External Threats vs. Insider Threats in Cybersecurity: What You Need to Know

With the world’s ever-increasing reliance on the internet to do business, the chances of data breaches, fraud, and identity theft are also growing. According to a recent report, cybercrimes have increased by 300% since the coronavirus pandemic started. 

These attacks have disastrous consequences, particularly for businesses in the financial services sector, with one report stating that financial institutions suffered a 238% uptick in cyberattacks in the first half of 2020.

This increase in attacks is the reason why organizations must also increase investments in their cybersecurity programs. However, most make the mistake of focusing only on attacks from external threats. According to one study, as much as 30% of cyberattacks are caused by the people inside the organization, either accidentally or intentionally.

The first thing to do to address cybersecurity threats is to identify where they are coming from. The infographic below will explain the different types of external and internal cybersecurity threats and how to protect your organization against them.

insider vs external threats

What are external threats? 

External threats come from bad actors – individuals or organizations – outside of your organization whose aim is to exploit the vulnerabilities in your system for illicit access. What they do with that access varies greatly, from installing various types of malware (such as malware, ransomware, or a virus) to simply attacking your system until something breaks (such as DDoS or Brute Force attacks). A common goal for a cyber attack is to gain access to sensitive data and resell it on the dark web. After infiltrating your system, the attackers may remain undetected for a long time, with a report stating that it takes 280 days on average to identify and contain a data breach.

Types of external threats

External threats come in many forms. Here are some of the most common ones:

Malware

Malicious software (malware) is a catchall term for software created for the detriment of a computer system. These are three of the most common forms of malware:

Spyware

After gaining access to your organization’s system, spyware gathers information in your database and sends it to third parties. These data can be used to steal login credentials and gain confidential customer data that can be sold in the black market.

Ransomware

A ransomware attack encrypts your files and storage devices, thus rendering them inaccessible. Attackers usually demand a sum of money in exchange for a key that lets you re-access your files.

Ransomware attacks are gaining popularity, with a reported 62% increase of recorded attacks in 2020 versus the previous year.

Viruses

A virus is a small line of code or a simple program that spreads by infecting files in a computer (or network router) hard drive, then copying itself and attempting to send it to other computers in the network. Viruses can alter your computer’s programming in a wide range of ways, but by definition, users usually have to take some form of action to install them. 

Hacking

Hacking refers to the activities that exploit a computer system’s vulnerabilities to gain illegitimate access to a system. Here are the three of the most common forms of hacking:

DDoS Attacks

A Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack is a type of attack that overwhelms a system’s capacity by sending massive bot traffic to the victim’s IP address. This will severely cripple the functionality of the system and thus hamper its operations and accessibility.

Session Hijacking

Session hijacking is a type of attack where a hacker replaces the session token of the client or the server with their own, gaining access to the user’s web browsing session. As a result, the server believes it is still communicating with a client during the attack while the hacker steals whatever data they can gain access to, which is typically cookie data, login credentials, or any other data accessed while the session is compromised. Accessing websites that utilize SSL (HTTPS) protocols is a strong preventative measure against this type of attack, as is not accessing the internet via unsecured WiFi hotspots.

Man-in-the-Middle Attack

After embedding themselves into the victim’s system, the attackers in a man-in-the-middle attack interrupt the existing conversation or transaction, intercepting confidential data or inserting malicious data or links to the other parties in the conversation. This can be viewed as a form of digital eavesdropping and is a common method for credential theft. It can be significantly hindered or even stopped by utilizing out-of-band authentication methods, such as the Q5id Proven Identity solution.

Social Engineering

A social engineering attack is a technique that hackers use to deceive unwitting people into revealing confidential information such as login credentials or credit card information, which can be used to commit fraud or gain unauthorized access to a system.

Phishing

Phishing is an attack where a criminal sends a fraudulent message that looks like it came from a legitimate source via email or phone to steal data, credit card numbers, and login credentials. 

This type of attack is one of the most common that businesses experience. According to a report, 22% of all data breaches involved phishing attacks.

