In this article

Malicious Insider: Motivation, Examples, Detection, and Prevention

February 28, 2023
Last Updated: January 16, 2024
Share on:

What is a Malicious Insider?  

A malicious insider is someone who maliciously and intentionally misuses legitimate credentials to gain access to sensitive data, steal money, or otherwise cause damage to an organization. For example, a malicious insider could be an individual who has a disagreement with the organization or its employees, or a financially motivated individual who sells confidential information to external attackers or competitors. 

Malicious insiders are especially dangerous because they are familiar with an organization’s security policies, processes, and vulnerabilities, and already possess privileges for accessing company systems.

This is part of a series of articles about insider threat.

NIST CSF Mapping Made Easy with

The Cyber Defense Matrix

  • Align your security strategy with NIST CSF
  • Find & fix holes in your security program
  • Identify gaps and overlaps in your security stack

Motivations of Malicious Insider Attacks 

Studies show that most malicious insider attacks are believed to be financially motivated. According to a recent report, most insider attacks are motivated by financial gain, but others have an emotional motivation, such as grievances against the organization, or a desire to be respected. Politically or socially motivated insider attacks are rare but do happen. 

Malicious Insider Attack Examples

IT Sabotage 

IT sabotage is the misuse of computing systems to cause specific harm to organizations or individuals. These types of attacks are often carried out by system administrators, programmers, or other tech-savvy personnel who can cause damage and hide their malicious behavior. These individuals often act out of a desire to retaliate after negative work experiences, and commonly attack after being fired.

Data Theft 

Data theft is the theft of an organization’s intellectual property or sensitive data for financial or personal gain. Insiders who steal data are often established employees such as engineers, programmers, scientists, and salespeople. They are typically interested in stealing and selling the same information they come across during their normal work activities and using it for financial gain.

These insiders may act alone, in concert with other employees, or as part of a corporate espionage scheme. Corporate espionage involves insiders stealing trade secrets to give third parties a competitive advantage. Commonly, data theft occurs in the two months after an employee’s departure, but can also happen at any later time as long as the former employee retains access to corporate systems.

Insider Fraud 

Insider fraud is unauthorized access to or modification of an organization’s data. The motive for fraud is typically financial, and in some cases, the malicious insider might be recruited by an external attacker. In many cases, insiders are after user identities and credentials, or payment card details. These attacks might be carried out by subordinates such as administrative assistants, customer service specialists, and data entry personnel who have access to sensitive data.

Related content: Read our guide to insider threat examples (coming soon)

NIST CSF Mapping Made Easy with

The Cyber Defense Matrix

  • Align your security strategy with NIST CSF
  • Find & fix holes in your security program
  • Identify gaps and overlaps in your security stack

How to Detect and Prevent Malicious Insiders Threats 

Employ Threat Modeling

Threat modeling can be used to determine an organization’s threat posture, which is the overall level of risk that the organization faces from potential threats. By understanding an organization’s threat posture, organizations can identify areas of vulnerability and prioritize their efforts to defend against malicious insider threats. 

This process typically involves identifying the assets that need to be protected, the potential threats to those assets, and the likelihood and impact of those threats. By analyzing these factors, organizations can develop strategies to mitigate the risks posed by malicious insiders and prioritize their security efforts accordingly.

Map Out Potential Insider Threat Exposure

Mapping out potential insider threat exposure involves identifying the areas of an organization that are most vulnerable to insider threats and the potential consequences of such threats. This can be done through threat modeling or other risk assessment techniques. 

By identifying areas of potential exposure, organizations can prioritize their efforts to defend against malicious insider threats and implement appropriate countermeasures to mitigate the risks. This may include implementing access controls, user activity monitoring, employee training and awareness programs, and incident response procedures.

Investigate Unusual Activities

Investigating unusual activities can be an effective way to defend against malicious insider threats. By monitoring employee activity and looking for unusual or suspicious behavior, organizations can identify potential insider threats and take appropriate action to mitigate the risk. 

