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.

Operations

11/17/2016
01:00 PM
John Moynihan
John Moynihan
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
50%
50%

Insider Threat: The Domestic Cyber Terrorist

It is dangerously naive for business and government leaders to dismiss the risk of radicalized privileged users inside our critical industries.

Global intelligence agencies agree that adversaries of the United States are planning cyber campaigns designed to inflict lasting damage upon the nation's critical infrastructure, disrupt our economy, and spread societal chaos. Although many anticipate that these campaigns will be launched from abroad, this perspective is dangerously naive.

Having spent the past 20 years detecting insider malice, I have a message for our leaders: Anticipate that these attacks may not originate from the territories of rogue nation states or the enclaves of violent extremists, but from inside of the targeted organizations.  

As evidenced by the tragedies of San Bernardino and Orlando, homegrown terrorism is now a grim reality. These attacks, as well as several others that have been disrupted in process, offer irrefutable proof that terrorist groups are now capable of what was previously unimaginable — the ability to radicalize American citizens to carry out attacks within the United States.

Once embedded within military installations, financial institutions, healthcare facilities, and the electrical grid, clandestine agents would be perfectly positioned to destroy, disable, and alter the processes deemed critical to our nation's infrastructure and internal security. What better way to achieve widespread impact than through a network of radicalized privileged users concurrently attacking the United States' energy, financial services, and healthcare industries? The aftermath of such an attack could be catastrophic.

Should industry and government leaders dismiss this threat as doomsday fiction, they do so at their peril. Rather than question the possibility of such a scenario, executives should begin mobilizing to mitigate this threat through the implementation of more robust pre-employment screening and comprehensive, real-time monitoring of government and corporate networks.

In many instances, those in the radicalization process engage multiple social media platforms in the run-up to an attack. Accordingly, employers should analyze the social media accounts of any individual under consideration for a sensitive IT role to identify potential threat indicators.

Further, human resource departments should make direct contact with an applicant's former employers and co-workers to determine whether they had ever exhibited behaviors that may represent a future risk. All employees with access to an organization's technology infrastructure should undergo a criminal history check to determine whether any form of violent propensity exists. It is critical that prior to querying former employers, management obtain written consent from each applicant.

Additionally, all organizations should perform real-time monitoring of network activity, with an increased emphasis on those with privileged user authority. Employers can and should implement monitoring programs for the purpose of timely detecting employee interest in extremist activities, the installation of unauthorized software, and anomalous network behavior. A vast array of automated tools provide management with the ability to detect predefined, anomalous events and generate real-time alerts. Again, while system monitoring is legally permissible, management should obtain written acknowledgment, from all employees, that they understand that such oversight may be performed. 

During the recent election, a campaign of sophisticated and unprecedented cyber aggression threatened to undermine the very foundation of our democracy. This experience should serve as a call to action. It is tempting to look towards our borders for terrorist threats, but we must also look inward when assessing cyber risk. Although comprehensive applicant screening and continuous system monitoring will require additional resources and financial commitment, public and private sector leaders must consider that the threat from within has now rendered the previously unthinkable to be a likely eventuality.

Related Content:

 

John Moynihan, CGEIT, CRISC, is President of Minuteman Governance, a Massachusetts cybersecurity consultancy that provides services to public and private sector clients throughout the United States. Prior to founding this firm, he was CISO at the Massachusetts Department of ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
44% of Security Threats Start in the Cloud
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  2/19/2020
Zero-Factor Authentication: Owning Our Data
Nick Selby, Chief Security Officer at Paxos Trust Company,  2/19/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
6 Emerging Cyber Threats That Enterprises Face in 2020
This Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at six emerging cyber threats that enterprises could face in 2020. Download your copy today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
The concept of application security is well known, but application security testing and remediation processes remain unbalanced. Most organizations are confident in their approach to AppSec, although others seem to have no approach at all. Read this report to find out more.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-9405
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-26
IBL Online Weather before 4.3.5a allows unauthenticated reflected XSS via the redirect page.
CVE-2020-9406
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-26
IBL Online Weather before 4.3.5a allows unauthenticated eval injection via the queryBCP method of the Auxiliary Service.
CVE-2020-9407
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-26
IBL Online Weather before 4.3.5a allows attackers to obtain sensitive information by reading the IWEBSERVICE_JSONRPC_COOKIE cookie.
CVE-2020-9398
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-25
ISPConfig before 3.1.15p3, when the undocumented reverse_proxy_panel_allowed=sites option is manually enabled, allows SQL Injection.
CVE-2015-5201
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-25
VDSM and libvirt in Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Hypervisor (aka RHEV-H) 7-7.x before 7-7.2-20151119.0 and 6-6.x before 6-6.7-20151117.0 as packaged in Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization before 3.5.6 when VSDM is run with -spice disable-ticketing and a VM is suspended and then restored, allows r...