Brute Force Attack

A brute force attack aims to obtain your login credentials to gain access to a system. Hackers can either use keyloggers or a bot that creates endless possible password combinations to force their way into your system. 

Drive-by Download Attack

Drive-by download attacks are a common form of spreading malware where attackers use an insecure website to plant malicious code that can get automatically downloaded when an unwitting person visits the website. The malware may come in the form of spyware, keyloggers, or trojan viruses.

What are internal threats?

An internal threat in cybersecurity originates from someone inside the organization who can exploit its system to cause damage or to steal assets. They can be employees, contractors, or vendors who can accidentally (or intentionally) expose your system to threats.

Internal threats are on the rise, with one report stating that the frequency of incidents stemming from insider threats rose by 47% from 2018 to 2020.

Types of internal threats

Here are the most common ways insiders can damage your computer system:

Employee sabotage and theft

To satisfy a personal grudge, disgruntled employees or estranged contractors with access to company data and IT hardware can damage or delete them. They can also use confidential company data and take them to a competitor who has poached them.

Poor access control management 

Inside actors may use security vulnerabilities or poorly configured access control in your system to gain access to a level they do not have authorization for. They may use this to destroy data, steal assets, or conduct espionage. 

Accidental or intentional loss or disclosure of data

An employee disclosing data or login credentials to outsiders due to human error or malicious intent can expose your company’s data to bad actors. Accidental causes of this may come in the form of an employee sending classified information to a wrong email address or publically posting sensitive information on social media. Intentional loss or disclosure of data is typically indicative of a much larger problem.

Unauthorized devices accessing your network 

Unauthorized devices like USB flash drives and personal laptops can be used to steal data. These devices may also be loaded with malware that can infect other devices if they are plugged into a computer in your system.

Theft of physical devices

Accidental loss or theft of mobile devices and laptops containing sensitive information may expose your data to outsiders. It can also give unauthorized access to outsiders, especially if your employee is still logged in to applications in the device.

Downloading malicious content

According to reports, as much as 40% of employee internet activity is not work-related, which means that the chances of an unwitting employee accidentally downloading harmful content are high.

How to protect your organization from these threats

While it is impossible to completely seal off your system from both internal and external threats, you can reduce the chances of attacks occurring and mitigate the damage done when they do. Here are some ways to protect your company against cyber threats.

Educate your workforce on cybersecurity threats

According to a report, 46% of cybersecurity incidents are caused by employee negligence. This is why it is crucial to educate your workforce about cybersecurity best practices to prevent easily avoidable mistakes from happening.

Closely manage permissions and privileges

Establish a hierarchy in permissions and accessibility, and embrace a policy of Least Privilege to minimize how much data is potentially exposed to any given employee.

Implement a device management policy

Device management gives an organization an easy way to protect and secure company data and hardware by controlling the access authorization of devices and sensitive information by granting them to the right employees. It also helps your organization limit which devices can access your internal networks, limiting potential threats. 

Get essential cyber hygiene software

Ensure that each computer in your system has essential cybersecurity software such as antivirus, anti-malware, and a robust firewall to protect against common cyber threats.

Remove access privileges of ex-employees

Remove a former employee’s access to your database to prevent a particularly disgruntled one from damaging your system in revenge. It would also be best to change passwords every time there are personnel changes in your company.

Perform a penetration test

Whitehat hackers perform a penetration test to uncover vulnerabilities in an organization’s system that should be patched to prevent malicious hackers from exploiting them. PenTests should be done regularly, especially when significant changes are made to the system.

Cyber Threats Are Always Present

With the world’s increasing reliance on the internet to stay connected and reach more customers, cyber attackers’ opportunities to strike are also growing. The best way to prevent and mitigate the damage done to your organization is to invest in cybersecurity.

If you need help implementing your cybersecurity program, Q5id offers identity proofing and authentication solutions to help financial organizations like yours fight against cybercrime. Drop us a message at contact@Q5id.com so we could set up a time to talk about your cybersecurity needs.

You may also like…