The Grinch Who Stole Corporate Secrets: The Rise of Insider Threats Over Christmas

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.

In the festive spirit of Christmas, there lurks an often-overlooked adversary within the walls of businesses and corporations – the insider threat. Much like the infamous Grinch, these internal threats stealthily undermine the very foundations of organisational security. The holiday season, a time of celebration and relaxation for many, paradoxically marks an escalation in the risk of insider threats, both deliberate and accidental.

Recent studies have illuminated this dark paradox where internal threats escalate during the holiday season, as individuals within an organisation, motivated by discontent or greed, find opportunities to exploit their access and compromise sensitive data. Sekuro’s Offensive Security Research team has similarly recognised the increased risk of insider threats during the holidays, attributing it to factors such as layoffs, reduced staffing, and the general holiday chaos. These elements can trigger or exacerbate malicious intents or even lead to accidental security breaches.

The good news is that often individuals about to engage in deliberate insider threat activity demonstrate key behaviours and characteristics ahead of time – making proactive prevention possible.

The holiday season, a time of celebration and relaxation for many, paradoxically marks an escalation in the risk of insider threats, both deliberate and accidental.

From Merry to Wary: Discerning the Signs of Insider Threats

In adopting a proactive stance towards insider threats, organisation’s must consider two critical elements from a psychological perspective:

1. The Organisation's Role in Shaping Potential Insider Threat Mindsets

It’s essential to recognise how organisational culture, policies, and dynamics contribute to shaping the mindset that could lead to insider threat behaviours. Proactively addressing these aspects can influence an employee’s thought processes and attitudes, potentially deterring them from even considering harmful actions. This involves creating an environment that mitigates factors known to contribute to insider threats, such as feelings of alienation, unfair treatment, or lack of recognition.

2. Identifying and Responding to Behavioural Indicators of an Emerging Insider Threat

Once an individual begins exhibiting behaviours that signal a potential insider threat, the situation becomes more complex. At this stage, the individual may already be on a path towards committing harmful acts. Timely identification and intervention are crucial. However, interventions at this stage are often delicate; they can result in either averting the threat or, if handled poorly, exacerbating the situation and potentially leading to the loss of the employee, either through their departure or escalation to actual insider activities.

The first element focuses on preventive measures by cultivating a healthy organisational culture that minimises the factors leading to insider threats. The second requires vigilant monitoring and skilful intervention to address potential threats that have already started manifesting in employee behaviour.

Both are critical in a comprehensive strategy to mitigate insider threats.

While these insights highlight the heightened risk during the holiday period, this understanding also lights the way for pre-emptive action. By recognising the signs and addressing the underlying causes of insider threats, organisations can build robust defences against these hidden dangers. From fostering a culture of inclusion and ethical behaviour to implementing effective monitoring and support systems, the key lies in being proactive rather than reactive.

In the end, much like the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes, the transformation within an organisation and its people can turn potential threats into insider advocates.

The holiday season, while a time of potential vulnerability, also offers a unique opportunity for organisations to strengthen their bonds with employees, reinforce their values, and create an environment where the temptation to become an insider threat is greatly diminished.

I will expand further on the social psychology of the insider threat’s mindset in the New Year. In the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas and keep an eye out for the Grinch!

Steph Jensen

Offensive Security Technical Specialist, Sekuro

Steph is an experienced offensive security technical specialist with a background in ethical hacking, threat hunting, threat intelligence and digital forensics. She draws from her skills and expertise having worked on numerous projects of varying size and complexity across all industry verticals throughout Australia and globally. Steph specialises in bespoke security assessments including IoT and OSINT.

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