This may involve conducting an investigation, revoking access to sensitive information or systems, or taking other appropriate steps to prevent harm to the organization. By regularly investigating unusual activities, organizations can stay ahead of potential insider threats and prevent them from causing harm.

Establish Security Policies

A security policy is a set of guidelines that outline how an organization should protect its information and information systems. It can be used to defend against malicious insider threats by establishing access controls, requiring user activity monitoring, providing employee training and awareness, and establishing response and incident management procedures. 

By implementing and enforcing a comprehensive security policy, organizations can effectively defend against malicious insider threats and protect their information and systems.

Create an Insider Threat Governance Program

A proactive and ongoing malicious insider threat detection governance program is a set of processes and procedures that an organization puts in place to identify and respond to insider threats on an ongoing basis. This may involve implementing measures such as access controls, user activity monitoring, employee training and awareness programs, and incident response procedures. 

The goal of such a program is to identify potential insider threats early on and take appropriate action to prevent them from causing harm to the organization. By proactively and consistently implementing these measures, organizations can effectively defend against malicious insider threats and protect their information and systems.

Don’t Neglect Physical Security

Physical security measures, such as keycards and biometrics, can be used to defend against malicious insider threats by controlling access to sensitive areas and assets. Keycards and other access control systems can be used to restrict access to certain areas or resources to authorized personnel only, and biometrics, such as fingerprints or facial recognition, can provide an additional layer of security by ensuring that only authorized individuals can gain access.

By implementing these types of physical security measures, organizations can prevent malicious insiders from gaining unauthorized access to sensitive information or assets and reduce the risk of harm to personnel and facilities.

Think About Long-Term Protective Measures

Holistic solutions can help achieve long-term protection against malicious insider threats by addressing the entire system or context in which the threat exists. This may involve implementing a range of measures to defend against threats, including technical measures such as access controls and user activity monitoring, as well as non-technical measures such as employee training and awareness programs and incident response procedures. 

By taking a comprehensive and integrated approach, organizations can effectively defend against insider threats and protect their information and systems over the long term. This may involve regularly reviewing and updating security measures to ensure that they are effective in protecting against evolving threats.

Detecting and Preventing Malicious Insider Activity with Cynet 360

Cynet 360 is a holistic security platform that provides advanced threat detection and prevention. The platform employs cutting-edge technologies to detect and prevent advanced threats caused by malicious insiders. To achieve this goal, Cynet 360 correlates data from endpoints, network analytics, and behavioral analytics, and presents findings with near-zero false positives. 

Block exploit-like behavior

Cynet monitors endpoints’ memory to identify behavioral patterns that are readily exploited, such as unusual process handle requests. These behavioral patterns lead to the vast majority of exploits, whether new or known. Cynet is able to provide effective protection against Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attacks and more, by identifying such patterns.

Block exploit-derived malware

Cynet employs multi-layered malware protection, including sandboxing, process behavior monitoring, and ML-based static analysis. Cynet also offers fuzzy hashing and threat intelligence. This makes sure that even if an advanced threat establishes a connection with the attacker, and downloads additional malware, Cynet will stop this malware from running, thus preventing any harm from occurring.   


Cynet continuously monitors user behavior, generates a real-time behavioral baseline, and provides alerts when behavior deviation is identified. This deviation in behavior may indicate a compromised user account. Additionally, Cynet provides the ability to define user activity policies, triggering an alert in case of violation.

Uncover hidden threats

Cynet uses an adversary-centric methodology to pinpoint threats throughout the attack chain. Cynet thinks like an adversary, identifying indicators and behaviors across endpoints, users, files, and networks. They supply a holistic account of the attack process, regardless of where the attack may try to penetrate. 

Accurate and precise 

Cynet utilizes a powerful correlation engine and provides its attack findings free from excessive noise and with near-zero false positives. This makes the response for security teams easier so they can attend to pressing incidents. 

Learn more about the Cynet 360 AutoXDR security platform.

How would you rate this article?

Let’s get started!

Ready to extend visibility, threat detection and response?

Get a Demo

Search results for: