated users claimed identity, can they attribute all actions to an individual user and place accountability on network actions. Often the case is that network logins are shared, stolen and generally compromised. Stronger security measures are needed for all users and needs to involve more than just usernames and passwords. Two factor or biometric data offers this additional control but is often complex, expensive and hard to implement for all users. A real alternative does exist in the form of contextual access security. 
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