Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

Researchers Map Method for Spotting Suspicious Insiders

Mining of email data could help companies spot dangerous employees before they do damage

A group of researchers has discovered a way to identify potentially dangerous employees by analyzing the content of their email.

Three researchers at the Air Force Institute of Technology -- James Okolica, Gilbert Peterson, and Robert Mills -- have published a paper that outlines an algorithm for mining email data and identifying patterns of transmission that might tell managers when employees are keeping a secret.

In a nutshell, the algorithm identifies email topics of interest that are communicated outside the organization, but never shared with others inside the organization. The identification of such topics indicates that employees "either have a secret interest in the topic or generally feel alienated from the organization," the paper says.

In the study, researchers applied a data mining concept called Probabilistic Latent Semantic Indexing (PLSI), which has been used to extract specific information from a large body of data. By adding users to the body of data being studied, the researchers were able to identify patterns of content exchanged between specific users.

The researchers then tested their concept on the body of email messages left by the now-defunct Enron Corp. They identified a number of employees who might have been engaged in dangerous insider behavior prior to the company's fall.

The researchers used PLSI to extract specific topics from the email data, and then diagrammed "social networks" revolving around those topics. In most cases, the social networks occurred inside the organization. But in a few cases, the social networks revolved around a single individual inside the organization, who discussed the topic only with individuals on the outside. Such a network suggests that this individual might be keeping secrets from co-workers, they said.

The algorithm, dubbed the Potential Insider Threat Detection Algorithm, is a "promising tool" for aiding IT departments in narrowing down the list of subjects in a breach investigation, the researchers said. However, the experimental analysis of Enron's email did not correctly identify the top managers who were involved in the company's fraud.

"This may be because any revealing emails would have been to other people inside the organization," the paper says. "To overcome this, work needs to be done to extract insider threat collusion networks that involve a small number of individuals."

The researchers also hope to expand their study to include Internet activity, which would help identify Web browsing trends that might suggest topics of interest or behavior threatening the organization's security.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 7/6/2020
Ripple20 Threatens Increasingly Connected Medical Devices
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  6/30/2020
DDoS Attacks Jump 542% from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020
Dark Reading Staff 6/30/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
How Cybersecurity Incident Response Programs Work (and Why Some Don't)
This Tech Digest takes a look at the vital role cybersecurity incident response (IR) plays in managing cyber-risk within organizations. Download the Tech Digest today to find out how well-planned IR programs can detect intrusions, contain breaches, and help an organization restore normal operations.
Flash Poll
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
This report describes some of the latest attacks and threats emanating from the Internet, as well as advice and tips on how your organization can mitigate those threats before they affect your business. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-15564
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
An issue was discovered in Xen through 4.13.x, allowing Arm guest OS users to cause a hypervisor crash because of a missing alignment check in VCPUOP_register_vcpu_info. The hypercall VCPUOP_register_vcpu_info is used by a guest to register a shared region with the hypervisor. The region will be map...
CVE-2020-15565
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
An issue was discovered in Xen through 4.13.x, allowing x86 Intel HVM guest OS users to cause a host OS denial of service or possibly gain privileges because of insufficient cache write-back under VT-d. When page tables are shared between IOMMU and CPU, changes to them require flushing of both TLBs....
CVE-2020-15566
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
An issue was discovered in Xen through 4.13.x, allowing guest OS users to cause a host OS crash because of incorrect error handling in event-channel port allocation. The allocation of an event-channel port may fail for multiple reasons: (1) port is already in use, (2) the memory allocation failed, o...
CVE-2020-15567
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
An issue was discovered in Xen through 4.13.x, allowing Intel guest OS users to gain privileges or cause a denial of service because of non-atomic modification of a live EPT PTE. When mapping guest EPT (nested paging) tables, Xen would in some circumstances use a series of non-atomic bitfield writes...
CVE-2020-15563
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
An issue was discovered in Xen through 4.13.x, allowing x86 HVM guest OS users to cause a hypervisor crash. An inverted conditional in x86 HVM guests' dirty video RAM tracking code allows such guests to make Xen de-reference a pointer guaranteed to point at unmapped space. A malicious or buggy HVM g...