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.