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12/16/2010
04:15 PM
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Compliance Means Getting A Handle On Insider Threats

When the auditors come, they'll be looking at your internal controls as well as your external defenses. Will you be ready?

[Excerpted from "Compliance From The Inside Out," a new report posted this week on Dark Reading's Insider Threat Tech Center.]

When you talk about security and compliance, you typically think about protecting the organization from external attackers who want to steal sensitive corporate information. But in many cases, the reason companies fare poorly with audits has nothing to do with those bad guys but, rather, with internal threats.

Small wonder. These are, after all, people we trust (there’s a reason Dante put traitors at the lowest depths of hell). But the facts tell us we are at high risk from internal attack. Studies conducted jointly by CERT and the U.S. Secret Service show about half the companies responding have experienced at least one insider incident, and about a third of all electronic crimes were committed by insiders.

What’s more, the definition of "insider" is expanding beyond "employee" — insiders include contractors, temporary workers, vendors, clients and everyone else with trusted access to company resources. The internal threat is real, and auditors take it seriously. They consider risk regardless of source, so they evaluate controls against internal as well as external threats.

To build the proper internal controls to meet these auditors' requirements, you must consider the nature of insider threats, the regulatory hot buttons that auditors look for, and strategies to minimize risk and protect your assets.

Some insider incidents are planned attacks motivated strictly by financial gain. Others are crimes of opportunity in which employees are able to attack the organization in the course of their normal activities ("that card data/bank account information/medical record was just lying there on the file system").

Then there are disgruntled employees ("I’ll show them who’s not getting a raise this year"), as well those who steal intellectual property ("I wrote it, so I’m taking this code with me to my next job when I leave").

CERT breaks down the motivating factors for insider attacks across a broad segment of industries. The categories used to classify these crimes — fraud, sabotage and theft — hold the keys to the common controls we can apply to prevent them. And these are precisely the areas in which regulations mandate controls: Limited access; judiciously-applied active blocking; and continuous monitoring and alerting.

Compliance regulations often spell out what we need to do, but not why we need to do it. So, even if you perform a text search throughout your industry’s governing regulations, you probably won’t see the phrase "insider threat." What you’ll see instead is a number of specific controls, most of which are aimed at both the internal and external attacker, as well as some that directly address internal threats only.

To find out more about the specific internal controls that auditors look for -- and to get some recommendations on how to meet them -- download the free report.

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.

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